Noah, first, repeated the question. “Am I the best center in the East?” He smiled and laughed. He repeated the question again. “Am I the best center in the East?”
He then began talking, stopped and went on. “I don’t ... I don’t know, man. You tell me, tell me.”
His teammate Luol Deng stood a few feet from Noah and said, “(Heck), yeah. He’s the best center in the East, and I’m not saying that because he’s standing right here.”
Deng is likely biased, and Noah doesn’t want to come off as cocky, so let the numbers decide.
There’s no question Noah is having his best season in his seventh year in the league. Through 12 games, he’s averaging career-highs in points (14.0), steals (1.3), blocks (2.1), assists (4.1), free-throw percentage (.772), free throws made and attempted (3.7-4.8), field goals made and attempted (5.2-10.6) and minutes (39.2). He’s also averaging 9.6 rebounds (3.8 offensive), 2.8 fouls and 2.6 turnovers.
As a scorer, Noah's numbers have increased, but he still trails other Eastern Conference centers. He’s tied for sixth with the Cleveland Cavaliers' Anderson Varejao. Ahead of them are the Miami Heat's Chris Bosh (20.2 points), the New Jersey Nets' Brook Lopez (19.4), the Toronto Raptors' Andrea Bargnani (18.7), the Detroit Pistons' Greg Monroe (17.2) and the Atlanta Hawks' Al Horford (15.9).
As a rebounder, Noah ranks third. He’s just behind Varejao (14.1) and Monroe (9.8). On the offensive glass, he’s third behind Varejao (5.6) and the Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert (4.4). On the defensive glass, he ranks sixth. Varejao leads with 8.5 rebounds and Greg Monroe (7.4) is second.
As a passer, he ranks first in assists. Monroe (3.5) and Varejao (3.3) follow him.
At the free-throw line, Noah ranks fifth in percentage. Bosh (.859), Bargnani (.843), Varejao (.791) and the Toronto Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas (.774) are ahead of Noah.
In blocks, Noah ranks fourth behind Hibbert (3.07), Lopez (2.55) and the Milwaukee Bucks' Larry Sanders (2.27).
So overall, Noah is first in assists, third in overall rebounds, offensive rebounds and steals, fourth in blocks, fifth in free-throw percentage and sixth in field-goal percentage, scoring and defensive rebounds.
His main competitors for best center in the East would be Varejao, Monroe, Bosh and Horford. All of them are ranked in top 10 in nearly every category. Noah and Bosh are the only two centers ranked in the top 10 in all the categories.
Varejao is first in overall rebounds, offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds, second in steals, third in free-throw percentage and assists, fifth in field-goal percentage, sixth in scoring and 19th in blocks
Monroe is first in steals, second in defensive rebounding and assists, third in overall rebounding, fourth in scoring, seventh in free-throw percentage and field-goal percentage, ninth in offensive rebounding and 14th in blocks.
Bosh is first in free-throw percentage and scoring, second in field-goal percentage, sixth in steals, seventh in blocks, offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding and ninth in overall rebounding and assists.
Horford is fourth in field-goal percentage, assists, overall rebounding and defensive rebounding, fifth in scoring, seventh in offensive rebounding, 14th in steals, 16th in blocks and does not qualify for free-throw percentage. He shoots .472 at the line.
So who is the best? There’s no clear winner.
Back to the Bulls’ locker room on Saturday, Noah finished the conversation with what may be the correct answer.
“Am I the best center in the East?” Noah said. “I don’t know, man. I don’t know.”