As the latter seconds ticked off the clock of another Chicago Bulls home victory over the Miami Heat, broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy — he of the typically ornery, stubborn demeanor — proclaimed that Joakim Noah absolutely deserves to be in the discussion for the 2013-14 NBA MVP award.
It has become a two-horse race, or so it would seem based on sports media. LeBron James and Kevin Durant are much sexier names than Noah and put up more eye-popping numbers (which is to be expected, given their usage rates and absurd talent). But MVP stands for “most valuable player,” not “best player,” and there is certainly an argument to be made that Noah is more valuable to the Bulls than any other player is to his respective team.
It starts at the defensive end, where Noah is likely the single most active player in the NBA. He regularly switches onto guards and wings, often defending them more successfully than other guards and wings do. One such play immediately comes to mind: the Noah vs. James standoff during the first half of Sunday’s Bulls-Heat showdown. It went so decidedly in Joakim’s favor that his father, Yannick Noah, utterly forgot that he was being interviewed as he celebrated just like his son.
Needless to say, Noah is one of the best rebounders in basketball. He has also become the (almost indisputable) best passing big man in the game, and this was once again on display against the Heat as he racked up seven dimes, nearly equaling the total of Chicago’s two nominal point guards combined. The Bulls run an enormous portion of their offense through Noah at the top of the key, constantly relying on his ability to move the ball.
With Derrick Rose injured once again, Noah is Chicago’s most important offensive and defensive player. Given the relative dearth of talent on the rest of his team as compared to what Durant and James have to work with, there is no denying that Noah belongs in the MVP discussion.
Still, because of the superstar-obsessed nature of the NBA, those two will assuredly continue to garner most of the conversation. But if we are to speak objectively about which player is the most valuable to his team, Noah is undeniably on their level.