Ranking Joakim Noah's 10 Best Performances for the Chicago Bulls This Season

Micky Shaked@@mickyshakedContributor IIIMarch 9, 2014

Ranking Joakim Noah's 10 Best Performances for the Chicago Bulls This Season

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    Cut two heads off the Chicago Bulls' "Big Three" and the body will flail around awhile before sending up the white flag, right?

    Derrick Rose, KO'd by an MCL tear. Luol Deng, banished to Cleveland.

    Joakim Noah? Coming off a week in which he recorded two triple-doubles, the seventh-year center is thriving. As the lone remaining star in the Second City, Noah has the Bulls overachieving their way to one of the best records in the NBA (22-10) since January 1.

    Already a double-double machine with 31 in 60 games—tied with Chris Paul and David Lee for ninth-most in the NBA—Noah has added a third legitimate skill to his arsenal:

    Joakim Noah has 20 games of 6+ assists this season. All other centers in the NBA combined have 18 such games.

    — Jeff Mangurten (@JeffGurt) March 3, 2014

    That number now stands at 22.

    Apologies to Marc Gasol, Kevin Love (who throws a mean full-court pass) and Noah's sensei, Brad Miller, but Jo may be the best passing big man since Vlade Divac.

    In the last month, Noah has matched or set a number of assist records concerning the center position.

    • February 19: Became the first center to notch 13 assists in a single game since Divac did it back in the 1995-96 season, per Basketball-Reference.com.
    • March 2: Recorded 14 assists, most by a center in a single game since Sam Lacey did so 35 years ago.
    • March 5: Tied Brad Miller for the second-most games of at least 10 assists in a season since 1985-86 with five. Divac's nine in 2003-04 are the most.

    Then there's this:

    Joakim Noah is the first Center to lead his team in assist since 1993-94 David Robinson did it. pic.twitter.com/giTcIpSat1

    — M² (@MykeMitch) March 2, 2014

    And the Bulls still have 20 games to play.

    The MVP award has always been a two-horse race between Kevin Durant and LeBron James, but there are still five spots on the ballot. Some people are starting to believe Noah deserves one of them:

    On my MVP ballot that I don't actually have, I'd have Joakim Noah third on it.

    — Royce Young (@royceyoung) March 2, 2014


    NBA MVP Race: Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah Deserves MVP Nod http://t.co/9KuBvzMtLc #RantNBA #NBA

    — Rant Sports 24/7 (@RantSports247) March 4, 2014


    With that in mind, let us pay homage to the hardest working player in the NBA by reliving his 10 best games of this three-quarters-finished season. Jo's stat line forms the basis for assessment, but extra weight was given to critical late-game plays, as were his individual on/off numbers.

    Note: All stats and recaps courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise noted

Honorable Mentions

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    January 18 vs. Philadelphia


    Noah extended his double-digit rebounding streak to a career-high 12 games. He scored eight of his game-high 21 points in the second quarter as the Bulls built a 20-point lead going into halftime.

    February 23 at Miami


    The lone losing performance on this list saw Noah score eight points in the fourth quarter as part of a failed comeback attempt against the Heat. It was an overall ugly effort from the Bulls, who shot 36 percent from the field and had seven shot-clock violations on the day.

10. January 7 vs. Phoenix Suns

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    The first entry on our list was one of Chicago's most emotional games of the year, right up there with Derrick Rose's first game back from injury and then the team's first game without Rose, again.

    Luol Deng, Noah's best friend on the team and teammate for his entire career, had just been shipped to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum cap relief and draft picks. Carlos Boozer sat with a sore knee, leaving just nine Bulls in uniform.

    Noah responded to Deng's departure by dropping 14 points and six assists against Phoenix in a game that stayed close down to the wire. Chicago held on for a 92-87 win, and Jo made some key contributions.

