2014-15 Season Must Be Joakim Noah's Finest as a Chicago Bull

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2014-15 Season Must Be Joakim Noah's Finest as a Chicago Bull
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Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls is coming off one of the best all-around seasons in recent history. He must do even better in 2014-15, but not in the way you might think.

Noah recorded 1,007 points, 900 rebounds, 431 assists, 121 blocks and 99 steals last year. Per Basketball-Reference.com, the only other players who have chalked up those numbers are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1975-76) and Kevin Garnett (five times).

Only Noah won the Defensive Player of the Year in the season he accomplished it, though.

Furthermore, after Derrick Rose went down with a season-ending injury on Nov. 22, and Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 7, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reinvented the offense to go through Noah as a point center.

It resulted in the Bulls having the best record in the Eastern Conference for the remainder of the season, according to NBA.com/Stats.

So how does Noah improve? To be honest, statistically, he doesn’t.

But numbers don’t define Noah. His greatest virtues are not embodied in them. He’s the best intangible player in the league. It’s why he won DPOY. It’s why he was the All-Defensive First Team center and on the All-NBA First Team.

In spite of the all-around numbers he posted, the most memorable thing about his 2013-14 season came days after the Deng trade.

With rumors swirling that the Bulls were tanking—and should be—Noah put an end to that nonsense, declaring, via Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com:

There's no tanking, and that's it. … We just want to represent. ... When I come to the game, I see the guy selling the newspapers on the streets. [It's] cold outside -- when he sees me driving by, he's excited. You know what I mean? He's excited. He's like, 'All right. Let's go Bulls! Get it done tonight!' I feel like I play for that guy. Like when I look at the top of the arena, and I look up top and I see teams call timeout, and I see the guy who looks this big and he's up cheering up and down, jumping up and down, that's the guy I play for.

And with that, Noah picked up not just the team, but the entire Bulls fanbase. Afterward, there was no more talk of quitting. He just wouldn’t allow it.

If you want something that defines Noah, that’s it: competitive fire.

Whether it was doing a crazy dance with Florida after winning the national championship, getting suspended his rookie year by his own teammates or channeling that same intensity as a more mature man, Noah’s will to win has always defined him.

It’s what makes him willing to adjust his game to do whatever it takes. And that’s what the Bulls will demand from him in 2014-15.

This year, Chicago’s roster is experiencing a makeover.

It’s getting an influx of offensive talent that it hasn’t had in Thibodeau’s tenure. Rose is returning. Pau Gasol was signed via free agency. Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott will be playing in their rookie seasons.

M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

As a result, Noah’s numbers will suffer.

His minutes will diminish (thankfully), as the Bulls bigs will run four deep this year. His rebounds will see a corresponding drop. He won’t be the primary distributor with Rose back and Gasol being another great passer.

And he won’t give a hoot about that.

Numbers aren’t where Noah must have his best year. It’s in the things box scores don’t measure. That’s where his true value lies.

His little buddy, Rose, will be playing with an almost entirely new cast from what he had when he was last healthy.

The only current Bulls players Rose shared the court with for more than 300 minutes are Noah, Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich—with most of that time coming during Hinrich’s first stint with Chicago.

That means the bridge from the old gang to the new one is going to have to be Noah, not Rose. Noah is one of the smartest players in the league, and that will be key to a smooth transition.

He’ll have to do so by "re-reinventing" his place in the offense, finding a balance between the high-post-passing big he was last year and the putback beast he was when he was playing alongside Rose prior to the MVP’s injury woes.

Noah will still be setting picks as well as anyone in the league, freeing up Rose to wreak havoc with blistering speed.

He’ll be catching the ball in the high post, feeding Gasol the ball down low or churning it out to Mirotic and McDermott behind the three-point line.

He'll be taking on LeBron James from time to time in isolation, or keeping Dwight Howard out of the restricted area.

His defensive accolades did not only reward his individual play, though. He'll resume his Garnett-like generalship of the D, barking commands and/or gently nudging his teammates into position.

And now, he’ll be asked to work in and around all three newcomers in the defensive scheme, adjusting to each one’s weaknesses and compensating for them.

That could mean stepping out to the perimeter to help McDermott when he’s beaten off the dribble, or dropping into the restricted area to help Mirotic or Gasol protect the rim.

And it doesn’t end there. While Rose might be the on-court leader, Noah will still be the off-court captain.

When Rose is frustrated and forcing things, Noah will need to calm him down. When Tony Snell is struggling, Noah will need to coax the confidence out of him with a crash-course in chest-bumping.

When the rookies inevitably blow their defensive assignments, it will be Noah who helps them to understand how to process Thibodeau’s rants.

Finally, that raw energy, scrappy defiance and relentlessness that is the Bulls will be bred into the new arrivals by Noah.

The fight that ended the Miami Heat's win streak at 27 games in 2013, that won the triple-overtime game against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4, that would not cave under adversity last season and will not fear LeBron James—whatever team he plays for—must be instilled in them.

And Noah is the man to do it. 

McDermott, Gasol and Mirotic will join Rose to serve as the face of the proverbial watch. While they’re racking up the scoring numbers and getting the attention, beneath it will be Noah: the gear who spins all the other gears.

The box scores won’t reveal his value, but the standings and the playoffs will. In that sense, it will be his finest season with Chicago.

The Bulls have the talent to win a title, but that alone is not enough. If they take home the championship, the difference will be Noah’s leadership and intangibles.

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