Joakim Noah had the cast on his hand removed recently and was cleared to participate in non-contact practice drills.
Although this is a great sign in the right direction for Noah and the Bulls, Coach Tom Thibodeau said it is most likely Noah will come back after the All-Star break. Noah will accompany the Bulls on their upcoming road trip so he will be around the team and able to practice.
Noah said on a recent Bulls telecast he wants to return before the All-Star break. That would be great news for a variety of reasons.
The Bulls have two home games after their road trip the week of All-Star weekend and it would be great if Noah could return for those games. The Bulls play Charlotte, the Bulls have had plenty of trouble with them this season, and San Antonio.
The Bulls could use Noah's size and rebounding against the Bobcats as they have been pretty relentless on the offensive glass against the Bulls this season. They could also use him against the Spurs given they have Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair on the front line.
Obviously, rushing Noah's return is something that the Bulls will not do. Once Noah is cleared for contact he should be unleashed at full speed and not held back. Noah's all out competitiveness will allow him to find out right away how healthy and strong his hand is.
When Carlos Boozer was cleared for contact drills he came back the first game he was available for. Noah should be watched a little more closely only because he seems to desperately want to come back as soon as possible.
Another plus for Noah is that he will have the All-Star break to work out the kinks if he comes back before then. If he plays before the break he can find out what specifically he needs to work during the break if he chooses to.
The coaching staff can also get an idea of where his game conditioning is when he comes back and get an idea of what his minutes will be. The Bulls play the Miami Heat the Thursday after the All-Star break and to have Noah back for that game after a couple games under his belt can be a huge advantage to see how much he can go.
The overall impact of Noah's return will more than just rebounding and defense.
Noah is a tremendous passer and can start fast breaks and even dribble up the court a little bit. In the half court set he can play the high post which can open up a lot of space for Boozer to operate on the block.
He can also play the pick and roll very well with Derrick Rose which is a huge advantage as Boozer also plays it extremely well. Noah can defend the pick and roll very well as he can move laterally quicker than most big men in the league.
He is able to get in front of the guards coming off the pick, but is able to move back over and defend the bigs rolling to the basket in time to cut them off from going in for a basket.
The return of Noah will benefit Boozer mostly because it will free up the middle of the paint as the weak side defenders will have to stay close to Noah as he is a tremendous offensive rebounder. Boozer can also pass out of a the double team should the weak side defender slide over and hit Noah for an easy dunk.
The Bulls have not had Noah and Boozer together at 100 percent all season and are 33-14 and in third place in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls have been winning without Noah and have some impressive wins with him out. The Bulls will have about two months before the playoffs begin to get everyone on the team used to playing with each other at full strength and that is going to spell trouble for the rest of the Eastern conference.