    He assisted on back-to-back baskets by D.J. Augustin and Mike Dunleavy that gave Chicago an 82-70 advantage halfway through the fourth quarter.

    Earlier in the final period, with the Bulls holding onto a five-point lead, he grabbed a key offensive rebound that led to a Tony Snell three. Two possessions later, his layup pushed the lead to 13, giving Chicago some breathing room.

    Noah certainly had more statistically impressive performances receive honorable mentions, but the circumstances under which Noah played made the effort that much more significant.

9. January 20 vs. Los Angeles Lakers

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    The history books will remember how Taj Gibson's layup off an inbounds pass with nine-tenths of a second left in overtime gave the Bulls a 102-100 win over the Lakers. And D.J. Augustin will make the secondary headline for carrying Chicago with 27 points.

    But Noah's 17 points, 21 rebounds and six assists should not be overlooked. He did the majority of his work in the first two quarters, reaching a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) before halftime.

    Noah made the mistake that extended the game into overtime, but not before dishing four of his six assists in the fourth quarter. On the last one, he hit a cutting Jimmy Butler with a laser-tight one-handed bounce pass from just inside the three-point line to break a 90-90 tie. Then, with the clock winding down for the last shot and Los Angeles down by three, Noah fouled Nick Young on a three-point attempt and Young sank the free throws to tie the game.

    Noah finished overtime with three big rebounds before Gibson's game-winning shot.

8. February 25 at Atlanta

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    When taking into account that Atlanta played without Al Horford, Paul Millsap and backup centers Pero Antic and Gustavo Ayon, Noah's stat line and Chicago's 107-103 victory lose their luster. It gets worse when you realize the Chicago bigs went up agains Elton Brand, DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott.

    But Jo had an efficient night on the offensive end. He turned the ball over just once, and his .629 shooting percentage stands as his sixth-best shooting night of the season. After starting 0-of-3, Jo didn't miss another shot until three minutes into the fourth quarter.

    Though he scored seven critical points in the final period, Noah's biggest contributions came on defense. And they weren't the typical plays in the paint that we've come to expect that put this game on the list.

    Aside from stripping Brand twice in the quarter, Noah also collected a key loose ball that Jeff Teague seemed to just dribble away off his leg with 20 seconds to play. When Mike Dunleavy threw away the ensuing inbounds pass, Jo hustled back to help Tony Snell force the speedy Teague out of bounds underneath Chicago's basket.

    After a pair of Kirk Hinrich free throws, Noah stripped Scott as he elevated for a potential game-tying three and sealed Chicago's victory.

7. December 13 at Milwaukee

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    Back-to-back entries on this list feature game-saving defensive plays from Noah. But unlike against Atlanta, he stuffed the box score with authority in this one.

    Noah reached season highs in points and assists, though both have since been topped. He did so by revving early, collecting a steal, layup and two assists in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the game.

    That hot start was bookended by an even better finish. Noah dropped 10 points in the fourth quarter of a game Chicago struggled to put away.

    On the other end, Noah wrapped up Gary Neal for a jump ball with 16 seconds left. He easily won the tip, which led to Mike Dunleavy's bank shot go-ahead three-pointer with only 5.8 seconds left on the clock.

    Going back the other way, Jo rejected O.J. Mayo's last-ditch runner in the lane as the final buzzer went off.

6. February 19 at Toronto

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     As noted on the first slide, February 19 was a special day for Noah.

    He didn't fill the stat sheet particularly well. In fact, Dunleavy's 11 rebounds led the team. Boozer led the team with 20 points and Augustin got his "revenge" on Toronto by scoring 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter of a nail-biting 94-92 road win.

    But Jo's 13 assists were the most by a center in 18 years, and he got them in a wide variety of ways. He made the second-niftiest behind-the-back pass by a big man in some time, finding Hinrich wide open for a corner three (Hint: The niftiest is yet to come). He found a cutting Butler with a back-door pass and then again from an offensive rebound.

