Joakim Noah has been playing his heart out all season for the Bulls on a gimpy leg, but as admirable as his efforts have been, he has been hurting the Bulls tremendously in the playoffs. The Bulls’ net rating is +5.6 in the playoffs when Noah sits. Both the offense and defense perform better, but it is his offensive struggles that have been particularly glaring this series.
Blitzing the ball and leaving Noah wide open
Jason Kidd has been able to tell Bucks players to totally ignore Noah on offense all series long. Nowhere was this more evident than in game 3. The Bucks would routinely blitz whoever was bringing up the ball, double-teaming the Bulls’ guard with Noah’s defender and letting Noah roam free because he is a complete non-threat on offense:
During the regular season, Noah could get away with not being aggressive on offense because he is such an excellent passer. However, the Bucks’ length allows them to close off passing lanes, forcing Noah to have to take the shot. When he does take the shot, he has not been able to finish:
Noah catches the ball here in the paint with only 4 seconds left, yet the Bucks still chose to play passing lanes rather than guard him. Noah couldn’t punish them, barely grazing the rim on an easy chip in.
On the rare occasions that Noah has decided to shoot in the playoffs, he’s taken almost all of his shots within 5 feet of the basket. Per NBA.com, he is shooting only 37.5% on these close-range bunnies. Overall, he’s averaging 4.7 points on only 37% shooting in almost 38 minutes per game.
Noah’s struggles on offense have caused him to become extremely passive on offense. Even when the shot clock is low and he is forced to shoot, he still looks to pass:
There were many more examples of Noah either being way too passive (the low point: Noah being scared to finish a fast break layup over 6′ 3″ Jerryd Bayless, throwing a desperation pass for a turnover instead ) or trying his best to keep the defense honest but not being able to finish at the rim (here, here).
Here was Noah’s shot chart on the night:
He has just been a total wreck on offense.
Fear of Free Throws:
Noah’s free throw rate has plummeted this year, possibly because of a fear of shooting them. Here are his regular season numbers:
Noah is a decent free throw shooter for his career, but he’s averaging only 2.6 attempts this year, down from his career average of 3.2. More shockingly, his percentage has dipped over 11% from his career average. It’s very clear that when Noah catches the ball now, he is looking to pass rather than attack the basket even if he is in a great position to score.
Noah’s free throw woes have been exacerbated in the playoffs. For his career, his playoff free throw rate has held steady at between 3.2-3.6 attempts per game, a very good number. In the 3 games against the Bucks, he has only shot 4 total free throws in 113 minutes (1.3 attempts/gm) and has gone 0/4 in attempts.
Noah’s complete lack of aggressiveness, inability to make layups, and struggles at the free throw line have all combined to make him non-functional in the Chicago offense. What’s worse is that the Bucks are able to send an extra defender wherever they want. For much of the game, they had 6′ 9″ Jared Dudley on the 6′ 11″ Noah, allowing Dudley to play free safety on the Bucks’ defense.
The Bulls have still been able to score on a very good Bucks defense because of the individual brilliance of Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, but this is going to be a huge problem throughout the playoffs for the Bulls.
In Round 2, expect the Cavs to employ the same strategy as the Bucks, blitzing and double-teaming guards and leaving Noah open with no repercussions. Noah must get more aggressive on offense and improve his free throw shooting and finishing at the rim for the Bulls to have a chance.