Commentary: Joakim Noah’s intensity to save the Bulls in the playoffs

When superstar Derrick Rose went down with a season-ending knee injury for a second straight year 10 games into the regular season, it left the Chicago Bulls with more questions than answers.

Not only was the face of the franchise missing, once again, but team management toyed with the idea of completely rebuilding the roster. As the Bulls begin the 2014 playoffs, there’s a new star that has captured the hope of fans wanting a title back to the Windy City – Joakim Noah.

Noah, with his fiery emotion on the court and his ability to make the teammates around him better, has saved the Bulls’ season.

Longtime Bulls forward Luol Deng was traded away and head coach Tom Thibodeau was reported to have conflicting views with Vice President John Paxson over that trade. The Bulls looked headed for their first lottery appearance since 2008. Through it all, Noah used all of the gossiping and emotion as a source of motivation. Selected to his second straight All-Star game, Noah has risen to new heights.

Noah, a 6-foot-11 center, defines what it means to be a team player. Expressively hurt by the departure of Deng and the injury to Rose, Noah acted as the source of stability on and off the court for the Bulls. Not often does a center consistently flirt with triple double statistics in the point, rebound and assist categories. Noah’s skill set may not look pretty but he gets it done and that is why the Bulls finished with the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference at 48-34. Most importantly, the emotion and leadership Noah brings to the Bulls is his best asset.

Noah’s defensive mindset has put him in discussion for Defensive Player of the Year. His defensive superiority in the paint has also translated into offensive succession. He is not afraid to run the fast break, even at his size, and make beautiful bounce passes to teammates. Moreover, Noah can fill the lanes on a fast break. The 29-year-old knows how to work the post and find teammates when a defense breaks down. Most importantly, he has made his teammates better.

The performance of Noah has players such as D.J. Augustin, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson playing some of the best basketball of their careers. The arrival of Augustin, a free agent acquisition following the Rose injury, has given new life to his career as he is averaging 14.6 points per game in 57 games with Chicago. Moreover, Butler continues to improve his game both offensively and defensively. Noah has influenced forward Taj Gibson on both sides of the ball. Gibson not only has improved his scoring but also is a solid six man.

Chicago may enter the playoffs lacking a Carmelo Anthony or Stephen Curry, players who have the ability to take over a single game with their scoring. Yet, the one thing Bulls fans are not deprived of is a star. Noah’s love for the game is contagious. He has shown teammates what it means to play as a team. Not one Bulls player averages more than 20 points per game. Rather, teammates play to one another’s strengths.

The Bulls will see a different sense of intensity as playoff basketball begins. LeBron will be looking for a 3-peat, Indiana is scary when consistent and Brooklyn is led by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who could be facing their last real chance at a title. However, this is not mission impossible for the Bulls as Chicago has shown they can play well against the best of the best. Look for the Bulls to rely on defense, emotion and one another to attempt to bring a title to Chicago.

Noah may not appear on SportsCenter’s top 10 or be the league’s top jersey seller but his incredible passion for the game has allowed him to rise to the top and potentially take the Bulls with him.