    It was a stellar defensive effort from the center as well. He allowed just two points to Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas.

    Noah was particularly active in the fourth quarter with five assists, two points, a blocked shot and one of his four rebounds.

5. January 2 vs. Boston Celtics

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    Jo fell one assist shy of his first triple-double of the season and fourth of his career against the Celtics. He also led the team in points, rebounds and assists for the game.

    In a testament to his professionalism, Noah acknowledged to reporters that he shouldn't have been playing for stats. "It's not really good to play basketball that way," he said after the game. "Focusing on your stats is not that cool, but I tried to get it."

    Noah did his best Chris Paul impression. First he threw Gibson a perfect alley-oop pass from just inside the three-point line (0:24 into the video). Then Noah found Augustin on a back-door cut with his patented one-handed bounce pass from the top of the circle.

    He also grabbed six offensive rebounds that led to 10 points for the Bulls as they halted a two-game home losing streak.

4. March 5 at Detroit

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    Noah's effort against Detroit marked his third triple-double in a month and made a bit of history. 

    Noah has 3 Pts/Rbs/Asts triple-doubles in '13-14, 1st Center to do so in a season since D.Robinson ('93-94). Potential for his 3rd in 4gms

    — NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) March 7, 2014

    The Bulls needed every part of it as they took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.

    Augustin came up huge off the bench with 14 points in the final period. But Jo came alive with eight points of his own and five assists in helping Chicago build a double-digit lead down the stretch.

    His effort put Noah in elite company:

    Joakim Noah is a triple-double MACHINE. 2nd in last 3 games tonight -- 10 Pts, 11 Reb, 10 Reb. Noah ties Steph Curry for 2nd in NBA w/ 3.

    — SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 6, 2014

    Only stat-stuffer Lance Stephenson has more triple-doubles with four.

3. January 15 at Orlando

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    This game has an unfair advantage over the rest. Noah played a full quarter longer than his average minutes in this triple-overtime win against Orlando.

    Jo set a season high in points, 14 of them coming in the fourth quarter and three overtimes. His lefty hook shot with just over two minutes left in the final overtime brought Chicago within one point, and his defense made sure Orlando didn't score the rest of the way.

    He stripped Victor Oladipo, which led to Tony Snell's go-ahead jumper, then blocked Oladipo's layup on the next possession.

2. February 11 vs. Atlanta Hawks

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    MinFGM-FGAFG%PtsReb Ast Bl Stl TO+/-

    Noah's monster game against Atlanta was his first triple-double in nearly a year, and it came the same day Gar Forman presented him with his All-Star jersey.

    He got off to a great start with six points, assists and rebounds in the first quarter as Chicago asserted a 16-point lead. Eight second-quarter points helped stave off an Atlanta run that closed the gap to 10.

    With respect to his fancy behind-the-back assist on February 19 against Toronto, Jo's wrap-around pass to a cutting Jimmy Butler for the layup (1:30 mark of the video) was a thing of no-look beauty.

1. March 2 vs. New York Knicks

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    Even though he did it in a 109-90 win over the woeful New York Knicks, a feat not seen in 35 years deserves its full credit.

    Noah bounces back door pass to Augustin for layup for 14th assist to go with 13 pts and 12 rebs. Entire Knicks team with 15 assists

    — Sam Smith (@SamSmithHoops) March 2, 2014

    Twenty-two different players have recorded at least 14 assists this season, all of them guards except Nicolas Batum, Andre Iguodala and Noah. Not since 1979 had a center been responsible for the feat.

    Chicago jumped on New York early due in large part to Noah's point-center skills. He assisted on the team's first three baskets and scored six points as the Bulls jumped out to a 16-1 lead.

    With 11 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, Jo nearly had a triple-double at halftime.

    Indicative of his status as a high-post playmaker, six of Noah's assists went to cutters for an average shot distance of 2.2 feet, per Elias Sports Bureau.