It’s easy to point to players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the Most Valuable Player debate. They are the faces of elite teams, ones that have been dominating all season.
Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, though, has a different take on the MVP race. The Bulls have not had an easy ride. It has been rocked by the season-ending injury of Derrick Rose and the dramatic trade of Luol Deng. But they still find themselves at 40-32 and the reputation as a team few want to face in the playoffs.
Thibodeau credits this success to their intense man in the middle, Joakim Noah.
“It depends on how you define [who deserves MVP consideration],” Thibodeau said. “For us, I think he does. What he’s meant to our team over the course of the season — we faced a lot of adversity. He helped lift the team up and he’s improved, I think, significantly offensively. The defense has always been great, the rebounding. And it’s more than just the passing. It’s his scoring now, making quicker decisions. I think that’s helped us a lot.”
Noah’s performance has been standout this season. He is averaging 12.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists, all increased from the previous year. Only three players since the 1990-91 season have averaged 12 points, 11 boards and five assists per game during an entire season — Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett and Anthony Mason.
The 6’11 center has led the team in assists in 10 of their last 12 games, averaging 7.3 dimes during that stretch. He has dished a club-high 357 assists, a notable mark considering the last center to do so in a season was David Robinson in 1993-94.
“Joakim, his play making has been huge for us because if we shoot the ball well enough, it opens up the basket and we can get some cuts to the basket,” Thibodeau said. “We need some easy baskets.”
With the playoffs around the corner, Noah isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. He has helped the Bulls overcome major bumps in the road and will look to keep them on a path to victory in the postseason. Of all his stats and impressive numbers, one contribution stands out the most to his coach.
“The most important thing,” Thibodeau said, “is just helping us win.”
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