CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler spoke for the entire Chicago Bulls organization late Saturday night when the topic of Joakim Noah came up. After watching the curly-haired big man rack up another huge double-double in a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, to the tune of 21 points and 16 rebounds, Butler echoed what many Bulls personnel members have been saying for weeks now.
Noah deserves to make his second consecutive All-Star appearance next month in New Orleans.
"He's been winning us games," Butler said. "That's what Jo's been doing. On both ends of the floor. He's been huge -- his leadership role, the energy he brings, making shots, defending, passing the ball, he's an All-Star and he's been playing like one."
As is so often the case with Noah, the numbers don't tell the entire story, although those have been loud and clear. In a season that has seen Derrick Rose go down with another knee injury and Luol Deng get traded, Noah hasn't just elevated his game on the floor. He's become the type of all-around leader that the Bulls needed badly with both Rose and Deng out of the picture.
In the short term, he's also continued playing the type of defense that has stabilized the Bulls -- an area that has been a weak spot over the past week.
"I think our defense was very good tonight," Noah said after Chicago limited the Sixers to just 35.1 percent shooting from the floor. "We're still a work in progress. We still have to get a lot better defensively. But I think we're capable, definitely capable, and we just got to keep getting better defensively, because when we get stops we can go out there and run with the shooting that we have on the court right now."
Noah's leadership is permeating throughout the organization these days. He was the one who came out and said last week that the Bulls weren't going to tank games -- and he's been the one who has backed it up night after night with his play. Noah remains the player from whom everyone in the organization, both players and coaches, takes their cues without Rose on the court.
He knows the Bulls' defense helps set up their offense and it's the reason he and his teammates took pride in the fact that Chicago appeared to fall back into its winning ways on that side of the floor against the Sixers.
"We haven't played good D in a while, to be honest," Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer said. "And I think we all know that. So every game's been kind of a struggle. Tonight was our first game that we played good D from the start to the finish and you see the result, man. If we can get back to our defensive ways we'll have a lot more success."
If the Bulls play defense as they did Saturday night and they continue to allow Noah to lead the way on both ends, there's no reason to think they won't accomplish their goals this season. For Noah, that means both another All-Star appearance and another unexpected playoff run. The latter may be the prize that's most important to him.
"You have to have a lot of pride when you wear the Bulls jersey," Noah said. "I think guys respect that. Like I said, we're not going to quit, we're going to just live in the moment, enjoy playing the game in front of a lot of great fans, and see where it goes."