Name: Joakim Noah (pronounced JO-a-kim) Position: PF/C Height: 6’10″ Weight: 232 pounds Birth Date: February 25, 1985 (24 years old) Birth Place: New York, NY Number: 13 Nicknames: Dr. No, Jo, Jo-No, Noah Kim-Joa, The Joker College: Florida Drafted: 2007, 1st Round, 9th overall by Chicago Experience: 2 seasons Previous teams: None Contract: $2.4 million in 2009-10, $3.1 million in 2010-11 (team option) Expect: Rebounding, blocked shots, crazy energy, crazier hair Don’t expect: Much scoring
Noah’s offense is extremely limited, which probably explains why his career high in points (19) is less than his career high in rebounds (20). Sure, Noah led the Bulls in Effective Field Goal Percentage last season (.556), but almost all of his scoring comes of layups, dunks and putbacks. According to 82games.com, 94 percent of his field goal attempts were inside (where he had an eFG% of .577). Only six percent of his attempts were jump shots (on which he had an eFG% of .227). So, unlike some Bulls players — coughTyrusThomascough! — at least Noah knows his limitations.
Last season, 80 percent of his dunks and nearly 60 percent of his inside shots were assisted, so it’s pretty obvious that Noah doesn’t generally look to create his own offense. He’s almost strictly a finisher. Oddly enough, despite an increase in MPG (from 20.7 to 24.2), Noah’s per-36-minutes scoring average actually dropped from 11.5 his rookie season to 10.0 last year. There were times during the 2008-09 campaign when you could tell that he was hesitant to shoot the ball. If the Bulls are going to succeed this season — during which they have to replace Ben Gordon’s 20 PPG — Noah is going to have to trust his offense. Which also means he’ll have to actually develop some.
There are some rumors that Noah has spent significant time this summer adding strength, working on his post game and improving his lower body mechanics and overall balance. Let’s hope those rumors prove true. I think his game could really blossom if he added a few go-to scoring moves. He already does a great job running out in transition.
Beside the scoring issue, Noah can be a crafty passer when he actually touches the ball. He’s also a demon on the offensive glass. Last season, Noah ranked 2nd in the NBA in Offensive Rebounds Per 48 Minutes (6.0). Offensive rebounding is all about desire and effort, and Noah certainly doesn’t lack in those departments. He’s also a willing and able screener.
What Noah lacks in offensive proficiency he makes up for in defensive intensity. While it’s true that bigger, stronger post players (like Shaq or even Al Jefferson) can usually outmuscle him down low, he’s pretty accomplished in most other areas. His transition defense is fantastic, he can pick up smaller, quicker players on switches, and he rotates extremely well. He can even press and trap when asked to do so, mostly due to his natural athleticism and (more importantly) his willingness to scramble all over the floor.
Last season, Noah ranked 15th in the NBA in Blocks Per Game (1.38) and 13th in Blocks Per 48 Minutes (2.72). With more minutes, I believe he could easily rank in the top 10, maybe even the top five. Same with rebounding. Noah feasts on the defensive glass, which is why last season he ranked 7th in the NBA in Defensive Rebounds Per 48 Minutes (11.3).
Noah has true passion a real thrill for competition. He almost always plays at a frenetic, high-energy pace and he would walk face-first through a brick wall to win. You want someone like that on your team. His energy, enthusiasm and sheer desire more than make up for his limited offensive skill set. (Although I’m still hoping that skill set expands a little.)
Noah is everything you want in a teammate: talented, passionate, driven and unselfish. Unless something truly amazing (and very surprising) happens, he’ll probably never be much of a scorer. However, he can still be a big-time game-changer with his offensive rebounding and his defense.
What’s his ceiling? I can see Noah becoming Ben Wallace 2.0. And I’m not talking about the washed-up Wallace from his Chicago days. I mean the in-his-prime Big Ben who in 2004 stymied Shaq and helped the Detroit Pistons upset the Lakers in the NBA Finals. I see no reason why Noah couldn’t become everything Wallace was back then…and maybe a little bit more.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to provide a scouting report on all the current Bulls players. This should make it a little easier for me (and maybe for you) to sort through the pieces of Chicago’s jigsaw puzzle. I decided to start with the man who will replace the dearly departed Ben Gordon as the team’s starting shooting guard.
