- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Over the next few weeks, we'll take a closer look at each player on the Bulls roster and see where they fit in for the future.
Position: Center | Age: 27 | 2011-12 salary: $10 million
Season recap: Noah's season was full of ups and downs. At the beginning of the year, he struggled to find his form playing alongside Carlos Boozer and admitted that the pressure of playing under his new $60 million contract was getting to him at times. He looked frustrated on the floor and seemed hesitant to knock down his "tornado" jump shot after dealing with injuries throughout last season. By February, Noah looked more comfortable on the floor and much more confident finding his own offense. He really hit his groove in the last two weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs before going down because of badly sprained ankle in Game 3 of the 76ers series. The good news for Noah and the Bulls was that after missing a combined 62 games over the past two seasons, he missed just two regular season games this year.
Season highlight: Noah's best all-around game came Feb. 22 against the Milwaukee Bucks when he had 13 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. His play in the postseason was inspired, and he gave the Bulls everything he had, averaging almost 14 points and 10 rebounds a game before his ankle injury.
Season lowlight: Noah's struggles in the early part of the season were jarring, especially given how well he had played at the beginning of last season. But his lowlight came during Game 3 of their first-round series against the 76ers. Late in the third quarter, Noah raced down the floor on a fast break and ended up rolling his left foot on Sixers guard Andre Iguodala's foot. Noah returned to the game, but the image of him limping up and down the floor before being taken out is something that will stick with Bulls fans all summer. He didn’t see the floor again despite trying to warm up and play before Game 6.
Notes: Tom Thibodeau noted something during the season that any Bulls fan has known for years: The Bulls' players take plenty of cues from Noah. When he plays with energy, the rest of the team usually does as well. When he doesn't, his teammates look flat, especially early in games. "He's got to be ready from the start," Thibodeau said after an April 8 loss to the New York Knicks. "He's got to bring energy. When you're an energy player, you've got to bring it every game. He's shown that when he plays with great energy he's terrific and when he's playing with great energy, we're playing with great energy. But it wasn't only him, it was our entire team."
Quotable: "I think the unfortunate part of this year is that we don't know … we didn't measure up against the teams that we wanted to measure up against. But I think that, I personally believe that this group could compete against anybody. We had tough breaks throughout the year and that's unfortunate but it's also part of the game. You learn from being injured, you learn from the hard times that will make the good times even better." -- Noah, last Friday after his exit interview with Bulls' executives.
What's next?: Noah is going to play for Team France in the Olympics this summer and will be headed over to Europe soon to begin training. It's an experience he has been looking forward to for years, but he understands he has to do his best to stay healthy. He made note of his continued ankle problems after his exit interview last week. "I've got to strengthen my ankles," he said. "Too many ankle injuries throughout the years. I've got to strengthen up my ankles." Noah will continue to work out with his trainer Alex Perris throughout the summer and understands he will have to take on an even bigger role on both ends of the court with Derrick Rose and possibly Luol Deng out at the beginning of next season.
FINAL GRADES -- Regular season: B- | Postseason: A
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
1dJason McCallum, ESPN Stats & Info