Joakim Noah has put up some truly grotesque offensive numbers this year. 37% shooting. Only two shot attempts all season outside the paint. Under 4 points per game.
Dig a little deeper though and there is a certain strange beauty in how Noah has transformed his game offensively. Despite those godawful numbers, he's found a way to contribute just enough to keep the Bulls' offense okay while he's out there - The team's scoring drops only 1.7 points per 100 possessions with Noah on the floor.
With Noah's re-emergence defensively and only a minor dropoff offensively, the Bulls have a better net rating when Noah plays.
What kind of magic is Noah using to contribute on offense when he can't put the ball in the hoop to save his life? The answer is that Noah is squeezing every last ounce of talent he has left in his rebounding, passing, and dribbling skills to help the offense hum.
Noah's Incredible Struggles and the Need to Reinvent Himself
Something happened to Joakim Noah right around March of last season.
In Noah's first 50 games of last season, he was struggling offensively but was still competent and relatively close to his career marks. After March, Noah's shooting percentages and points fell dramatically. His slide continued throughout the playoffs and he hasn't recovered so far this season either:
Noah's shot selection, field goal percentage, and points are all suffering since March. The free throw shooting is the biggest WTF mystery though - Noah's been much improved as of late, but this is a guy that shot fine in college and is above 70% on his career. All of a sudden, he can't get above 50%.
Something needed to change for Noah to be able to stay out there on offense, and he's done it by becoming an even better rebounder, screen setter, passer, and dribbler than he was before.
Noah's Rebounding Value
Despite his offensive struggles, Noah still helps on the offensive end because he is having one of the greatest seasons of his career in rebounding the ball.
Here are Noah's on/off stats for this year, which start to give a glimpse of the enormous effect he has on the team offensively:
His rebounding numbers are incredible on an individual and team level, and the team desperately needs help in that department. Noah is averaging a Rodman-esque 14.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. Those aren't empty stats either - the team goes from top 3 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage to bottom 3 when he sits.
Pushing the Pace and Moving the Ball - A Point Center Renewed
Joakim Noah did not come into the league as a great passer. He averaged 1.7 assists per game in college, which was almost exactly his assist average in his first five years in the league.
Tom Thibodeau saw something in Noah though that led him to believe he could be a centerpiece in the Bulls' offense. From out of nowhere, Noah started averaging 4.6 assists per game in his last four seasons. He is continuing to be a great ball distributor under Fred Hoiberg as well.
Noah's passing value doesn't just show itself in his raw assist totals though. He is one of the only players on the team that consistently pushes the pace when he's out there. By setting up early offense, he gives the team time to move the ball side to side and exploit confused defenders:
Noah grabs this defensive rebound and sprints up the court. The effects of this early ball movement don't manifest until later in the possession, but because the Bulls have pushed on Philly's defense, Mirotic has become unaccounted for on the weak side. The Bulls quickly swing the ball side to side and eventually find Mirotic, who drains an open 3.
Noah pushes the ball all the time now off the many defensive rebounds he grabs. While the other Bulls' centers take valuable seconds to secure the ball, Noah bolts down and gets the ball moving to the open man:
Again, you don't see the effects of running down court immediately. But by getting the ball across half court early, the Sixers have lost track of Jimmy Butler. Noah gets the ball humming and Gasol quickly finds Butler for the easy lay-in.
Monster Screens on Dribble Handoffs
One of the biggest problems with Noah on the court is that his man can ignore him and clog the middle. Noah has flipped this into a strength by constantly running dribble handoffs.
Noah uses these dribble handoffs primarily with Tony Snell and Doug McDermott to set up open 3's. Because Noah's man is usually so far back from the play, there's not much defensive help from the big when Noah sets a screen.
All Noah has to do is use that wide body of his to get McDermott a step on the wing defender, and that's enough room for him to drill a 3:
Dribble handoffs are becoming more popular and defenders have begun to get savvy that Noah is actively looking for chances to run this play whenever he has the ball. Defenders can cheat the screen and give themselves an edge in getting over Noah's picks once he starts dribbling towards them by taking an extra step towards the screen.
Noah and McDermott are a move ahead though and have developed a counter to the counter - McDermott will see his man cheating just a tiny bit and take that as an opportunity to backcut for a layup:
Throughout the season, McDermott and Noah have developed a beautiful 2-man game using dribble handoffs and other maneuvers. Check out Tyler Pleiss' writeup on it from last week, it's worth reading.
Noah has even started picking up his aggressiveness and efficiency scoring the ball as of late. Noah started the season awfully - In his first 13 games, he had 6 outings of 0 points and shot 33% from the field and the line.
Now look at his last 8 games. He's shooting 42% from the field, 60% from the line, and scoring 5.5 points per game. Not great, but certainly leaps and bounds better than his previous eight months.
Noah has also started showing some of the swag offensively that he had just two years ago in his All NBA season. In the past two weeks, he's broken double figures scoring for the first time all season, brought a return of the finger guns, enthusiastically patted a ref's butt, and brought me near tears with this turn-back-the-clock dunk:
Joakim drives by Anthony Davis and throws it down. pic.twitter.com/zTAjzhty5r— MarcusD (@_MarcusD_) December 13, 2015
Noah's game might never return to the level where he can do things like that consistently. He's still shooting like crap and turning the ball over too much. But he's doing other little things to contribute. On some level, you have to respect that he's hustling to find his own completely unique way to not be a massive hindrance to the offense. And it's kind of working. Even though his shot is uglier than ever, there's a beauty in seeing this new dark twisted Noah play.