BIRMINGHAM, Mich. — There appears to be a bit of a discrepancy in the “Joakim Noah volunteers to go to the bench” story many have believed, a move that has made way for Nikola Mirotic to enter the starting lineup before the season opener.
Noah said he never went to coach Fred Hoiberg to say he wanted to come off the bench, which is what Hoiberg said occurred. Knowing Noah as the competitor that he is, it didn’t seem to go parallel with the standards he’s set personally, especially considering he’s in the midst of a contract year.
But it looked as if Hoiberg was trying to protect Noah and prop him up psychologically as opposed to presenting it to the masses as a demotion or some kind of claim he’s no longer an effective player.
“I don’t remember, pick whatever (story) you want,” said Hoiberg coyly. “He came to me and had a discussion. He said he wanted to play with Taj. We had a very easy conversation, and I give him credit for initiating the conversation.”
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Noah agreed that a conversation was had but didn’t say he wanted to go to the bench. At this point it’s semantics, but perhaps it speaks to how Hoiberg wants to protect his players — either that or he made a bigger deal than it should’ve been.
“What I said doesn’t matter,” Noah said. “Right now we’re doing what’s best for the team. We just have to keep building.”
Mirotic’s presence has opened the floor for everybody on the perimeter, and it’s likely Hoiberg grouped Mirotic with Pau Gasol and Noah with Gibson during training camp practices, with the endgame of making Noah see for himself which combinations worked best.
“The conversation said I feel like I play well with Taj and I think Niko and Pau play well together,” Hoiberg said. “That’s how the conversation went.
“That’s the story and I’m sticking to it.”
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Noah said he gets to play center as opposed to power forward with Gasol, which puts him against more agile players, and playing with Gibson allows Gibson to protect the rim a little better.
“I think I’m more effective playing the 5 than the 4, and Pau is the same,” Noah said. “So it makes the most sense.”
Bottom line, it’s worked to the tune of two wins.
“He likes being in there with Taj, and Taj is our best rim runner,” Hoiberg said. “And Jo can facilitate and pass the ball. He said they have great chemistry together, and I agree with him.”