Shams Charania reported today that Joakim Noah had finally agreed to sign with the Memphis Grizzlies after weeks of talks between the two sides.
This may be the best fit in the league for Noah right now.
After the way he played during his time in New York, it can be easy to forget just how good he was just a few years ago. After a long period of time without any centers proving to be able to be the primary facilitator for a team, he became the first one since Arvydas Sabonis and Vlade Divac to do so and truly excel.
It was just five short years ago that Noah was playing the best basketball of his career. In wake of yet another Derrick Rose injury that season, which limited their star man to just 10 games, Noah took over on both sides of the ball.
He had a stretch of 18 straight games with over ten rebounds, and also once had three straight games with over ten assists. As a center.
That March he had 120 assists in 16 games. He ended the month with per game averages of 14.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.9 blocks, and 1.7 steals.
He ended the next month with a Defensive Player of the Year award. And with 322 points toward the MVP vote.
That placed him at fourth. For MVP. Four and a half years ago.
The three guys that fell directly behind him were James Harden, Stephen Curry, and Chris Paul.
The next year, Jimmy Butler broke out and became the team’s consensus first option.
Pau Gasol was added, and returned to an all-star-level form that he hadn’t been in since the Lakers were winning championships.
And Rose played more games than he had in the previous three years combined. Granted, that was still barely half the season, but it was enough to make an impact. An impact that would change the course of Joakim Noah’s career.
With actual offensive options on the team at this point, Noah’s game fell off a cliff. He still tried to play the role of facilitator, but with much less touches than he’d had in recent seasons, that meant his scoring would suffer drastically.
Add in the floor spacing between him and Pau being different than they had been him and Boozer, and causing his efficiency to drop too, plus a 13.4% drop in free throw percentage, and it all adds up to his points per game nearly cutting in half.
The next year he was benched in favor of playing Nikola Mirotić at the four and sliding Gasol over to Noah’s center position.
Then came the injuries. I suppose it didn’t matter that he was coming off the bench considering he only played 29 games that year before shoulder surgery ruled him out for the year.
For whatever reason, the Knicks decided to vastly overpay him. Already an unpopular signing at the time, his time in Manhattan went much worse than it was even expected to.
Season one ended with a knee injury, another shoulder surgery that would keep him out up to six months, and a twenty game drug suspension.
Season two ended with forty minutes played, without setting foot on the court since January 23rd, and having been banished from the team for months.
One waiving later, that leads us to today, signing with Memphis.
Don’t be surprised if he actually gets playing time there.
The Grizzlies are one of the more surprising teams this year, although it does seem like they’re beginning to crash back down to earth.
They also are a team that has no backup center.
So far this year, Jaren Jackson‘s been filling that role. The main problem with that is that he’s also their starting power forward. Ivan Rabb can play a bit of center, but that’s not his primary position either, and there’s also the fact that he’s not really in their rotation.
In fact, they’re in such a desperate situation that they have actually spent time this year with Wayne Selden playing power forward and Kyle Anderson at center at times when both Marc Gasol and Jackson needed to rest, with JaMychal Green having been out with a fractured jaw.
Essentially, among starting centers this year, there are three tiers when it comes to ball-handling and facilitation. Top of the list is Jokić, easily. There’s only two other centers that really even rival him as the best passing center ever, and that would be Sabonis and Wilt Chamberlain.
The other two tiers are more debatable, but I would say placing Gasol and Nikola Vucević in tier two and Al Horford and DeMarcus Cousins in tier three is probably the solution most people would come to.
Why I mention this is because it means that the Grizzlies offense is already built to have a facilitating center, unlike most teams. This would make it much easier for a player like Noah to fit in quickly. He doesn’t need to learn how to fit in with an offense that doesn’t cater toward the way he plays.
In fact, the situation in Memphis will amplify everything good about him, while hopefully minimizing his problem areas. He’ll obviously never be the player he was, but, in the right situation, he can manage to last a couple more years in the league.
Plus, people won’t be screaming into the ether about his contract anymore, now that the Knicks are paying him ten times as much to not be on their team as the Grizzlies are to have him on theirs.