Noah richly deserves All-Star party

1/31/2014 - NBA Joakim Noah Chicago Bulls + more
Bulls center Joakim Noah snagged his second consecutive All-Star berth. AP Photo/Eric Gay

CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah. New Orleans. NBA All-Star weekend.

We're going to need a film crew, some of those black boxes you see during nude scenes in films, a stack of waivers, a crate of Advil and a grocery store's allotment of coconut water.

Could it finally happen? A watchable "Hangover" sequel with a basketball game attached?

"I'm bringing my crew," Noah said Thursday during his All-Star selection conference call. "I'm bringing the whole 'wolf pack' this time."

And oh yeah, I'm going to need ESPN to embed me with the wolf pack. Call my wife, tell her I'll be sober by April.

Yes, Noah, the wild-haired, party poster child who once told the world he was "going to do it big, all day, all night," is heading to the country's biggest party town for the NBA All-Star Game later this month.

It's a work trip, his second All-Star selection in two seasons. But his play this season for the Chicago Bulls warrants a good time.

Noah, now in his seventh season, has graduated from "energy guy" to legit All-Star. He's no novelty act. But around the league's biggest names, he still acts like an underdog, the French kid trying to fit in.

"It's definitely not a trend," he said. "I'm not going to take none of these experiences for granted. I feel so blessed, just really thankful."

No, Joakim, Chicago should be thanking you. Thanking you for keeping the Bulls viable after Derrick Rose went down with another knee injury and franchise linchpin Luol Deng was exiled to Cleveland for salary-cap space. Thanking you for playing every game like it's Game 7. Thanking you for playing last year's first-round Game 7 like it was the NBA Finals.

This has been a strange season, though. Another Rose knee injury has sucked up most of the good vibes around the United Center.

Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf called the team "mediocre" and "middle of the pack" in a recent interview. He's right, but it was a tone-deaf statement considering how hard the team is playing. Of course, this is a team comparing itself to the fictional Cleveland Indians of "Major League" in private, so it adds to the motivation.

While Noah has the rep of being a loudmouth, in front of the cameras, he is loathe to talk about personal achievements -- and he often resists the media's attempts to be colorful. Asked Thursday night about his personal style of play, he said, "I'm just trying to win ballgames, man, that's all."

But he did think about this honor the past few weeks as he continued to put up numbers.

"It goes through your mind," he said. "I'm just happy. I'm honored to be selected to play in the All-Star Game and play against the best players in the world. It's very humbling. I'm happy my hard work is paying off. Even though it's not my priority, it's still a pretty good achievement. I'm proud of it."

Noah started off slowly, then wallowed in the post-Rose-injury malaise with his teammates before his play picked up in December. After his close friend Deng was traded, Noah went on a brief media hiatus.

But after working through some early hamstring problems, he has been as locked in as at any time in his career, with 17 consecutive double-digit rebounding games going into Saturday's game against the Pelicans in New Orleans.

With Rose out again for the season and Deng chilling in Noah's favorite vacation spot, it's clearly Noah's team and Noah's time.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau used to bristle when reporters would overrate Noah's energy. Thibodeau wanted to see a complete player. Now he has him.

"I think he's grown quite a bit," Thibodeau said recently. "I think his playmaking has been incredible, but his defense has always been there. His rebounding has always been there, but he's much more of a complete player now."

Noah, 28, is one of those guys you can't measure by statistics, but he's doing pretty well in that department, too. The center is averaging 11.7 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals in 43 games. He's anchoring a defense that gives up 92.8 points per game, the second-best mark in the NBA.

The NBA eliminated the center position from the All-Star ballot, a sign that the league's present and future relies on multi-skilled big men who don't fit the classic low-post mold.

But Noah has been showing he's not a classic center along the lines of, say, Indiana's Roy Hibbert, who also made the team as a coaches' selection. Noah leads NBA centers in assists, and it's his vision in the half court helps make a meager Bulls offense go.

And he has been on a tear since Deng was traded Jan. 7. Noah is averaging nearly 14 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists in 12 games. The Bulls -- 23-22, fifth in the Eastern Conference -- are 9-4 since dealing the franchise's fourth-leading scorer in a salary dump, solidifying their status as the IndestructiBulls. Give this team Thibodeau, Noah and a few healthy bodies and it'll give you 48 minutes and 45 wins.

When he finally talked to reporters after the Deng trade, Noah gave an impassioned interview about why he plays so hard. It was boilerplate "doing it for the fans" jock talk, except for the context given the Deng deal.

With fans openly rooting for the team to plunge into the lottery, Noah is rejecting any free fall. He might not always love Thibs, but he's a lot like him when he steps onto the court. Noah just wants to win today. He wants back in the playoffs. It's an admirable quality in a league obsessed with the future.

"You can't take anything for granted," he said. "You never know, a lot can happen during a season. A lot of ups and downs, a lot of punches thrown at us. We've always fought back. We're resilient. There's a long journey ahead. The second half is no joke. We're excited. I think we're getting better every day. I always cherish the moment."

Making the All-Star Game is a moment to cherish, even though the actual game is an afterthought. While Noah is ready to party with his friends, he reminisced about what making the game last season meant to him.

"I don't really remember it too much," he said. "I don't remember the game too much. I remember my father sitting there, with my [youth] coach, Mr. [Tyrone] Green, who practically raised me. Another father figure. Having them sit there, I was proud to have my loved ones watching me."

So party on, Jo. You deserve it. I'll just be here with my phone on vibrate, waiting on that wolf pack invitation.