COMMENTARY | Expectations were all over the map for Joakim Noah Saturday night when the Bulls hosted the New York Knicks.
Noah was coming off a 30-point, 23-rebound game against the Detroit Pistons, which were career highs in both categories. The thing about career highs is that they are unlikely to be immediately duplicated, which is why all eyes were on Noah to see what he would do against the Knicks the next night.
What he did was offer 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots, two steals and nine turnovers as the Bulls recorded their biggest win of the season. Sure, the box score was filled up, but it wasn't the dominant performance he turned in against the Pistons.
Not that anyone was expecting that, right?
"He just has to come in and be consistent, do his job,'' Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said before the Saturday game. "Just be consistent. Come back the next night and do it again. Just keep going."
Tough guy, that Tom Thibodeau.
Obviously, Thibodeau was not suggesting consistency in terms of numbers, He explained what it was Noah did correct on Friday, then said it was those elements of the game he wanted to see offered every night.
"He did all the things that were necessary and needed in that game,'' he said."We gave us great energy, multiple effort. He scored, played great defense, was a leader. But he has to do it every night."
The problem with being an effort guy is you notice when the effort is not there. Noah played an effective game Saturday, but he wasn't all over the boards the way he was on Friday.
"I'm really tired,'' he said after the game Saturday.
I asked him if he felt any pressure to duplicate Friday's effort in Saturday's game and he said "No. I just want to win."
The image of Noah burned into the NBA consciousness seven years ago was the zoot suit-wearing, Bozo hairstyle showing dude who took to the stage and accepted his selection as the No. 9 pick of the draft by the Bulls. Time and again over his first few years in the league, he had to be propped up by coaches and colleagues, including his college coach, Billy Donovan, who would tell anybody who would listen how good Noah could be.
For Bulls fans, the first Noah moment was that steal and slam in Game Six of the playoff series against the Celtics a few years ago. It was effort combined with performance, and it indicated where Noah's ceiling was.
But with three summers of hard work, Noah has emerged as one of the best centers in the league. Not dominant, by any stretch, but a significant rebounder and defender with an ever-growing offensive skill set.
"He plays with a lot of energy, is a great rebounder, and now he has figured out how to score a little bit,'' New York coach Mike Woodson said. "Now he has the complete package."
It would be significant for Noah to get an All-Star berth this year. The league changed voting so that fans pick three frontcourt players, rather than two forwards and a center, but with the weird dearth of true centers in the league, it would be nice for Noah to be recognized as a bit of old school with an energy seldom found in the tallest player on the team.
But more importantly than the All-Star nod, I want him to stay healthy so that when Derrick Rose returns, the Bulls can have weapons at every position. Noah's recent play has increased my anticipation for the Bulls when they once again have a full roster.
Should be fun to watch.
Kent McDill has covered the Bulls for three different companies: for United Press International from 1985-88, for the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Ill., from 1988-99 and currently for NBA.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title "100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die'' published by Triumph Books.