COMMENTARY | On March 1, Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls did something that had not been done in nearly 20 NBA years. En route to a 93-82 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, Noah put up 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocks. Monstrous numbers last attained by Shaquille O'Neal, who had 24, 28 and 15 in 1993. Shaq is unquestionably a future Hall of Famer and one of the most dominant centers in the history of the game. So, what does that make Noah?
It is not simply his recent triple-double that raises this discussion. Even the most ordinary professional athlete can luck into a big game with enough playing time on any given night. However, Noah's stellar performances this season have been the complete opposite of a fluke. He is averaging 12 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks per game. Of course those numbers do not look like much if you compare them next to the ridiculousness that has been LeBron James, but when measured against other centers in the NBA they immediately stand out.
Noah is also at the top of the league in immeasurable stats, such as heart and hustle. He is the Bulls' emotional leader. His game is not the prettiest; his jump shot not the most fluid. But at the end of the day, Noah gets it done by any means necessary.
Other centers rightfully have a place in this conversation: Dwight Howard, Al Horford, and perhaps Tyson Chandler comprise the most common mentions. Horford has been in beast mode as of late himself, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds for the season. A very solid case could be made that he is the league's best big man. Where Horford exceeds his former Florida Gators teammate in offensive prowess, Noah makes up for in grittiness and intangibles. Chandler, on the other hand, while a strong defensive presence, rarely offers much in the way of scoring.
Howard, whether due to a recovering back injury or adjusting to his new teammates, has not been the force that he once was. His numbers for the Los Angeles Lakers are similar with 16ppg, 12rpg and 2bpg but he he has yet to really dominate games the way that Noah has. Not to mention he has Kobe Bryant garnering the majority of defensive attention. Noah has done this without his superstar.
Now, let's look at team records. The Lakers' struggles have been extremely well documented as the team currently sits just above .500 and a game out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the west. Horford's Atlanta Hawks have a 34-27 record, while the Bulls are two spots ahead at 35-27 in the east. Collective success must count for something.
Noah has the stats, the wins and the responsibility this season to be categorized amongst the league's elite. Granted, the talent pool for big men is shallower than it has ever been-- but a big fish in a small pond is still a big fish. Which begs the question, is Noah the best center in the NBA? Not overall or even the past few seasons, but right now? Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. The validity of this question actually makes the response irrelevant. Nonetheless, if you are going to say that he is not, be prepared to distinctively explain "why not?" No easy feat.
Acamea Deadwiler is a Chicago-area native with several years experience covering the NBA, including the Chicago Bulls, for Examiner.com. She has also been featured in Bounce magazine, SLAM Online, and various other publications. Follow Acamea on Twitter @AcameaLD.
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