Joakim Noah might not be the most improved player this year, but arguably no player has done more to redefine himself.
Once viewed as merely a great “energy” guy and defender, he’s so much more than that now. With the Bulls offense struggling, Thibodeau reinvented it and ran it through Noah.
As a result, Noah is having one of the most dominant seasons in history by someone who is not a ball-dominant player.
On NBA.com, Sekou Smith writes in his MVP Ladder, where he has Noah ranked fourth,
How many centers lead their team in rebounds, assists and blocks? Don't even bother looking it up. And there's no doubt he leads the entire league, regardless of position, in passion. The versatile Noah, who has emerged as the co-face of the franchise with Derrick Rose, is rewriting his own bio with a spectacular season that will keep him in the hearts and minds of Bulls fans worldwide.
Noah will get votes for the MVP, but let’s be real. He has no shot at winning that. It’s Kevin Durant’s already. But, he’s probably going to get Defensive Player of the Year as a consolation prize. Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald writes:
Having been a voter for these awards, some insight is available here. Media members don’t have a clear idea which player is truly the best defender. They need a hook.
Noah’s got that with his nonstop intensity and ability to keep pushing the Bulls into the playoffs without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng. Reporters figure he’s due for an award and this one is it.
Like it or lump it, the media is itching to give Noah an award, and this is it. And truthfully, it’s not entirely unreasonable for him to win this one. He’s the anchor of the defense, and the defense has been on par with any in the NBA since Deng was traded, even the Indiana Pacers.
Noah is a different type of defender than Roy Hibbert, the other potential winner. Noah is arguably more responsible for this team's success, though. Hibbert is a great rim protector, but that doesn't mean he’s the best defensive player. As Sam Smith of Bulls.com points out,
There’s been a season long notion that the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert should be Defensive Player of the Year. I don’t see it. It’s a non-thinking vote based on sort of Greek logic: The Pacers have the best opponent shooting percentage defensively, ergo, they must be the best defensive team and then Hibbert as their center must be the best defensive player. He’s a fine rim protector as a shot blocker. But he’s so immobile you can get him out of position with movement, and he doesn't come out on the court that well to help. I have him as the Pacers’ third best defender. I’d have Noah ahead of him, though that Defensive Player of the Year has somehow morphed into best defensive center. It shouldn't be.
How many players in the league can stay in the post with Dwight Howard and step to the perimeter to guard LeBron James in isolation? Hibbert can't. That's why he was on the bench with the game on the line in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
Noah’s defensive versatility makes the Bulls’ switch-heavy defense work.
He certainly is as deserving as Hibbert, and right now voters are itching to vote him in for something. That, combined with the way the Bulls are finishing compared to the Pacers, makes it easy to see Noah with the momentum now.
And, if that weren't enough, there will be this image seared into voters' brains. DPOYs don't flop and say, "Oy!"
Noah will probably finish fourth or fifth in MVP voting but has a zero percent chance at winning. There is, however, a 90 percent chance that Noah is the next Defensive Player of the Year. If he doesn't win that, he will certainly be first- or second-team All-NBA and on the All-Defensive team.