When the Bulls made their expected coaching change, one of the on-court changes many expected was to break up the tandem of Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in the frontcourt.
In fact, when Fred Hoiberg had his availability on Media Day, the new Bulls coach anticipated it would be among the first three questions. The notion stemmed around Noah limping around last season and to a lesser extent, Gasol advancing in age. With Gasol being an All-Star player, the speculation was growing louder that Noah should come off the bench to balance out the floor.
But Noah feels Hoiberg should hold off on making a decision based off the tape from last year. The film doesn’t lie that the duo looked uneven last season, despite the gaudy record posted by the starting five for the few games they played together (16-5).
“I think we should give it an honest evaluation while I’m healthy,” Noah said. “Last year, I wasn’t healthy. Let’s see how it goes and then coaches can make a decision from there.”
In some respects, Noah was kept on the floor due to loyalty and a level of comfort from Tom Thibodeau, even as his left knee affected virtually every aspect of his game, including his confidence.
The numbers fell across the board, which have been well-documented. And he wasn’t able to cover Gasol’s back defensively, contributing to his 102-point defensive rating, his highest in the Thibodeau era by far.
So Gasol, who underwent nasal surgery in June to alleviate breathing issues, is keeping an open mind to the pairing, although he knows he’ll see considerable time with Nikola Mirotic as a way to maximize the Bulls’ offensive prowess.
“That's got to be the coaching staff's decision, obviously, not ours,” Gasol said. “I think each player will do the best he can to be on the floor as long as possible and have significant minutes. It's good to see Jo healthy and moving well.”
Everything should be prefaced with saying it’s the first days of camp so bodies don’t have the wear-and-tear on it that will be around in February, but Noah won’t be limited by minute restrictions or the mental fears that he can’t do it physically.
“He looks fresh,” Gasol said. “He looks like he's in really good shape, has worked hard during the summer. Now he does feel and look bouncier. It's great to see him that way. From what I've seen so far, yes. The day and a half I've seen him, he looks really good.”
Moving well means lateral movement being the biggest improvement for Noah, allowing him to cover ground quicker baseline to baseline and on high screen-rolls, should the Bulls decide to trap up high in an aggressive setting.
“I just feel bouncier, just lighter on my feet,” Noah said. “Just waking up in the morning and moving good, that’s a good feeling. Doing a lot of yoga every morning before I come in. Just taking care of myself a little different. This isn’t my first rodeo.”
Of course Noah has been through it before, and Gasol is a veteran of many training camps, so one wonders how much Hoiberg can experiment with the two playing together in the preseason, especially when the plan is to limit Gasol’s usage to under the 34.4 minutes he played per game last season, his highest mark since the 2011-12 season when he was a much younger man.
“Well, we'll see how the season goes,” Gasol said. “Ideally, I'll play less than I did last year and that's kind of the plan, I guess. But we'll see what happens. I've just got to be ready. Seasons are long, are tough, are demanding and as a professional, you have to stay ready. It's not going to be ideal all the time. It's never ideal. You just have to work through it and do the best you can.”