Joakim Noah at Least Belongs in the NBA MVP Conversation

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Joakim Noah at Least Belongs in the NBA MVP Conversation
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Pencil Joakim Noah into the NBA MVP conversation.

Slow your roll, trolls of comments sections everywhere. "Conversation" doesn't equate to "Noah is the league's MVP."

The MVP race is clearly a two-rung ladder comprising LeBron "I have more MVP awards than Destiny's Child has singers" James and Kevin "Can I beat LeBron just this once?" Durant. That doesn't mean there isn't a need for additional discussion.

Other players shouldn't be banned from MVP confabs solely because the league has two incredible athletes playing on separate planes from everyone else. Players such as Blake Griffin—yes, Blake Griffin (Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal details why)—deserve to be recognized as MVP candidates in the technical sense.

Noah falls into the same category as Griffin, filed under "Deserving MVP Candidates Who Will Never Be." 

But while Noah will never be named MVP, the conversation, the MVP-type recognition can happen. It should happen.

The Chicago Bulls center, All-Star and playoff lifeline deserves it.

 

All the Stat Lines Ever

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Fasten your Joakim Noah-inspired ponytails, Chicago's big man is about to take you on a statistical vacation.

In the absence of Derrick Rose (again) and Luol Deng, Noah has played the best basketball of his career. His 12 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game read like a list of (mostly) career highs and statistical balance foreign to big men.

Rather unexpectedly, Noah has transformed into a nightly triple-double threat, showcasing versatility typically reserved for point guards and point forwards. He has three triple-doubles on the season and two in his last three games.

On the heels of his triple-double performance against the New York Knicks, Bleacher Report's Ethan Norof posed an interesting question: Is there a more versatile big man in the NBA than Noah?

To that, I responded, "Marc Gasol. Maybe." 

Noah has become that much of a threat. Only a healthy Gasol can rival his vast skill set.

Only four other centers have compiled at least three triple-doubles in the same season since 1985. Shawn Bradley and Hakeem Olajuwon were the last ones to accomplish the same feat in 1995-96. For those keeping score at home, nearly two decades have come and gone since Noah's individual accolades have been duplicated. 

Don't discount Noah building upon his string of triple-doubles, either. David Robinson tallied five triple-doubles during the 1993-94 campaign, the most of any center since 1985. Noah has an opportunity to match or beat that with 21 games to play. 

Better still, Robinson is the last center (1993-94) to register his three-plus (four) triple-doubles using assists as opposed to blocks. All three of the Ponytail Pillager's triple-doubles have included 10-assist outings. 

Noah has 31 double-doubles on the season, tying him for the eighth-highest total in the NBA, so he's routinely scoring and rebounding his way into similar territory. All that's left is assists, which he has been dropping at an astounding rate this side of the All-Star break.

Since then, Noah has handed out 61 total assists, the ninth-most in the NBA. 

Let me repeat that: Since Feb. 18, only eight players have dished out more dimes than Noah. Deron Williams (45), Mike Conley (43), Goran Dragic (53), Kyle Lowry (59) and Kemba Walker (60) are among the many point guards who have fewer.

The number of games played factors in, but each of the listed point guards has appeared in at least seven contests since Feb. 18; Noah has played nine.

And frankly, we shouldn't care. It doesn't matter if Noah has appeared in one or two more games than them. He's a center. Averaging 6.8 assists. Per game. Over his last nine.

Appreciate that for what it is: amazing. 

Then breathe. Then breathe some more. Then appreciate his defense.

Noah is the best defender on the league's second-best defensive team. His defensive rating of 96 ties him with Roy Hibbert and Paul George—man, the Indiana Pacers sure know how to defend—for the NBA's second-best mark among qualified players.

The Bulls are also 6.2 points better per 100 possessions overall with him on the floor compared to with him off, and Noah himself ranks in the top 15 of win shares with 7.8.

Two-way prowess doesn't get much more evident than what Noah has shown.

 

Winning, Not Tanking

Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Remember when we thought the Bulls were tanking?

Admit it, you thought about it. I definitely thought about it.

Rose's injury coupled with Deng's departure amounted to a lottery finish, one the Bulls would embrace by stripping their roster of other role players in favor of salary-cap relief and a better draft position.

That never happened. Because of Noah.

"No way, man. No way," Noah said of the Bulls tanking in January, per ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell. "We don't talk about those things. It's like it's so far from our reality."

If you don't believe Chicago would have entered tank mode had it been given the opportunity, you're sorely mistaken. With the ability to create cap space by amnestying Carlos Boozer this summer, the prospect of adding a top-seven pick (or higher) to a core that hopefully consists of a healthy Rose would have been too good to pass on.

But Noah's play has spearheaded an anti-tanking movement. The Bulls are collectively resilient, but Noah's energy and heart trumps everyone else's. 

 

Joakim Noah, the MVP Candidate

During yet another season mired in personnel losses, the Bulls could have folded. They could have quit. They could have tanked.

Instead of falling into the whirlwind of adversity thrust upon them, they persevered as a team. At the forefront of their never-say-die attitude is Noah.

Where would the Bulls be without him? 

Not battling for a top-three playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, that's for sure.

The way in which Noah has elevated his play this season—especially of late—is incredible and inspirational. Few players, if any, boast the motor he does. He's always playing, always fighting.

While the competition between Durant and James is too fierce for him to legitimately be considered for the MVP award, he deserves to be recognized in a similar context.

How many other players are actually more important to their team right now than Noah is to the Bulls. Not many. One could even say no one now that Russell Westbrook is healthy for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dwyane Wade is going strong for the Miami Heat.

Does Joakim Noah deserve to a part of the MVP discussion?

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"I think that there’s always adversity in a game," Noah said after notching his third triple-double of the season, via CSN Chicago's Chris Vannini. "It’s all about how you handle those things. We’re one of the better teams when it comes to that."

There is no fairy-tale resiliency in Chicago without Noah. There is no winning record. There is no hope for a playoff berth, let alone one that guarantees Chicago home-court advantage in the first round.

The 2013-14 Chicago Bulls, surprising and resilient, are not the same without him.

As Noah goes, so do they. And the Bulls are going places, even without Rose and Deng, because of him.

  

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required).


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