CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah was back in his comfort zone Friday night.
Without Derrick Rose (knee) or Pau Gasol (illness), and with Taj Gibson going down with an ankle injury after just nine minutes, the remaining Bulls had to pull together and do a little more. For Noah, that meant he was back in a familiar role as a "point center," a role he played extremely well without Rose on the floor over the past two years. With Noah back at the high post, he looked more confident on the floor, as he racked up 11 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in a 96-89 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"That's what Jo wants to do -- handle the ball," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. "He makes great decisions when he's passing it, and he's aggressive when he gets it. Whenever you have a big man like that, it's hard to guard all five people on the floor."
Noah had much more space on the floor offensively, without Gasol down on the blocks. The pair know they need one another to reach their ultimate goal, but they have not played well together throughout much of this season. Noah thrives in a situation in which he can pass the ball in various sets from the high post.
"That part I think is innate," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah's passing ability. "He had great vision and decision-making ability. He's got a very unorthodox game in many ways. But he's got great vision, and if a guy's open just a little bit on a cut, he can get it there. So it's a big plus when you have a big guy that can pass like that."
For his part, Noah wasn't biting on how much fun he was having in his old role. He discussed how the Bulls run a read-and-react offense and try to find the open man.
"I enjoy winning," Noah said. "It was fun to win today. We just got to keep improving."
Noah's offensive game has taken a back seat to Gasol's throughout the season. Now that Noah is back to feeling like himself as he continues to shake off the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery, it's going to be interesting to see how his game responds once Gasol and Rose are back on the floor. In the meantime, Noah, like the rest of his teammates, is just hopeful Rose will be back sooner than later.
"It's tough when your best player is out," Noah said. "But I think today was positive news. Derrick's a warrior. He's going to fight as hard as he can to try his best to come back this year. We just got to keep building and keep getting better until he gets back."