When the New York Knicks finally parted ways with big man Joakim Noah after a disastrous stretch, it looked like it was the end for Noah. However, he then signed with the Memphis Grizzlies and is actually somewhat resembling his old self.
Okay; the operative word there is “somewhat,” because, as well as Noah has been playing lately, he is still a far cry from the player we saw during his prime Chicago Bulls days, but the point is that Noah has not been playing like a bum.
This month, the 34-year-old is averaging 12.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 blocks over 22.8 minutes per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the floor and 79.5 percent from the free-throw line.
As a matter of fact, Noah recently had a game against the Los Angeles Clippers in which he posted 22 points and 11 boards while going 12-of-12 from the charity stripe, which made you wonder what year this was for a second.
During the summer of 2016, Noah signed an ill-fated four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks even though it was blatantly obvious that he was in significant decline.
In the previous year, Noah played in just 29 games due to shoulder issues and averaged 4.3 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting a paltry 38.3 percent from the floor. What made Phil Jackson think Noah was still worth $18 million a year at that point, who knows, but people ripped Noah for his lack of production in New York when the onus should have completely fallen on the shoulders of Jackson.
Noah ended up playing in just 53 games for the Knicks, a tenure that featured a drug suspension and a clash with then-New York head coach Jeff Hornacek that essentially got Noah exiled from the team.
The days of Noah representing one of the top defensive forces in the league and being a walking double-double appeared to be over, as not even a putrid team like the Knicks had room for him on their roster.
But, Noah has resurrected his career over this last month and is actually developing back into a valuable piece.
Obviously, his presence on Memphis is merely as a veteran leader and mentor, as the Grizzlies aren’t winning anything any time soon, and by the time Memphis is ready to actually contend, Noah may very well be retired.
However, Noah has likely earned himself some money on the free-agent market this year with his recent performances, as contending teams will certainly have use for him if he keeps playing at this level.
Now, clearly, he won’t be tallying double-doubles on a nightly basis anymore, but if Noah can rebound and play solid defense, why wouldn’t a contender want him in their frontcourt?
Let’s assume Noah maintains this level of production for the rest of the season, or at least something similar to it. So, let’s surmise that he averages something like 10 and seven and defends reasonably well (and the fact that the Grizzlies are 6.1 points better defensively with him on the floor lends credence to the notion that he can still, in fact, play defense).
You can bet that there will be plenty of interested parties this summer, and Noah may very well end up having his pick of the litter. At this point of Noah’s career, he almost certainly wants a title, so he will have the ability to ring chase if he so desires.
Remember: when Noah was in his prime, he was widely considered one of the best big men in the game. He was never a bona fide scorer, but he was a guy who could defend both on the interior and the perimeter, displaying great skills in rim protection and the physical capability to effectively guard the pick-and-roll. Not only that, but Noah was always a great ball-handler and passer, so he is able to have a role on offense in spite of his lack of skill in terms of putting the ball in the net.
If he can even come remotely close to that level of production again, he will certainly find a home with another NBA team next season. Heck, if he even does half of what he did five or six years ago, whatever club signs him to a one-year deal this offseason is going to be very lucky.
Perhaps all Noah needed to do was stay healthy and understand the fact that he is no longer the star he once was. Now that he has come to grips with that reality, there appears to be a legitimate NBA future for the wily veteran.