Commentary

Say it ain't Jo

Noah hasn't been the energetic, unique talent the Bulls have come to rely on

Updated: January 12, 2012, 9:26 AM ET
By Scoop Jackson | ESPNChicago.com

Something's not right? No one precisely knows what it is, but for some reason, when it comes to Joakim Noah being what he used to be ... again, something just ain't right.

Like Derrick Rose's fast, math don't lie:

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe ball has seemed consistently out of reach for Joakim Noah this season.

  • Opening weeks of 2010-11: 16 ppg, 14 rpg (5 offensive), 1.7 blocks, 52.5 FG%, 39 mpg
  • Opening weeks of 2011-12: 7.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg (less than 3 offensive), 0.89 blocks, 38.1 FG%, 26.2 mpg

    Stats indicative of an indictment.

    ***

    For some reason, Joakim Noah just isn't the same.

    Not a shell of himself or what he once was, but not the same player who was the defensive cornerstone to the Bulls' post-Vinny Del Negro movement; not the same player who justified a contract extension that Matt Forte would have loved the Bears to extend to him.

    Gone is the explosiveness. Gone is the fearlessness. Gone is the precise decision-making. Gone is the swag. Gone are all the intangibles that made Bulls management turn away all requests to make Noah a part of any trade to any team in the league.

    Something happened. Physical. Psychological. Or both. This time last season, Noah seemed "coach selected" All-Star Game bound. Even after missing a total of 34 games due to injury, he was being called the second-best center in the East.

    Now, he's barely playing in fourth quarters, his numbers are down across the board like Newt's, and Omer Asik is getting minutes Noah used to own.

    In a phone conversation during Tuesday's Bulls game against Minnesota, while watching Noah on the bench during yet another fourth quarter, I asked Leon Rogers -- who hosts WGCI's "Leon's Locker Room" -- if he thinks Noah is done. "I don't think he's done, I just don't think he's focused on basketball anymore," he said. "He plays disinterested, and I have not seen where he has worked on any aspect of his game."

    Nine points in a recent three-game stretch. Zero shot attempts versus Detroit. Evidence.

    The Bulls are good, but not good enough to play 4-on-5 basketball on the offensive end; not good enough for Noah to keep playing like he did in the conference finals against the Heat and be the Bulls' new liability. He played one of his best quarters of the season during that Timberwolves game (5 rebounds and 1 block while holding Kevin Love scoreless), yet on the first play of the second quarter he found himself on the bench watching Asik get a play called for him, getting the ball in the post and scoring immediately.

    You never want to make too much out of one incident, but just as one picture's worth 1,000 words, that one play was a thousand times louder than a bomb.

    ***

    When is the last time you've seen Joakim Noah ball? Really ball? Ask yourself. Search for the answer. It's been over a year, right? When is the last time you've seen Joakim go on the court and put on display how special he really is as a basketball player in this league?

    Joakim Noah
    Kyle Terada/US PresswireJoakim Noah has gone from impact player to spectator in fourth quarters this season.

    Noah claims he's healthy, his teammates continue to believe in him and encourage him, the coaching staff continues to say all of the right things to us (media) concerning his role and his play.

    All the while, the egg shells that everyone associated with the Bulls are walking on can be heard cracking on the concrete throughout Chicago.

    Joakim Noah was once unique. A player unlike any at his position in the league. A QB-who-can't throw-but-wins-games unique. A Gator with two championship rings. The Tim Tebow of basketball unique.

    Now? Yeah, now. Kinda sad.

    Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.

    Scoop Jackson | email

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