There is a difference between being in workout-shape (all pumped up, brah) and in game-shape, with all the running and jumping and quick reactions. Joakim Noah, by all appearances, seemed to be in more of the former entering this truncated lockout-addled season. He then started the season slowly, appearing out of sorts and hesitant and removed from the sort of brio that has marked his engaging brand of play since entering the NBA in 2007.
He then rebounded, literally and figuratively, with a current five-game stretch that saw the Chicago Bulls big man average 13.2 points on 64 percent shooting, with 12.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and three combined blocks/steals per game. The man, clearly, is rolling. And, if he's honest, he was a little hesitant entering the season because of the massive contract extension that took hold as 2011-12 sparked up.
The fantastic K.C. Johnson gleaned as much from Noah in an interview with Johnson's Chicago Tribune:
"Yeah, no question, I thought about that," Noah said. "Sometimes you feel like because you're given so much money you're expected to do things. That's not the right mentality to have as a player.
"You have to be that way because this basketball thing is such an emotional roller coaster," Noah said. "One day you're feeling amazing because you played well and your team won. The next night, you lose and you play like crap. It's definitely a man's league. And you always have to put yourself in question. But I'm feeling a lot more confident now."
Of course, Joakim signed his extension almost a year and a half ago. Then again, we all respond differently to expectation, even delayed expectation. To some, there is a difference between working for an initial contract and a substantial raise, even if you know the substantial raise has been already signed and stashed away.
On the other tip, it's not as if Joakim was awful to start Chicago's season. He was a huge part of the breakout start of the team with the NBA's best record, and he appeared (to whatever end) to lead the league in missed tip-ins and almost-there rebounds. Never forget that, for all his gifts, this is an overachiever. His coin appeared to land on the wrong side more times than not at the start of 2011-12. Sometimes broken plays and/or missed put-backs don't go your way.
This clearly sounds like I'm making a trillion excuses for Noah, who admittedly is my favorite player in the whole wide world. Doesn't matter, and sod off. Different people react to different things. Angular banjos sound good to me, and he has a ponytail. Keep that mess in mind the next time you have to hit a lefty hook with the shot clock running down in front of 20,000 people.