DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Joakim Noah has always been a hard person to compare or define.
He's looks different than most people. There aren't many seven foot, 260-pound athletes in the world who wear a ponytail and play basketball for a living. There aren't many guys who, on the night they get drafted into the NBA, would show up in a seer-sucker suit and throw up a big peace sign in their picture with David Stern.
The first time new Bulls head coach saw what his center was wearing on that fateful night in New York he had the same reaction that many people did while they watched the scene unfold on television.
"This guy's quite a character," Thibodeau reminisced after practice on Wednesday afternoon.
Noah doesn't just stand out because he looks different though, he stands out because his style of play is different than almost everyone else's. He runs the floor, he blocks shots and grabs rebounds, but, most importantly, he is the emotional leader of the Bulls team both on and off the floor.
That's why, when pressed, Thibodeau didn't have as hard of a time as you might think when asked whom Noah reminded him of the most.
"He's one of a kind," Thibodeau said with a chuckle. "His motor's great. When you look at a lot of guys [around the league], his motor, to me, is very similar to Kevin Garnett. It's high, high energy. I've never seen him low energy. It doesn't matter whether it's the start of practice, the end of a three-hour practice, he's just always [playing with] emotion, and I felt that when I was on the opposing team when we were competing against him. He was one of those guys, he didn't take any plays off. And he's a multiple effort guy, he'll make four or five efforts on the same play."
Thibodeau knows there aren't many guys like that in the league -- and that's a major reason why the Bulls are so hesitant to include him in any possible deal for Carmelo Anthony or anyone else. The veteran coach believes Noah plays like Garnett, and thinks 25-year-old can play the same role for the Bulls that Garnett does for the Celtics, that of defensive lynchpin and emotional leader.
"I think those type of players really help drive the team," he said. "With Garnett, it was what he did every day in practice, but more importantly in the games also. When [emotional leaders] make a great effort play, that lifts your team, and he does it consistently. When you think that he's out of the play, he does something to get his hand on it to tip the ball, or make a great effort to get to the floor and recover it, get the ball out and of course, his passing too. I think all those things are great for your team's spirit."
Speaking of spirit, the usually bombastic Noah played it cool when Thibodeau's remarks were relayed to him moments later.
"Well, Kevin Garnett's a helluva a player so that's very nice of him," Noah said.
Noah has spoken openly in years past about the respect level he has for Garnett -- even though he called the veteran a "dirty" player during last season's playoffs. From a distance, Noah has always appreciated the way Garnett goes about his business, so he seemed to truly appreciate the comparison, although he did, for once, try to shy away from the spotlight.
"The truth is, Kevin Garnett is a Hall of Fame player," Noah said. "I'm in my [fourth] year and I'm just accepting the challenge, I'm still just enjoying playing a lot of minutes. So there's definitely a difference [between us]. RIght now, I just want to become the best player I can be. That's it, it's not about being compared to other players. I think right now it's about me becoming the best I can be to help affect winning."
That's the answer that Thibodeau wants to hear. If Noah can become anywhere close to the player that Garnett has evolved into over time, he will be ecstatic.
"I'm just being me, man," Noah said. "I promise I'm not faking. It's just the way I play the game."