With his confidence brimming from a productive seven-game series against the Boston Celtics
, Joakim Noah carried that over to the offseason by adding about 15 pounds of muscle.
This helped him rewrite his image from one of the softer players coming out of college into one of the league's more rugged, scrappier players.
The offseason work has paid off with Noah anchoring the Bulls
' interior defense, helping Chicago
rank second in opponent free-throws made and field-goal percentage, third in the Eastern Conference in blocked shots, and ninth in points allowed.
Noah's also seventh in rebounding and in blocks (second among Eastern Conference Centers) but more importantly he's been able to stay on the floor and become a quintessential asset to his team.
Noah's only committed 13 fouls in six games, the lowest among all players in the top 15 in shot-blocking and the lowest among all players with three years of NBA
service or less.
As for individual stats, Noah is averaging 11.3 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per contest in only 30 minutes per game, giving him a PER of 23, ranking above the likes of Steve Nash, Paul Pierce, and Tony Parker among others.
Noah grabbed 21 rebounds in the Bulls' 90-89 loss to the Nuggets
on Tuesday night including what should have been the game-winning rebound considering he grabbed Chauncey Billups' intentional miss and alertly called time-out with 0.3 seconds left.
Brad Miller drained a off balance jump-shot which was later overturned. He collected 16 boards the night before along with 4 blocks and is averaging 12.3 RPG along with 2.7 BPG in wins.
For a player billed as a voltage prospect, he's played to his strengths and has salivated each opportunity at home by feeding off the home crowd.
He enjoys patrolling the paint and erasing his teammates' mistakes; putting 3.6 blocked shots into the stands every game at the United Center.
Dating back to last season with Noah playing ten minutes or more, the Bulls are 7-0 when they hold their opponents within the realm of 80-89 points and 15-1 since Noah was drafted out of Florida in 2007.
He has 60 rebounds in his last four games and could wind up as a dark-horse candidate to earn a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team behind behemoth certainties Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal
The difference between this year and last is obviously the weight, but certain players have a hard time adjusting to their new bodies.
Paul Pierce decided to shed 10 pounds in lieu of the Celtics' title defense and he struggled mightily, shooting 40 of 106 (37 percent) with more turnovers (17) than three-pointers made (10).
Noah however has done a good job adapting to the extra pounds and still shows the lively foot speed and nose for the ball that made him the ninth pick in 2007.
He's been able to move his hips effectively allowing him to show just enough on screens to irk the opposition but retreat back to his position and help towards the basket.
His intensity is never a question, and coaches crave players like that. Noah is also establishing himself as an option on offense and does a stellar job of flanking to the rim off pick-and-rolls from Chicago guards for easy baskets.
His shooting mechanics are extremely questionable but that seems to be the only blatant hindrance to his game.
If Noah can continue to maintain stride, he has a chance to build the foundation of a memorable career in Chicago.
At this rate, Noah would become the first Chicago Bulls player to average 11 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks per game in franchise history since the late great Artis Gilmore more than 30 years ago in 1976-77.
Should Noah accomplish the feat, he would distance himself from Bulls' greats like Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant in that particular category.
As I also mentioned earlier, if Noah makes the All-Star team he would become the first Chicago big man named to the All-Star team since Horace Grant 15 years ago.