clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Joakim Noah is still here

Joakim Noah has low-key been playing like the Joakim Noah of old. How big is this for the Memphis Grizzlies?

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Joakim Noah signing was honestly a mixed bag of feelings. It was understood and accepted that Noah was on the team as insurance for a potential injury for Marc Gasol, Jaren Jackson Jr., or JaMychal Green. At the time, Gasol was playing 35 minutes a night — which is a recipe for disaster for a big 34-year old center — so many thought Noah could at least spell 10-12 minutes for him in the regular season.

There was another side of the discussion that wasn’t here for it at all. After a year of not playing much basketball, what would an aging Joakim Noah bring to this team? He can’t shoot. He doesn’t space the floor. Ultimately, he’d be taking away valuable development time from Ivan Rabb, or potentially Jackson. It seemed like a short-sighted, lateral move that would change nothing.

I was originally in the latter camp, as I wanted the Grizzlies to either give more time to Rabb, or to modernize their offense more and play Kyle Anderson and Jaren Jackson Jr. at the 4 and 5. Shortly, after the signing though, I found myself buying into the notion that Joakim Noah could become a solid backup 5 for the Memphis Grizzlies.

What we’ve been seeing from Noah this past month has been totally unexpected, but I’m absolutely here for it. In 9 games in February, Noah averaged 12.6 points, 8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.2 blocks, and shot 59.7% from the field.

His play and energy have been electric for this Memphis Grizzlies team, one of the few feel-good stories for this team. At the start of the season, it looked like his NBA days were over. Now, he has played his way onto a NBA roster this season and likely next, as he’s looking like the Chicago Bulls version of Joakim Noah.

If there was one thing Noah was going to bring to the Grizzlies, it’d be rebounding. As one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, his presence alone simply bolsters it.

One of the most captivating things about Noah’s rebounding is, everything after it.

Noah has pushed the ball in transition and initiated the offense off rebounds. Given his skill as a passer, it’s an area of his play I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. As a 5, this creates a mismatch for the opposing teams, catching them off guard and getting a backup center — typically one that’s slower and less athletic than most starting bigs — completely off balance.

In addition, it helps and caters to some of the Grizzlies’ secondary options, opening up slashing lanes for the wings to run the floor and create easy scoring opportunities at the rim or from 3-point range.

The Grizzlies must continue capitalizing in this area. They don’t have many shot creators or the offensive system to score frequently in a half-court setting, so the Grizzlies should feast on more opportunities to ignite a fast break for easier scoring opportunities

The Memphis Grizzlies have run a lot of their offense through the elbows and the top of the key. They place usually their 4 and 5 on each elbow for pick-and-roll action and for more dribble handoffs. With the absence of Kyle Anderson and the departure of Marc Gasol, it looked like the Grizzlies would no longer thrive in this area. However, Joakim Noah has used his playmaking abilities to initiate and create from the elbow and the top of the key.

For starters, let’s take a quick minute to admire the beauty that came out of this potential disaster:

Also, this happened in the year 2019. No, this is not a simulation:

Seriously? Joakim Noah or Nikola Jokic?

Noah’s resurgence as a good secondary playmaker is where I see these flashes the most. In Chicago, he was one of the best passing big men in basketball — typically people referred him as the “best passer of non-Gasol big man.” This year, among all centers that average at least 15 minutes a game, he’s 4th in Assist Percentage (19.9 — trailing only Jokic, Gasol, and Nikola Vucevic). Since the All-Star break, he’s 6th among all centers in assists per game (3.7).

He may not be Jokic or Gasol, but Noah has quietly regained his form as one of the best passing centers in basketball.

Noah’s energy on the court is amazing. You could really see it transform the entire game. The crowd starts buzzing and fires up everyone in the building. The bench becomes lit after anything he does. I mean, it’s so hard not to get pumped up for someone that’s doing finger guns for hitting a mid-range jumper. All of this is super Tony Allen-esque.

As Mike Conley put it after last week’s win over the Lakers, Joakim Noah is the team’s battery pack.

His energy and passion honestly give life to a season that’s been rather disappointing. Between the false hope of a hot start, blown leads, trade rumors, locker-room-fracturing off-court drama, this season has been low-key miserable. At times, I could barely stand to watch games simply because the team’s lack of energy and urgency and the blown leads drove me to insanity.

Then, Joakim Noah dipped into his fountain of youth to reignite this Grizzlies team and helped make this team fun to watch again. He’s doing finger guns from mid-range, driving down the lane jamming on people, getting absolutely fired up over any big moment, and re-establishing real estate in LeBron’s head.

Sure, energy can get a role player so far, especially one with Noah’s shooting (in)abilities. However, Noah’s infectious intensity can go so far for this team. As the “Core 4” and GNG days are long over, this team needs an identity and a new culture, and Noah’s leadership could help establish those two pillars for success.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Who saw this coming? Whoever you are, come find me, and we’ll go to Tunica to make some big money.

The Joakim Noah of old has been showing up more and more often lately, and it’s been an awesome storyline for the Memphis Grizzlies.

It is hard to predict a future with him. Two young, and probably more superior, players in Jonas Valanciunas and Jaren Jackson Jr. play his position. He just turned 34 years old, so it’s hard to see if this play will keep up, and if he wants to chase a ring or not.

However, I really think keeping Joakim Noah beyond next year would be a wise move for the Grizzlies. Sure, he may never be an All-Star again, but he could be one of the better backup centers in the league. In addition, with this team inevitably facing a rebuild, it’s important to have good veterans in the locker to prevent the development of a losing culture — looking at you, Phoenix and Minnesota. Having a player with Noah’s energy and no-nonsense leadership could be important in developing a winning atmosphere in a younger Grizzlies locker room.

Follow @sbngrizzlies