The Houston Rockets coach knows a special defensive big man when he sees one. He was one himself, being selected multiple times to the NBA all-defense team. He has also coached two previous award winners in Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard.
McHale included Noah in that elite category Thursday. Noah is averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks this season.
"He's played very well," McHale said after his team's shootaround at Moody Bible Institute. "He should be defensive player of the year. He's done a great job with these guys. They've been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates."
McHale was complimentary not only of Noah's defensive game but of his offensive one as well.
"He's just more confident in what he's doing," McHale said. "He's making plays with the pass. He's driving and kicking. When he was coming out, I thought he'd be a pick-pop-and-drive playmaking 4. He's doing more of that now."
Howard also spoke highly of Noah's progression. The two first played against each other in high school when both were part of the Class of 2004, which also produced center Roy Hibbert.
"I've played against Joakim since adidas camp back when he was 15, 16 years old," Howard said. "I've seen a difference in his game. The one thing that has remained the same is his intensity level on the floor. He's always going after every play, trying to get all the loose balls, stuff like that.
"The first time [I met him], he was a water boy at the camp. We didn't see too much out of him. By the time we were all seniors, he was up actually playing in the all-star game. We played against each other here in Chicago in the Reebok Classic, which was a lot of fun. I'm happy to see him grow. He's doing a great job here in Chicago."