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Versatile Bulls center Joakim Noah has reached elite level



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Updated: March 22, 2014 6:43AM

There’s a certain vagueness in labeling NBA players these days.

He’s a superstar, this guy is elite, that guy is a franchise player.

“What do all those even mean?’’ Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “I mean, before you call a player a superstar, you have to look at what he brings. You’re talking about a lot of things for a superstar. You’re talking basketball stuff, off-the-court stuff, recognition. A lot of players think they’re superstars because of the recognition, but I’ve seen those so-called superstars shy away from the big shot. Is that a superstar?’’

That’s where center Joakim Noah comes in.

The perception of the Bulls before this season was that they had their star player in Derrick Rose, and he was surrounded by a handful of good to very good pieces and role players. If the model for a championship team was having a “Big Three,’’ however, they were two short.

Now, maybe not so much.

Thanks to Noah’s continued development, the Bulls can realistically boast that they have two stars on the roster heading into the summer.

“I’ve never seen Joakim shy away from anything,’’ Gibson said. “He’s not afraid of the last shot; he’s not scared to guard the best player; he’s not scared of the big night. You look at big men around the league, and how many of them can say they can have a triple-double on any given night? He does a lot of things that 7-footers can’t do. You have to give him that respect.’’

The league has, making Noah a back-to-back All-Star.

If the Bulls continue playing at this high level, the case can be made that Noah deserves MVP votes.

After all, when Rose went down with a season-ending right knee injury Nov. 22 and Luol Deng was traded to the Cavaliers in January, the Bulls were basically left for dead, another NBA team forced to tank.

The addition of point guard D.J. Augustin was huge, but it was Noah who stepped up his game, not only his scoring but his rebounding and playmaking, evidenced by the 12.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists he’s averaging in February.

“Joakim has gone to a completely different level,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s not just his defense and passing and screening. His scoring now, he’s playing a complete game. That has given us a big boost.

“He’s going to make the right plays; he’s going to hit the open man; he’s going to get you some easy scores. Jo can hurt you a lot of different ways.’’

Maybe Noah will address how far he has come at the end of the season. For now, all he cares about is the four-game winning streak and the Bulls being back in the argument as a contender in the East — far-fetched or not.

“I have no regrets, and I’m proud of this team,’’ Noah said. “It has been a hell of a turnaround, definitely. But we’re not satisfied with being three games over .500. Just like Thibs says all the time — things change quick in this league. Right now it’s four in a row, and Denver is next. We have to keep going, stay focused.’’

So has Noah reached star level?

Whatever that means, he sure sounds like one.


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