Name: John Salmons (pronounced SAL-muns) Position: SG/SF Height: 6’6″ or 6’7″ (depending on whom you ask) Weight:210-ish Birth Date: December 12, 1979 (29 years old) Birth Place: Philadelphia, PA Number: 15 Nicknames: Buck, Get Right, The Fish Man, Up Stream College: Miami (FL) Drafted: 2002, 1st Round, 26th overall by Philadelphia Experience: 7 seasons Previous teams: Philadelphia (2002-2006), Sacramento (2006-2009) Contract: $5.5 in 2009-10, $5.8 million in 2010-11 (player option) Expect: Pull-up jumpers, strong drives, solid man-to-man defense Don’t expect: Floor leadership, amazing ball-handling, a sixth man
Salmons has become a highly effective slasher. He can get to the hoop, absorb contact and finish with either hand. However, Salmons prefers to stop short of the basket, pull up and squeeze off midrange jump shots. In fact, according to 82games.com, 73 percent of his shots during his 26 games with the Bulls were jumpers. (He attempted jumpers 68 percent of the time when he was with the Kings.)
Despite his love affair with the jump shot, Salmons was a pretty efficient scorer last season, shooting 47 percent from the field and nearly 42 percent from three-point range. In fact, he led the 2008-09 Bulls in True Shooting Percentage and was second (to Joakim Noah) in Effective Field Goal Percentage. And while it’s true he played only 26 games in Chicago, his season totals still would have ranked him second in both categories.
So Salmons can penetrate, create his own shots and spread the floor with his outside shooting ability. Those are good things. Unfortunately, a decent chunk of his scoring comes from isolation plays that feature him dribbling, dribbling and dribbling some more until he can cut to the hoop or invent a jumper. During these isolations, Salmons can (and will) overlook cutting teammates and interrupt the flow of the offense. He sometimes commits needless turnovers by overdribbling or forcing a drive. He also has the tendency to disappear when his number isn’t called frequently enough.
On defense: Salmons is a solid — and sometimes exceptional — man-to-man defender, even when matched against premier wing players (such as Paul Pierce and Michael Redd) and talented point guards (like Steve Nash). He’s doesn’t possess blazing speed, but he has the lateral quickness and determination necessary to keep his man in front of him. In fact, his primary defensive strategy is to stop his man’s drive and force a contested jumper. Salmons is willing (and able) to fight through screens and body-up on his man when necessary. He’s not a great rebounder at the SF position, but he’s slightly above average when playing SG, as he will be this season.
On the downside, his team defense is average to below average. His rotations can be sluggish (and sometimes nonexistent) and he’s often so focused on staying with his own man that he fails to help out when his teammates get beaten off the dribble. Salmons tends not to play the passing lanes and doesn’t have great anticipation, so he won’t disrupt many passes or collect a lot of steals.
At this point, everybody knows that Salmons is much more effective starting than coming off the bench. To my knowledge, he’s never complained openly about his role (although it was reported he once stormed out of the lockerroom during his Sacramento days), but the change in his productivity has been pretty easy to track. In 2007-08 for the Kings, Salmons started 41 games (due to injuries) and subbed for 40. On a per-40-minute basis, he averaged 18.4 points on 49.7 percent shooting when starting, and only 12.4 points on 43.0 percent shooting in a reserve capacity. This Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior shouldn’t be a problem this season, since he’s expected to start.
Salmons is a quiet player who isn’t known as a motivational, team-leader type. Which is fine, because that’s not his role with the Bulls.
Note also that Salmons has a player option on the final year of his contract (2010-11). So unless he falls apart this season, he’ll probably opt out of his contract next summer. On the upside, that could spark a little Contract Year Phenomenon.
Salmons is a versatile player. He can defend (and defend well) at three positions (PG, SG and SF). He can drive and finish, create pull-up jumpers from midrange and stick it from long distance. He’ll probably never be an All-Star, but he can and most likely will be a very good utility/complimentary player.