It’ll be energy times two when Joakim Noah and Bobby Portis are on the floor together as members of the Bulls’ second unit, a duo that hasn’t been used hardly this season.
Noah’s return from a shoulder injury against the Washington Wizards Monday presented an opportunity for Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to play the two together, in what could be an interesting setup given Noah’s passing ability and Portis being willing to shoot from virtually anywhere.
“They’ll be out there some, together in the second unit,” Hoiberg said. “I think they’ll play well with each other. They’ve developed a really tight relationship and a good bond. Jo has really taken him under his wing and taught him a lot early in Bobby’s career, so I know those two are looking forward to playing with each other.”
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Essentially, Portis has played a lot of the minutes Noah would’ve in the nine games Noah has been recovering from a left shoulder strain, nearly 21 per game. The frontcourt logjam prevented Portis from getting any playing time in the first 20 games or so, but injuries and a lack of energy on some glaring occasions forced Hoiberg’s hand in playing the rookie.
Now, Portis isn’t looking at the possibility of his minutes being cut, but of how Noah can make the game easier because of his basketball acumen, and the fact there’s no tape of the two playing together.
“Yes sir, for sure. The last time I played with Jo in a game was really my first time actually playing at the United Center,” Portis said. “That was against Brooklyn, and then he got hurt that game, and then he's been out. That's been a big piece of our team, missing him. Like tonight, we're going to be ready and just anxious to play.”
Noah seemingly adjusted to coming off the bench right before his injury, with a 21-point, 10-rebound game against the Knicks one game before he got hurt, and a 15-rebound, eight-assist game on Dec. 14 against the 76ers.
Even with the Bulls playing well and Noah’s minutes being monitored, Hoiberg is looking forward to having Noah anchor the second unit.
“I am excited. The biggest thing with Jo is I know he’s going to bring energy to the court,” Hoiberg said. “I know he’s going to bring rebounding to the court, and he’s always going to be down there defending. Plus he gives us more ball-handling out there. He was really good … I give him a lot of credit for kind of getting that second unit turned around. Again, we talked about him developing chemistry with Doug, Niko was in that lineup for a stretch, and now that will be Bobby, but Jo really is the leader of that second group. I think he’s taken pride in that role.”
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One player who’ll really welcome Noah back is Doug McDermott, who has seen his scoring dip in Noah’s absence. McDermott was often a beneficiary of backdoor passes and open 3-pointers generated by Noah’s playmaking but in the nine games without Noah has only scored in double figures once.
He had a stretch where he scored in double figures six of eight games in early December, but things have changed in the time since.
“It’s been an adjustment for sure. We had a good little duo there, we knew each other’s game really well,” McDermott said. “Last year when I played, we played together quite a bit. Jo’s always looking at me. I feel like teams are guarding me differently. I hit a lot of shots to start the year. They’re not coming as easy. It’s been tough, but I’ll have to add more to my game to be successful.”