Joakim Noah was taking one of those shots.
You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one that opponents dare him to take. It’s that elbow-extended, alien-looking thing. It’s the one that we all treat like one of our golf shots: “Oh, (bleep)! Good shot!’’
Noah was outside and he was open and he was going to take that shot with the Bulls up by only four points with 30 seconds still to play in overtime in Phoenix.
Wait. No. Hello, anybody home?
Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng are on the floor, mind you, and Noah’s taking that shot at that time?
“Oh (bleep)! Good shot!’’
Noah finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds in the Bulls' victory. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau cracked that Noah “probably could’ve had 30 if he had made his dunks.’’
Nice line. Better than Noah’s 9-for-19 FGM-A line, anyway. A guy that tall can’t shoot under 50 percent from the floor. Just can’t. A guy that tall and active and relentless should never be under 55 percent, frankly.
But the interesting number is the 19. Noah took 19 shots. I didn’t think Noah was allowed to take 19 shots in practice, but there he is, taking a season-high against the Suns.
Noah has taken at least 10 shots in three straight games and five of the last six. The Bulls are 5-3 when Noah reaches double figures in shots, which is not a magic metric, but it is a big change. Noah is averaging 11.6 shots a game this season, the only time in his career he has been in double figures. In fact, it’s an average of about three more shots per game than his most offensive season.
Noah is averaging almost 40 minutes a game this season after averaging 30 last season. More minutes would mean more shooting opportunities. But no one says Noah has to take those shots.
Except he is. And good things are happening for the Bulls and the expansion of Noah’s game.
Noah is averaging a career-best 16 points, which is part of the fallout of Derrick Rose’s absence. To be clear, there is no upside to the Bulls playing without Rose. But I kind of like this part of the fallout. Noah always did hustle, even if he wasn’t in shape to do it all game when he arrived. Noah always fought for rebounds and showed a smaller man’s passing touch. Noah also recognized the team aspect of the game. Coming off back-to-back college championships has a way of reinforcing such things.
And now, he is showing a willingness to take a greater ownership of the team on the floor. Or maybe the word I’m looking for is responsibility. Leadership? I’m not quite sure what the best description is. Whatever label you use tends to include the subtext that the characteristic never existed previously, and that’s not right in this case.
Let me do it this way: With Noah, almost everything is exaggerated, from hustle to hair, and here it’s all positive.
He’s playing close to 40 minutes a game after averaging about 30 last season. Nobody plays 40 minutes for Thibodeau without playing good defense, so you know he’s solid there, and Noah is close to averaging double figures in rebounds.
At the other end, Noah also is shooting more and making about the same percentage as last season. He’s attempting more free throws and making a greater percentage. He’s on a pace to average career highs in points, assists, steals and blocks.
He wants the ball and he’s doing good things with it. If you had given a player a printout of what you wanted him to improve over the summer, then Noah would’ve swept the stat sheet.
Yeah, it’s early, but it looks like our little 7-footer is growing up.