For Chicago Bulls To Contend, Joakim Noah Needs To Grab Some Bench
You have to be happy with a Chicago Bulls team currently over .500 and playing good basketball in the middle of their always daunting "circus trip."
But how long will Bulls fans be smiling?
The circus trip always gives Bulls fans headaches, but there's another future headache on the horizon if Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't change his current player rotation.
Joakim Noah, arguably the league's most improved player over the last 15 months, needs to play 75+ games for the Bulls to contend for a No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls need Noah in April, not November.
With the exception of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah is the M.V.B. (Most Valuable Bull) of this team.
If you just glanced at the headline of this article, you might think I'm crazy to suggest Noah needs to sit on the bench.
Noah is a fantastic player and continues to get better each and every day. What he brings the Bulls from a defensive standpoint can't be matched, and his rebounding ability is second to none (except for league-leader Kevin Love that is; Noah is second in the NBA in rebounds with a mighty 12.9 per game).
But Noah is also among the league-leaders in a category that I don't want him to be: minutes per game.
At 37.8 minutes-per-game, Noah is No. 12 in the NBA among players who qualify.
While Noah is still young at 25-years-old, don't forget he missed a significant amount of action last season with plantar fasciitis (he played in 64 games; 54 starts).
Plantar fasciitis, a foot injury that requires roughly six weeks to heal, almost derailed a Bulls' playoff run last season, and could hinder a Bulls' run at a top-four seed in the East in 2010-11.
Noah's minutes need to be reduced to keep him fresh down the stretch and limit his seemingly inevitable missed time.
Big athletes (see Walton, Bill) are more prone to this foot problem, and Noah is one of the biggest, goofiest athletes you'll ever see.
The near-seven-footer continues to add muscle to his once-lanky frame, and it's anyone's guess as to how many games and minutes he can play in for this Bulls squad.
Of course, the obvious problem for head coach Tom Thibodeau is a lack of quality big men, with prized acquisition Carlos Boozer still recovering from surgery on his right hand several weeks ago.
With Boozer on the bench, Noah has had to shoulder more of the rebounding load and be a presence in the paint for the Bulls to maintain their current 6-4 record.
But with Taj Gibson playing at a high level (11.6 ppg; 6.2 rbg), Noah should be able to escape to the bench a little more, even without Boozer.
Bulls fans will think I'm ludicrous for even mentioning the name Omer Asik, but the rookie from Turkey is shooting 62.5 percent and should see his minutes increase for the time being.
Asik won't win any beauty contests (in looks or performance on the court), but there's enough in his game offensively to give Noah long-enough spells on the bench.
Parts of his game are still dreadful (55 percent from the line; little rebounding help), but until Boozer returns to full strength, why not buy yourself some time and give Noah added rest?
The Boozer/Noah duo can be deadly, but it will be even deadlier if it can take place in 65 games, as opposed to 40 to 50.
I admire Noah's willingness to play every possession likes it's his last, especially after signing a hefty contract extension that could have softened his physicality and demeanor.
But I want the best for this Bulls team, and that will come, I feel, with Noah 100 percent (or as close to that as one can be in April).
Give him more breathers now, and enjoy a well-rested front-court of Noah and Boozer for the season's final five months.
The core of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah has many Bulls fans salivating.
Grab some bench, Jo.
Not because you can't play, but because the Bulls need you at your best in April/May.
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