At long last, after a 30-game absence following thumb surgery, Joakim Noah will play on Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors.
It’s hard to say how good the Bulls will be with Noah back and a full contingent of healthy players. Interestingly enough, Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus checked the math, and the math says the Bulls actually trended up with Noah out of action.
Pelton writes: “As my colleague Bradford Doolittle noted last week, Chicago has the league’s best point differential since Noah had hand surgery in mid-December, outscoring opponents by 7.6 points per game. (The runner-up might be even more surprising: the Orlando Magic, at plus-7.1.) … The most interesting aspect of how the Bulls have played without Noah is that their defense has actually improved without their 7-foot center. Chicago allowed 102.5 points per 100 possessions through Dec. 15 but has cut that to a 100.6 defensive rating since then, emerging as the league’s toughest D.”
Although Chicago’s D has been better than ever, the team’s O has been a little disappointing. The Bulls rank 19th in Pace (91.3), 18th in PPG (98.4) and 16th in Offensive Rating (106.7). Despite his reputation for defense, Noah’s biggest impact could be on the offensive end of the floor.
Doug Thonus of ChicagoNow writes: “Kurt Thomas makes 3.1 shots per 36 minutes. He shoots a good percentage, but his volume is incredibly low. Team’s aren’t sticking with Kurt Thomas and opening the floor up, and for the most part, Thomas isn’t making them pay for doing so. Joakim Noah makes 5.1 shots per 36 minutes and scores at a higher TS% than Thomas. More makes, more volume, more efficiency. He’s more dangerous on the pick and roll, because you have to defend him going to the basket where he can athletically finish. He’s a better passer, ball handler, and driver, so if you leave him open at the elbow, he can go straight into the paint and score, and if you rotate over on him he’ll hit the open man with the pass. … The Bulls offense is going to get a whole lot better with Noah out there.”
By the way, in case you haven’t heart, the ‘Melo-drama is apparently over: Carmelo Anthony is joining the Knicks. At first, the trade sent a shiver down my spine. The Bulls already have to contend with the Celtics, Heat and Magic. Now a new superteam in New York?
The Knicks paid a hefty price for ‘Melo — Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mosgov, a first round draft pick and cash — while getting significantly older (not to mention declining and overpaid) at the point guard position. And what about their depth? I mean, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman haven’t done much of anything this season.
And lest you think Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni and his run-and-gunnery will light a fire under these guys, I should point out that the Nuggets (pre-trade) ranked first in PPG (107.6), first in Offensive Rating (112.4) and third in Pace (95.7).
I’m inclined to agree with ESPN’s John Hollinger: “New York still gets its Melo-Stoudemire nucleus, but now lacks the supporting pieces to do anything important with that core. And by extending Melo now, they agree to lock him up at such an expensive price that, in concert with Stoudemire’s deal, it likely precludes making a run at Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Dwight Howard in 2012.”