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Joakim Noah Coming Off Bench is Right for Bulls

John Peterson/Icon Sportswire

When fans learned that Joakim Noah, the Bulls’ former First Team All-NBA center and Defensive Player of the Year, was heading to the bench, the news sent ripples, and questions, throughout the community. How could this happen? What will happen to the defense?

There were also rumblings about whether Noah, who’s in a contract year, would be OK with it. Fred Hoiberg implied to Zach Lowe that it was Noah’s idea:

Lowe: How was the conversation when you told Joakim he officially wasn’t going to start?

Hoiberg: Jo actually came to me and talked to me about that. He said, basically, “I’ve always played well with Taj.” He said he thought Niko and Pau played very well together, so let’s go that route. It was actually Jo that started the whole conversation. He came to me. That says a lot about him.

Lowe: Were you already leaning that way anyway — like as early as August or September?

Hoiberg: I had thought a lot about a lot of different lineups. I hadn’t come to any type of conclusion. But it was great of Jo to just come and have that conversation.

However, Noah didn’t quite read it that way, telling K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: 

“I never said I want to come off the bench,” Noah said following Friday’s morning shootaround. “I said I’ll do what’s best for the team.”

“The truth is I think I’m more effective playing (center) than (power forward). And I think Pau is the same,” Noah said. “And we have two very good (power forwards). So this makes more sense.”

Johnson also points out that Noah wasn’t angry, but just setting the record straight. And unless you’re one of those members of the Chicago sports media who likes to shill controversy, does it really matter whose idea it was if both Hoiberg and Noah agree it’s the right idea?

Furthermore, doesn’t it make even more sense if the idea is working? Nikola Mirotic has been pretty spectacular in the two games he’s started. He’s averaging 18.5 points and 9.0 boards with shooting so hot that lights are telling their children horror stories about him (Because he’s shooting lights out? I had to get a little Halloween comedy in there.) But seriously, his true shooting percentage is 75.4.

Obviously, that’s a small sample size scenario, but the two games played are all we have to go off of. And for those worried about the defensive ramifications of having Mirotic start? According to NBA.com/Stats, the Bulls are yielding 83.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the court — the second-best number on the team.

And lest you bark small sample size on this, last season, he led the team. Whatever the eye test says, the fact is that the Bulls give up fewer points when he’s on the court, so at a minimum his weaknesses on that end can be covered, and more logically, his defense is helping.

In fact, the Bulls’ net rating was +6.1 with him last season. This season, in the 55 minutes he’s been on the court, the Bulls have outscored their opposition 138-99. When he’s been sitting, they’ve been outscored 96-74. That’s a 61-point swing.

It’s hard to look at those numbers and think that Hoiberg did something wrong by inserting him into the starting lineup.

And, as I noted for Bleacher Report, the teamwork between him, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose is positively insane. When one of the trio takes a shot off another’s pass, they have a collective effective field goal percentage of 71.1 on 38 attempts. That’s so high it’s grosser than sticking your hand in a bowl full of grape eyeballs. (More Halloween theming for you.)

People can complain, but Noah’s not, and it’s hard to find fault with Mirotic starting. It doesn’t seem that this decision will come back to haunt Hoiberg.

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