Maybe it'd be better to say Joakim Noah is hurting -- and leave it at that. Because Jo's clearly not right. Something is bothering him, something is holding him back. Smart money says it's probably something in his lower body, likely his surgically repaired left knee. Whatever the case may be, this much is obvious: the Bulls are better without Joakim Noah on the floor right now, in every imaginable way. Yes, there are other areas of concern, too. And we'll get to them. But first, let's just take a closer look at the real problem with playing Joakim Noah right now.
1) Nobody Is Guarding Jo
One could say this has been going on all series, and to an extent that's true. The Bucks came into this series knowing Noah wasn't going to hurt them offensively. But as the series has moved along, Milwaukee has stopped getting cute with it and is now blatantly ignoring Jo:
Any time the Bulls put Noah in any sort of pick-and-roll situation -- whether it be sideline or at the top of the key -- the Bucks were begging the ball-handler to put the ball in Noah's hands. And to that end, the Bulls obliged, as Game 4 saw Noah receive 72 touches in his 30 minutes of play, which was good for third-highest on the team. I mean, Noah ended up with nine fewer touches than Jimmy Butler, and Butler scored 40 freaking percent of the team's offense in Game 4. That's plain unacceptable. And to put it into context even further, Nikola Mirotic only got 28 touches in his 20 minutes and Taj Gibson only saw the ball 36 times in his 24 minutes. But wait, there's more:
This is where you'll start to notice Jared Dudley "guarding" Noah, which the Bucks used to great effectiveness as Dudley basically had free reign to double-team endlessly:
And the best (worst?) for last:
Now that you're visually aware of the damage -- also, props to TNT's Steve Smith as he called out the Bucks' disregard for Noah at almost every opportunity -- here's what the results say: the Bulls are 27.7 points better with Noah off the floor this series, per NBA.com. Granted, that's in a sample size of 58 minutes, but the Bulls are also 25.8 points worse when Derrick Rose is off the floor in 49 minutes. To translate that in a simpler way, the Bulls instantly become miles better once Noah is out of the game and essentially fall apart when Rose is out.
Even when Noah's on the floor, though, he's the only Bulls' starter with a negative net rating (-2.3) for the series while every other starter is sitting at 10 or better. The Bucks have figured out that Noah is harmless on offense yet the Bulls keep giving him the damn ball. Every time Noah catches the ball he's being dared to score, and he just can't.
Jo has scored a total of 18 points in a staggering 144 minutes this series. He has attempted six free throws and missed them all. Literally the epitome of a non-factor. The Rajon Rondo of big men. Borderline unplayable and that's even considering his value defensively. I mean, if you think this isn't going to be a problem against Cleveland? Think again.
This isn't a plea to see bundles more Gibson because it's not like he's setting the world on fire, either. And Mirotic hasn't quite looked like himself; some of that is due to battling injury but mostly due to playing out of position. Like, when Thibodeau has gone to the jumbo lineup of Noah, Gibson and Mirotic -- they haven't been able to exploit Milwaukee in the post hardly at all. However, the way Thibs uses Mirotic here -- on a positively vital possession, no less -- takes advantage of everything Milwaukee has had success with when trapping:
Folks, the answer here is an easy one: reduce Joakim Noah's minutes and role. Plain and simple. No other option can possibly be worse.
2) Jason Kidd's Coaching
I talked plenty about this in the recap on Saturday, but here's a little something to chew on:
Seems pretty standard, the Bulls are inbounding the ball after a made Milwaukee free throw and the Bucks are showing a little full court press focused on Rose. What's important to note, though, is that Rose just checked into the game. And what that means is Thibodeau almost certainly gave Rose a play to communicate to the rest of the team on the subsequent offensive possession. Now, Kidd almost certainly does not know what play the Bulls are going to run, but he's fairly certain they're going to run something more structured. Probably a set Chicago likes to run.
So what does Kidd do? He applies this pressure which forces the Bulls to take almost six seconds to get the ball in the front court. That little maneuver upsets the timing. Timing that's probably pretty crucial to the play the Bulls are about to run...
Hey, wouldn't you know? That sure looks like the setup for the elevator play (check Zach Lowe's item No. 2) that the Bulls love to run for Mirotic. But also, check out the shot clock! The ball spent a good 12 seconds at least 30-feet from the basket! Plus it all goes for naught anyway as O.J. Mayo knocked the ball free from Tony Snell which drew a loose ball foul on Snell.
To me, this is coaching. This is Kidd just one step ahead of Thibs, like he has been for the better part of the series. I even thought the Bulls got lucky at the end of regulation in Game 3 when Kidd drew up another really good late playcall. If Khris Middleton doesn't hesitate, the series could easily be 2-2:
3) DERRICK MARTELL ROSE
To be fair, Rose was painfully bad in the fourth quarter on defense. But that doesn't mean that this play didn't happen:
You knew I had to sneak something crazy Rose did in here, didn't you? You're probably just surprised it wasn't a pass. Trust me, I wanted to!
4) Great Court Awareness
I've never sat courtside at a professional basketball game before, but if I hypothetically were sitting courtside, I can assure you I wouldn't have the mindfulness to do this if the ball had found me:
That's what's up.
*stats from NBA.com