The success of the San Antonio Spurs is predicated on defense. Although they’re still an efficient offensive team, their suffocating defensive intensity is what makes them elite first and foremost.
Joakim Noah is the type of player who can come in and instantly elevate an already intimidating defense.
Noah won Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. He remains one of the best interior defenders in basketball.
His energy was the driving force of the Chicago Bulls teams he thrived on. Although Derrick Rose was putting up the best statistics on those Bulls teams that were consistently threats to win the Eastern Conference, Noah was undoubtedly the heart and soul of those squads.
His significance was further emphasized this season. Even before he injured his left shoulder, Noah was relegated to the bench in favor of the more offensive-minded Nikola Mirotic. New head coach Fred Hoiberg was trying to make the Bulls more of an up-tempo attack that focused on scoring points.
When Tom Thibodeau was the head coach, the Bulls were famous for their smothering defensive approach to winning basketball games. Hoiberg was trying to change the team’s identity, and no player personified that identity like Noah.
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The Bulls massively underachieved this season, and an easy detail to point to was the absence of Noah.
To call Noah a defensive specialist isn’t doing his game enough justice, though. He’s a great passer for his size and a relatively adept ball handler at the center position when he puts the ball on the court.
Just 2 seasons ago he averaged 5.4 assists per game. The guy’s basketball IQ is off the charts, and he can positively influence a game in multiple ways.
The Spurs have been able to utilize great passing big men such as Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw. Noah would fit in well with how the Spurs like to operate.
Noah is actually a similar player to how Duncan was in his later San Antonio years. Noah can rebound effectively on both ends of the court, adequately protect the rim as a shot-blocking threat, and can work as a facilitator on offense from the center position.
Noah makes such an impact on the game besides scoring that any points he contributes are a bonus. He’s become a 2-time NBA All Star despite never averaging over 13 points per game. In a league that values scoring above nearly any statistic, it’s remarkable that he has gained league-wide recognition to that extent without ever being an elite scorer.
Noah is coming off of an injury, but he’s just 2 seasons removed from making the All-NBA First Team as a center.
He’ll turn 32 next season, and baring any setbacks due to injury, he still has a handful of seasons left as an elite NBA center.
The Spurs shouldn’t go as far as to prioritize his signing above guys like Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside, or Mike Conley. They’ll likely be able to afford just one of those guys, but Noah serves as a fantastic option if the spurs can’t land one of those other players.
Noah has the perfect characteristics to succeed in San Antonio. His energy on defense would help keep the Spurs as the premier defensive team in the NBA. With Kawhi Leonard guarding the perimeter and Noah protecting the paint, the Spurs would be a dreaded team for any offense to try to score against.
Acquiring Noah as a free agent would keep the Spurs among the elite teams in the NBA. Noah would add to a roster already filled with talented players.