Bad news — very bad news — for the Bulls: Joakim Noah will not play again until some time after the All-Star break. The reason: To rest and receive treatment on the plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
Said Bulls general manager Gar Forman: “We’re shutting him down. It’s the best course of action right now. He’s coming back to Chicago to get rest and treatment. We’ll reevaluate it after the All-Star break.”
In case you aren’t familiar with plantar fasciitis, Mayo Clinic describes it as pain and inflammation of a thick band of tissue, called the plantar fascia, which runs across the bottom of your foot, connecting your heel bone to your toes. It feels like a sharp pain in the heel of the foot…which can be particularly troubling for a professional basketball player.
The good news is that about 90 percent of the people who have plantar fasciitis recover with conservative treatments. Unfortunately, it usually takes a few months of not running and jumping on a hardwood court. In other words, what Noah needs most of all is a break from his chosen occupation.
Based on what happened against the Clippers and 76ers — when Noah’s minutes and contributions were limited due to the pain in his foot — the Bulls can’t afford to lose Joakim for a single game let alone a few months.
Noah could have been an All-Star. In fact, he probably would have been if the Bulls had a better record. After all, the only true center on the Eastern Conference All-Star team is Dwight Howard. Atlanta’s Al Horford is listed as a forward/center, and his presence on the team is most likely a function of his team’s place among the East’s elite.
But make no mistake: Noah has been fantastic all season. His raw numbers are pretty impressive on their own: 11.2 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 2.1 APG and 1.7 BPG in only 32.7 minutes. But let’s take a look at how Noah ranks league-wide:
3rd in Rebounds Per Game (12.0)
4th in Total Rebound Percentage (20.1)
5th in Offensive Rebounds (176)
5th in Offensive Rebound Percentage (13.0)
5th in Total Rebounds (552)
7th in Defensive Rebounds (376)
7th in Defensive Rebound Percentage (27.1)
8th in Defensive Rating (99.6)
9th in Defensive Win Shares (2.9)
By the numbers, Noah is both a dominant rebounder and an elite defensive force. His frenetic activity around the basket is a big reason why the Bulls currently rank 2nd (to the Orlando Magic) in Opponents At-The-Rim Field Goal Percentage (55.8).
But Noah’s contributions go well beyond facts and figures. Derrick Rose is Chicago’s best player — there’s no question about that now — but Noah is the team’s emotional leader. Basketball isn’t a job to him, it’s something worth walking through brick walls and eating broken glass for. His skill set may be relatively limited, he may never average 20 points per game, but Noah loves to play and wants to win as badly as anyone in the NBA. Every team needs a Joakim Noah. Especially the team he’s already on.
The Bulls are in a tough spot. Remember, they recently traded Aaron Gray the the New Orleans Hornets, which means that Brad Miller is the only center they have left right now. And Miller is no spring chicken. He’s a late winter chicken at best. And he’s suffering all the aches and pains older players go through. It’s hard to imagine the Bulls succeeding if they have to play Big Brad 35+ minutes per game.
The fact that Taj Gibson is also suffering from plantar fasciitis means Vinny Del Negro is facing a real quandary. He’s going to have to go with smaller lineups and give more minutes to Tyrus Thomas. Can Vinny make that change on the fly? Can Thomas step it up for more than a game or two? The Bulls are going to have to answer these questions to avoid a mini-collapse before the All-Star break.