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When did Joakim Noah Turn into a Poor Man’s Dennis Rodman?

Joakim Noah has struggled mightily during the playoffs. Noah has been playing on a nagging knee injury all season, and it has affected his offense tremendously.

Noah has compensated for his recent offensive struggles in a very interesting way, morphing himself into a player Bulls fans should remember fondly: a Chicago Bulls-Era Dennis Rodman.

No Offense Whatsoever

Rodman with the Bulls:

  • 45.2% FG
  • 5.2 PPG
  • 54.8% FT

Playoff Noah:

  • 38.2% FG (-6.3% from regular season)
  • 5.5 PPG (-1.6 pts from regular season)
  • 18.8% FT (-41.5% from regular season)

Noah’s numbers have really plummeted throughout the playoffs. He was already one of the worst offensive starters in the regular season, and the problem has now gone nuclear, with teams flat out not defending him at all.

Previously, Noah was a very good free throw shooter (71.6 percent career), but something happened to him this year that has made him lose confidence during the regular season, where he dropped down to 60.3 percent. The problem has only gotten worse in the playoffs.

As he has converted only 3-of-16 free throws in the postseason, it’s shocking that the Cavs have yet to use the Hack-a-Noah strategy on him. Perhaps David Blatt’s reluctance is a result of etiquette in European basketball, which considers such action unsportsmanlike.

Rodman was a notoriously poor free throw shooter in his time with the Bulls as well. Although the strategy is famously coined Hack-a-Shaq, Don Nelson first tested out his theory of intentionally fouling a player on Dennis Rodman in 1997. Rodman drilled 9-of-12 free throws in that game, and the Hack-a-Rodman was a somewhat rare occurrence after that.

Both Rodman and Noah were non-factors on offense, and instead provided value via their rebounding and defense.

Elite Rebounding

Rodman with the Bulls:

  • 5.5 OReb/gm
  • 9.7 DReb/gm
  • 15.3 Total Rebound per Game

Playoff Noah:

  • 3.9 OReb/gm (+0.6 since regular season)
  • 7.3 DReb/gm (+0.9 since regular season)
  • 11.2 Total Rebounds per Game (+1.5 since regular season)

Rodman’s value with the Bulls was primarily through his rebounding. Noah is doing the same thing, but to a lesser extent.

Since Noah has become nonexistent on offense, he has focused all of his attention to rebounding, and his individual rebounding numbers have gone up as a result.

Noah has always been a good rebounder, but his excellent rebounding in the playoffs warrants special mention. He’s going up against two of the best rebounders remaining in the playoffs in Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov, yet he’s still in the top 10 in offensive (third) and defensive (10th) rebounds for the playoffs.

Like Rodman, Noah isn’t really looking for the ball on offense and is constantly diving to the rim to try to grab stray rebounds. He’s not yet on Rodman’s level, but his numbers are trending upwards and he’s getting close.

Guarding 1-5

Rodman’s strength on defense was his versatility. He could guard Shaq for small periods of time or he could switch onto guards.

Likewise, Noah has had to play all over the court throughout the playoffs. Sunday, Tom Thibodeau stuck him at the 5 with Pau Gasol out. Noah has also switched onto guards, forwards and centers for possessions throughout the playoffs. His defensive numbers are down significantly from what was a terrific year last year, but he’s still an above-average defender for the Bulls.

Attitude

Rodman was known for his multiple suspensions during his time in Chicago and consistently leading the league in technical fouls. Most notably, he was suspended for 11 games for kicking a cameraman during the Bulls’ 1997 title run.

Rodman’s attitude seems to have rubbed off on Noah this postseason as well. Noah was already fined $25,000 during the playoffs for pushing a fan at halftime. He was also criticized by LeBron James for crossing the line with his trash talking, with James complaining publicly to the media that it was “disrespectful.” He’s tied for third place in the league for most technical fouls this postseason with two.

Noah seems to be playing with an edge this postseason, which is very reminiscent of Rodman. Noah also goaded LeBron into drawing a technical foul for taunting in Game 3, which was a tactic that Rodman perfected.

Winning?

The Bulls have struggled at times this postseason, and many Bulls fans point to Noah as more hindrance than help at this point. It’s important to note though that the ’96-’98 Bulls won three championships and set the regular-season record for wins by using Rodman in a very similar role. Rodman’s play during those Chicago years elevated him into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

At this point, it’s extremely unlikely that Noah’s offense will recover to anywhere near respectable levels. The Bulls can still win though if Noah can channel his inner Rodman. Noah needs to continue improving his elite rebounding and try to recover the magic on defense that propelled him to Defensive Player of the Year honors last year.

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