Usually a guy who isn’t a superstar can’t carry an OK team all the way. But Joakim Noah doesn’t have to produce huge scoring nights in order to make the Chicago Bulls a team someone you should consider as potential NBA champions, or at least the ones to come out of the Eastern conference, pulling off triple doubles left and right in order to prove so, the latest coming in a 102-87 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Noah had 15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in another complete performance on both ends of the floor which included two blocks and making the inconsistent Timberwolves look pretty bad, struggling once again with their interior defense and to show any kind of consistency on offense, beginning with a bad for Ricky Rubio and finishing with Kevin Love struggling to get hot.
While Noah has to be the central story for the Bulls this season, playing a lot better and being more important than his averages suggest (12.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists), D.J. Augustin saving his own season and probably the Bulls along with him deserves a special mention as well.
Augustin came off the bench to score 21 points, and has completely changed the way the Bulls turn to their bench to find offensive answers. Remember Marquis Teague and Mike James? Neither do they, and the despair felt early in the season when Derrick Rose went down with a meniscus tear is long gone in the rear view mirror. The Bulls aren’t better without him, but they’re playing well enough to consider themselves as contenders to knock out the Heat or the Pacers from the playoffs, if they get that far to meet them.
Because Chicago might be built to beat those teams, but Toronto and Brooklyn can give them more than just slight problems. The defense is great but has its issues, and few teams run the open court as bad as the Bulls, partially because of their unreliable outside shooting. The Bulls did shoot 11-of-21 in the win against the Timberwolves and Jimmy Butler has been looking better over the last couple of months, but it remains to be seen if they can make swinging the ball around for open shooters a gameplan worth following.
The Bulls are doing the most with the bad cards they’ve been handed due to injuries, so to say they’re missing out on a window of winning isn’t completely true. Their road is just tougher than it should have been to at least make a conference finals, something that has happened only once since 1998. Joakim Noah isn’t Derrick Rose and isn’t a point guard, but the ball in his hands for him to make “point-guardy” decisions is the best bet for the Bulls to look good on offense throughout the playoffs. They’ll figure out how to make things work on defense anyway.