"I get asked that every day, man," a seemingly exasperated Taj Gibson said when prodded to talk about how much Joakim Noah has meant to the Bulls this season. But Gibson's response wasn't one of annoyance. It was pointing out that no one should ever have to ask about Noah's value, because if you've watched this team play, it should be obvious.
It's apparent to everyone else in the NBA, too. On Monday, the Bulls' ultra-animated center was named the NBA's defensive player of the year.
Statistically, Noah had his best regular season as a pro, posting career highs in points (12.6 per game), rebounds (11.3) and assists (5.4) to go with 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per contest. To make his case even stronger, the Bulls finished first in the regular season in opponents' points per game and second in opponents' field-goal percentage.
Noah thanked his family and teammates upon receiving the award at a news conference Monday.
"This is very humbling to be in this situation right now," Noah said. "This award is a team award. I appreciate [my teammates] through all the adversity we've gone through, to never let up and keep fighting."
He also recalled a moment of levity between himself and coach Tom Thibodeau during a particularly grueling workout.
"I said 'Thibs, if we weren’t winning games, I'd really, really hate you,'" Noah said. "And he said, 'Trust me, Jo, I feel the same way about you."
Of course, in Gibson's mind, it's not just Noah's defense that sets him apart.
"He's one of the Top 3 players in the NBA," Gibson said. "As far as doing everything for their team, getting triple-doubles, playing defense, being a leader, scoring, whatever you need from him. We were in a big hole in the beginning of the year and we lost tons of games. After Derrick [Rose's] injury, the Luol [Deng] trade, all the negativity … but we fought, we're still here, and he's one of the main reasons why."
The Bulls are in the postseason for the sixth consecutive season and making their ninth appearance in the past 10 years. They have had to compete without Rose for two straight years, and Deng was traded to Cleveland in January.
Yet just when it looked like things were going downhill fast, Noah elevated his play to an All-Star level.
"Through all of the adversity this season, I just wanted to show that I wasn't going to back down and I wasn't going to say that this season was a waste," Noah said. "I'm really proud of the way we responded as a team. Do I wish things were a little different? Yeah. I wish Pooh [Rose] wasn't hurt and I wish Lu was still here. But the fact is, guys have worked hard and I've never seen a team collectively put so much work into a season."
"Joakim has meant everything to us, man. Just from the things he does on offense and defense," Jimmy Butler said. "With his energy and the type of leader of he is, words can't describe exactly what he is for this team."
The success the Bulls have had is primarily a decision by Thibodeau to run the offense through him. Even though the relationship between the two seems rocky at times, the trust Thibs has in Noah is something he appreciates.
"I think my coach has confidence in me making plays that maybe he didn't have in the past," Noah said. "My teammates have confidence in me. I'm touching the ball so much more than I have ever, in my life. It's a good feeling and I'm just going to keep grinding and see where it takes me."
Chicago Tribune contributed this report.
Bryan Crawford is a RedEye special contributor.
Joakim Noah is the second player in franchise history to win the award, after Michael Jordan in 1987-88.Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye Sports' Facebook page.