The season was all but over for the Chicago Bulls after watching Derrick Rose suffer yet another knee injury, followed by the front office’s disappointing decision to trade away All-Star small forward Luol Deng for next to nothing (remember, just like Wu-Tang said: C.S.R.E.A.M, or Cap Space Rules Everything Around Me). Or so we thought. Instead Chicago rolled off a 20-9 record since the January 7 Deng trade, led by the incumbent face of the franchise, Joakim Noah.
Suddenly the Bulls are in a virtual tie for the third spot in the Eastern Conference Playoff race (with the equally surprising Toronto Raptors) and playing their best basketball as we inch closer to the end of the regular season. Which brings me to my proposal: Doesn’t Joakim Noah deserve to win the Most Improved Player award?
The MIP always rewards a player whose individual scoring numbers drastically increased from one year to the next. Case in point, the lowest scoring differential for a MIP winner in the last ten years was Paul George‘s 5.3 PPG increase last year. Noah, if he were to stay at his current pace, would only increase his scoring by .1. Right now the names most thrown out to win are Lance Stephenson, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe before his injury. I would throw the Morris twins from Phoenix into the mix because a) Every time I watch a Suns game, one of them has a big night, and b) Combine them into one collective person, and they win the award hands down. Sadly, I do not see Adam Silver and friends awarding it in a joint effort, so the twins might be a long shot. All of the aforementioned players are having career years, especially when it comes to the scoring numbers. But outside of Stephenson, who for his part has upped his scoring, rebounding, assist and field goal percentage numbers dramatically, none are playing for a playoff team. Normally I lean towards rewarding players who do perform, even for sub-par teams, but in this instance doesn’t Noah deserve recognition?
Nothing against Stephenson, who will more than likely take home the award, but let’s compare lineups. Stephenson is playing with a lineup of George Hill, Paul George (All-NBA), David West (former All-Star), and Roy Hibbert (All-Star and possible DPOY winner). Noah’s top five are D.J. Augustin (cut by Toronto earlier this year), Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, and the corpse of Carlos Boozer. Let’s dig deeper.
Noah is playing the best basketball to date, averaging 12.0 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.4 BPG and 1.1 SPG on the year. More spectacularly is the fact that post-Deng, Noah is averaging a remarkable 13.8 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 6.8 APG, 1.8 BPG and 1.1 SPG! Noah had a career-high (and a record for a Bulls center) 14 assists this past week against the New York Knicks. That was the highest one-game assist total for a center since Sam Lacey did it way back in 1978. Over the last 12 games, Noah racked up a total of 82 assists (good enough for the seventh-highest in the NBA), trailing only six point guards. His current 4.8 APG is the highest total for a center since Brad Miller. (All I remember about Brad Miller was his cornrows… he was Riff Raff before Riff Raff was Riff Raff.)