Since Michael Jordan's departure in 1998, there might not be another Chicago Bull who has a more legitimate claim to the face-of-the-franchise tag than Joakim Noah.
Fresh off his second All-Star selection, Noah is averaging 11.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. And he's been even better than that recently:
@KellyScaletta One of the most underrated & under-appreciated stars in the league. Joakim is a treat to watch.— Ethan Norof (@Mr_Norof) February 20, 2014
In his last game, Noah showed us all just how versatile he is by dishing out a career-high 13 assists in a 94-92 win over the Toronto Raptors. According to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, "He's the first center with 13 since Vlade Divac in April 1996."
He officially does it all for this team. And that's pretty much been his job description for the last five seasons—especially when the oft-injured Derrick Rose goes down.
Each time the former MVP is injured, Noah seems to put the team on his back and charge forward. Chicago hasn't missed the playoffs since Rose was drafted in 2008, and he's missed 168 games in the last three seasons.
Those same three seasons have been the most productive of Noah's career. And perhaps the most valuable contributions he's made are ones that can't easily be measured by numbers.
Individual defense in basketball has always been a tricky thing to track statistically, and for years defensive specialists perhaps didn't get their due.
Advanced stats and analytics have made it easier to see a defender's contributions on paper. For example, Noah leads the Bulls in defensive rating (DRtg) this season, allowing just 96 points per 100 possessions. He's posted a DRtg under 100 in each of the last four seasons.
But it's still hard to gauge things like intensity, consistency and commitment on that end without actually seeing the game.
When you watch Noah, those things are clearly on display. Clichés are hollow if untrue. But in Noah's case, the old basketball adage, "he never takes a play off" is almost an understatement.
And beyond what he does on the floor, Noah is by all accounts a fantastic teammate. Statements like the one he made about D.J. Augustin following Wednesday's win are emblematic of that. From the Associated Press (via ESPN): "I don't think I would have made the All-Star game if it wasn't for D.J. He's a quiet guy but he's a good dude and he helps this ballclub a lot."
That kind of attitude is what makes Noah such a true team player. Team accomplishments outweigh individual ones. For that reason, you'll rarely catch him talking about himself.
And for the same reason, you can expect Noah to adapt to whatever his team needs going forward.
Without Rose and Luol Deng this season, he's become a playmaker and a more integral part of the offense. If Rose returns to full strength and Chicago adds another scorer via free agency in the future, Noah will gladly take a back seat.
He's done so before, while showing that he can be a great complementary piece to Rose. In 10 games this season, the impact of Noah on Rose's game was huge:
|Derrick Rose||With Noah ON the Floor||With Noah OFF the Floor|
|Assists per 100 Possessions||7.2||6.7|
|Turnovers per 100 Possessions||5.4||6.7|
Noah's leadership, passing, and canny instincts in the pick-and-roll game take a lot of pressure off of Rose. And the chemistry they've developed with each other over six seasons as teammates is clear.
Because he's willing to and is capable of playing different roles, Noah can be a valuable part of whatever course Chicago takes in the future.
It's a trait that has defined his career, even before he reached the NBA. Noah won two national championships at Florida. He led the Gators in scoring in 2005-06 on the way to the first title. He then took a step back in 2006-07, as his team won the NCAA Tournament again—this time with Noah as the fourth-leading scorer.
Whether Chicago chooses to just make minor tweaks and hope Rose gets back to 100 percent, or amnesty Carlos Boozer and shift toward a rebuild, Noah will be a valuable member of the team either way.
That makes him not just a building block for the Bulls, but a steady foundation, willing and able to sustain change and adversity.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.