Pau Gasol or Joakim Noah: Which Bulls Big Will Click Better with Derrick Rose?

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Pau Gasol or Joakim Noah: Which Bulls Big Will Click Better with Derrick Rose?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chciago BullsDerrick Rose will have to develop some chemistry with Joakim Noah and former Los Angeles Laker Pau Gasol, and I can only wonder which one will click better with him.

Logic would dictate that Noah has the edge considering that he’s been Rose’s teammate since the 2008-09 campaign. Familiarity certainly helps, but it’s hardly the lone component working in Noah’s favor.

At the height of Rose’s powers, Noah was a terrific pressure-release point when teams trapped Rose. The 2010-11 league MVP would swing the ball over to Noah and watch him create for Chicago.

Noah’s playmaking alongside Rose was one of the major reasons the Bulls advanced to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals at the peak of Rose’s dominance, despite an average offensive cast.

Interestingly enough, Noah’s improved on this front during Rose’s two-year absence (because of knee injuries), and opponents have noticed.

“He gets people involved,” said the Indiana Pacers’ Roy Hibbert in April, per USA Todays Jeff Zillgitt. “He's their floor general out there even at the center position and you don't see that a lot."

The 29-year-old reigning Defensive Player of the Year is a good ball-handler and incredibly skilled passer as evidenced by his 4.8 assists per 36 minutes over the last two seasons. By setting up Rose and others, Noah will make Rose’s life much easier, which in turn will make them a good tandem.

As impressive as Noah was as a playmaker, his biggest contributions will primarily come on defense. Noah has always been a defensive beast because of his quickness and length.

At 6’11’’, he can switch onto perimeter players and hold his own. He does a great job of contesting shots and is a marvel in pick-and-roll coverage.

He traps, hedges or concedes the jumper while still making it a difficult proposition. As a result, Rose never got embarrassed off the bounce when playing with Noah because the center was always lurking in the shadows to thwart opponents.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Rose has never been particularly good at staying in front of players, but Noah helped contain some of the penetration with his help defense, which greatly benefited Rose.

It’s entirely possible that Rose will be incredibly limited from a mobility perspective after two knee surgeries. He’s looked fine while playing for Team USA during the FIBA World Cup, but Rose could wear down.

As a result, it seems likely that he will have to recalibrate his game to better fit with Noah. Let’s not forget, Rose’s time away from the Bulls these last two years may have completely destroyed whatever chemistry he had developed with Noah.

Thus, Chicago's free-agent acquisition (Gasol) has a legitimate shot to become a better fit with Rose.

Gasol, age 34, is a far more accomplished offensive player than Noah. The Spaniard provides the same kind of pressure release as his counterpart because he’s on par with Noah in terms of ball-handling and passing (both are averaging 3.3 career assists per 36 minutes).

This is the lone area where these big men are even offensively. Gasol has evolved to the point that he’s made 10 of 26 (38.5 percent) of his corner threes in the last three campaigns, per NBA.com.

Gasol’s is a low-volume, long-range shooter, but the threat of him hitting jump shots will give Rose some much-needed space in the half court. That’s fantastic news for head coach Tom Thibodeau, and it only gets better.

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Gasol’s a stud low-post player, which means the Bulls will remove some of the burden on Rose’s shoulders. Chicago will be able to throw the ball inside and get high-percentage scoring opportunities, and the Bulls’ best player certainly seems to welcome that.

“You think about Pau, him now being in the East, what he’ll be able to achieve with the way we play, the way we dump the ball in the post a lot,” Rose said in July, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley. “It could be great.”

In addition, Gasol is talented enough to warrant a double-team, and that will free up Rose to attack rotating defenders.

In the event Rose is physically compromised, this will be a great way to help him create his own offense without worrying about help defenders. In the same breath, a healthy Rose who gets to catch the ball with a head of steam is going to create highlights.

Granted, it’s fair to assume that most sound defensive clubs will rotate to Rose in this scenario. That still works for the Bulls because he is a willing passer just as well. When players flock to Rose, he will gladly hit open teammates for quality looks.

Thibodeau will be able to stretch the floor because of the cumulative passing effect of Gasol and Rose (when the play originates from post-ups), which will give Rose wide driving lanes.

The same is true in pick-and-rolls, where Gasol is terrific at reading defenses. He will alternate between diving to the front of the rim or floating out to the elbows to provide space for his ball-handler. If the opposition corrals Rose, it’s an easy pass to Gasol for a mid-range jump shot.

Gasol will be a great addition for the Bulls because he enhances Rose’s strengths and addresses some of the team’s weaknesses (post play and secondary playmaking). In turn, the Spaniard should be a great fit, at least on paper.

There is an area of concern, though. Gasol’s is nowhere near the caliber of defender that Noah is, which means the Bulls might be at a disadvantage when he’s on the floor.

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Gasol isn’t exactly a spring chicken, which means it might be difficult for him to consistently help and recover back to his man. Last season, he sported a defensive plus-minus rating of 1.20 (31st among power forwards) and allowed opponents to convert 54.6 percent of their field goals at the rim, per SportVU data tracking.

As a reference point, players only converted 46.8 percent of their shots at the rim when Noah was there to contest. Still, Gasol is an upgrade over the amnestied Carlos Boozer.

Grantland's Zach Lowe offered: "Both were turnstiles on defense last season, but Gasol should perk up playing for a good team under a new coach, and he’s better than Boozer on that end simply by being three inches taller — and by not being Boozer."

One could argue that Chicago signed Gasol specifically to complement Rose on offense, but let’s not forget that the Bulls' identity stems from their vaunted defense. Thus, it’s certainly conceivable on some level that Thibodeau might ride Noah for longer stretches alongside Rose.

Keep in mind, Taj Gibson is one of the best interior defenders in the league (he’s tough as nails), and that will earn him some minutes at the expense of Gasol.

I believe that will be the key difference when it comes to which player has the best rapport with Chicago’s starting point guard. Both Gasol and Noah will develop synergy with Rose, but Noah will be the slightly better fit.

The fact that this is a discussion point certainly bodes well for Chicago.

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