By Connor Hitchcock
Joakim Noah is not the same.
Whether it be his ailing knee, the addition of Pau Gasol, or simple regression, the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year seems off. With his continuous playoff shooting woes — eFG% of 43.2 in the playoffs and 1-14 from the free throw line — Noah seems to have now become a huge offensive liability for the Bulls despite his uncanny passing ability.
Is it time for Tom Thibodeau to bench his spiritual leader? Let’s compare three big man lineup combinations to gain more insight.
One of the main points raised around the acquisition of Gasol concerned the cohesion of Gasol and Noah. Both traditionally guard the opposing five, and the addition of the much less mobile Gasol pushed Noah out to guard fours.
However, many including myself believed that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year could adjust defensively, and that Gasol’s skill set as a mid-range jump shooter would not interfere with Noah’s scrappiness around the hoop. The two have played a total of 1,395 minutes together this season (including the playoffs) producing the numbers shown below:
However, when coach Tom Thibodeau slotted Noah with Nikola Mirotic (370 minutes together this season), the team’s net rating — the amount of points a team nets per 100 possessions — greatly improved:
It is important to note that the three Bulls that played most with the Mirotic-Noah combo were Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and Tony Snell: all bench players. Thus, it appears as though Noah contributed more in a bench rotation, likely playing against bench players.
Similarly, when Thibodeau inserted Taj Gibson next to Gasol (841 min), Chicago’s net rating also improved over the Gasol-Noah combination. However, unlike the Noah-Mirotic situation, Thibodeau generally played Gibson with starters, against starters: the three Bulls that played most with the Gasol-Gibson combo were Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Mike Dunleavy.
All in all, the overall numbers of the Gibson-Gasol combination were better than that of Gasol-Noah this season:
It is evident by the numbers that the Bulls have outscored opponents with the Gasol-Gibson and Noah-Mirotic combinations this season, but will Thibodeau actually consider benching Noah? Absolutely not; Thibodeau’s stubbornness defines who he is, for better or worse, and there’s no situation in which he would put his leader on the bench. But with the season and his job potentially on the line, he should.
By staggering Gasol and Noah’s minutes, both can guard the five — where they’re better suited — and Noah can run the point more with the second unit, where he’s been best offensively utilized over the past two seasons with Derek Rose out.
After Thursday night’s beatdown in Cleveland, it’s time for Thibodeau to consider altering his lineups or rotations so we can all see the Joakim Noah that Chicago grew to love, and the rest of the league grew to hate.
All stats courtesy of NBAWowy.com