The New York Knicks 104-89 win over the Chicago Bulls Thursday night was highlighted by strong performances from many Knicks stars. However, Joakim Noah, who dropped 12 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, proved to be the unsung hero of the game.Noah was clearly playing with a high level of confidence throughout the game, unafraid to drive to the hoop when he had the ball in the paint, and showing he could reach double-digits in rebounds. If the Knicks want to have a chance to make the playoffs, and even win a series once they’re in, they will need Noah to have efforts like this night in and night out.
Noah has clearly not lived up to the four year, $72 million contract that he signed with the Knicks last summer. He has constantly been outhustled by opponents and is a huge reason the team has had a huge problem this season giving up second-chance points. On top of that, he has a tendency to disappear on offense and his poor ball-handling skills under the hoop have hurt the Knicks. His poor free throw shooting has also been a huge liability, and opposing teams have shown they are not afraid to intentionally foul him late in games.
Noah’s performance in Thursday’s win is exactly what the Knicks were looking for when they signed him last July.
A huge plus from him living up to the money the team invested in him is it will take a great deal of pressure off Kristaps Porzingis. While Porzingis did put on some extra muscle in the offseason and has shown he can be a more aggressive player, there are still times when he gets pushed around the hoop and really needs help from Noah crashing the boards.
If Noah can establish a present in the paint, it will also enable Porzingis to play around the perimeter on offense. Porzingis has emerged as one of the game’s best shooting big men. A 7’3 player with a lethal three-point shot can prevent opponents’ big men from playing under the rim. You can’t leave Porzingis open cause he’ll drain his shots most of the top. You can’t have a smaller guy cover him because they won’t be able to defend his shot. The point is that if Noah can keep Porzingis from playing above the rim on offense, the Knicks will be able to generate more second-chance scoring opportunities, with the big bodies on opposing team away from the bucket and unable to rebound those missed shots.
In 2012-13, the last successful season for the Knicks, the team thrived greatly on second-chance points and with Tyson Chandler, who could batting missed shots out to his teammates in the backcourt. If he and Porzingis can work well together, Noah is capable of doing something similar. Also, keeping Porzingis away from the basket might help with some of the injuries he has been dealing with.
Should Knicks fans expect Noah to be the same player he was at his peak with the Bulls? Probably not. But scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 boards per-game is not too much to ask out of someone making $72 million.