ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell writes: “Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah is on schedule with his rehabilitation and expects to be back after the All-Star break. Noah is hopeful he will make his return on Feb. 23 against the Toronto Raptors.”
Noah hasn’t played since a 110-93 win over the Raptors in Toronto back on December 15. That’s a stretch of 29 games…but it feels like much longer. Heck, it almost feels like Jo hasn’t played since MJ retired.
For a refresher, Noah was averaging career-highs in points (13.7) and assists (2.6) while ranking among the league leaders in rebounding (11.5). He was shooting 51.4 percent from the field and chipping in with 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. Joakim still leads the Bulls in Offensive Rating (115) and Defensive Rating (96), and he ranks third in Player Efficiency Rating (19.5).
Noah also ranks first on the team in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (0.205). For comparison, assuming he qualified by playing enough games, Jo would be tied with Dirk Nowitzki for 11th in the league. He’s also be ahead of guys like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Steve Nash, Kevin Durant and, as noted, Derrick Rose.
Not that I have to sell Bulls fans on Noah. I’m just trying to indicate on just how productive he really is. Or, rather, was before he injured his thumb back on November 27.
Said Noah: “[I’m] very excited. Just working out. I’ve got some tape on my hand instead of a cast. I can shoot a little bit and get back on the court as soon as I can. … [My conditioning is] not great. But I’m working really hard every day. So I think I’ll be ready when I get back on the court. … I’m not sure [how I’ll play]. I’ve never been out that long but I’m working as hard as I can and when I’m out there I’ll probably 150 percent and see where it goes.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “He’s hasn’t done live scrimmaging yet. But there’s parts of practice that are somewhat, more half-court, where you’re structuring body on body, pick and roll defense, different defensive coverages and things like that. So he’s been cleared to do that, but he hasn’t been cleared yet to do the scrimmaging part, which will probably be the next step for him. Based on what [athletic trainer] Fred [Tedeschi] has laid out is a plan for progression. So he cleared him for some contact and then the next phase will be the total live contact.”
It’s hard to imagine Jo playing next week if he hasn’t even scrimmaged yet.
Thibs continued: “The thing that he’s done well is he’s been very engaged. He’s done a lot of conditioning. He’s come early to stay with the offense and sort of walk through things there so he’s been working on that and then he’s done a lot of post work with his left hand and things of that nature. So he’s done a good job with that, and then the past few weeks he’s done a little bit more. I think the big thing, once he starts playing, will be, how long will he be able to sustain a high level of play without [being gassed]. I think that will come quickly. What he has done is he’s done a great job with his conditioning, so he’s done as much as you could possibly do.”
Whatever the case, the sooner Noah is back in action, the better. The Bulls (36-16) are 12 games up on the Pacers in the Central Division, but the Bulls have higher aspirations than a division title. Right now, they’re third in the East, just a hop step behind Boston (39-14) and Miami (39-15). With the injuries to Carlos Boozer and Noah, it feels like the Bulls fell way behind those teams…but first place is hardly out of reach if the team just takes care of its business.
But the Bulls will need Noah for any late-season run at homecourt advantage.