Improved Joakim Noah a work in progress

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
11:45
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- It has been more than six months since the Chicago Bulls won a regular-season game at home, and a year beyond that since they recorded one with Derrick Rose, so Joakim Noah can be forgiven for his unbridled enthusiasm Thursday night.

During a live radio interview, not long after Rose dropped in the game-winning floater over two New York Knicks defenders to give the Bulls an 82-81 victory, Noah let slip a pair of choice four-lettered words over the airwaves.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah, Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Barfnani
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If the first two games of the season are any indication, opponents will have their hands full with a healthier Joakim Noah.

Perhaps adding to his uncontrolled excitement was the fact that he was much better in the Bulls’ second game of the season, moving further away from an ineffective performance in the season opener at the Miami Heat on Tuesday, when he barely seemed to have his legs under him.

“I feel real good,” Noah said. “I think it’s just going to get better every game. I feel like there are a lot of things I can do better, and it will just come as the games keep coming. I think I’m just going to get better and better.”

Bothered by a groin injury that forced him to miss most of the preseason schedule and the accompanying practices, Noah remains less than 100 percent physically and his fitness level is subpar, as well.

He took just four shots Tuesday against the Heat in 20 minutes, but he did manage a team-high 11 rebounds.

Against the Knicks, he was only 2-of-7 from the field and ended the night with six points, but he did play a tick under 36 minutes and came away with another 15 rebounds to once again lead his team.

“You saw how many plays he made in the first half, hitting guys on the break for layups and dunks,” Bulls teammate Carlos Boozer said. “Obviously his rebounding is tremendous -- we need that, and his energy. He can switch on defense to guard all five positions. And obviously just his presence out there.

“Joakim is a defensive player of the year candidate every year.”

Noah is nowhere near that level right now, though, and he knows it. So he is doing what he can, with his five assists Thursday proof of that.

And perhaps adding to his fire was a matchup against the Knicks’ Tyson Chandler, somebody he’s had words with in the past. Chandler came away with a game-high 19 rebounds.

“He’s a tough player,” Noah said. “They’re going to be one of the teams that we might face at the end of this. They have a lot of players that stretch the floor, great offensive players, and Tyson fits in perfectly. What he brings to the table makes that whole system work.”

The Bulls’ system is equally dependent on Noah, especially a healthy Noah, who is rebounding well and starting to make life miserable inside for opposing big men.

“I feel a lot better physically, and I think there are still a lot of areas that I feel that I can play better,” he said. “I think it will come with just being more comfortable on the court.”

As for what those areas of improvement are, Noah would rather keep it to himself.

“I don’t really like talking about it,” Noah said. “I know that I work really hard on my game every day. And I feel like every aspect of the game I’m just trying to be the best player I can. And I feel I’m not happy with where I’m at.

“I work too hard on my game to not be comfortable on the court doing anything.”

Sometimes being comfortable also means letting a few words slip through his personal filter. Told after the radio interview he used some salty language, Noah thought about it for a second and shrugged his shoulders with a smile. Maybe he knows next time he will make improvements.

After all, that is his theme for the early part of the season.

Doug Padilla

Chicago White Sox beat reporter
Doug joined ESPN Chicago in July 2010 and covers the Chicago White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
21.6 3.2 1.6 39.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 10.5
AssistsD. Rose 5.0
StealsJ. Butler 1.6
BlocksP. Gasol 2.3