CHICAGO -- Fred Hoiberg is in the middle of a quandary of his own making. All seasonlong, the Chicago Bulls' rookie head coach has discussed his team's need for more consistent intensity. Yet, all seasonlong, Hoiberg has left the Bulls' most consistently intense player on the bench for key stretches.
After watching Joakim Noah score 10 points, grab nine rebounds, dish out two assists and, most importantly, play with passion throughout the Bulls' come-from-behind 98-94 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night, Hoiberg should write a note to himself and keep it in his blazer pocket during games:
Joakim Noah needs to play more than 20 minutes a game.
Like all rookie head coaches, Hoiberg has made his share of mistakes in his first season on the Bulls' bench, but it's arguable that the biggest mistake Hoiberg has made was taking Noah out of the starting lineup before the regular season began and playing him about only 20 minutes a night. Noah worked all summer with good friend and personal trainer Alex Perris to get his body back in shape after a poor 2014-15 campaign in which he was hampered by the lingering effects of left knee surgery. The decision shook his confidence, which hasn't fully recovered.
By his own admission, Noah has played poorly during stretches. He isn't finishing at the rim as cleanly as he did in years past and he isn't the same kind of defender he was a couple seasons ago before the knee problems began. But Noah is still the emotional heart and soul of this group and the player that the rest of his teammates feed off of on the floor.
"Absolutely it is," Hoiberg said of Noah's energy. "The play he drove around [Anthony] Davis and dunked it, I thought he was going to run in the crowd and start chest bumping people. That's what you need. That's what you need when you're going through the type of game that we had is you need a guy to pick up the overall energy of the team. He was coming over to the bench, he was yelling and screaming and foaming at the mouth. It was awesome. It's exactly what we needed at that time in the game."
It's the kind of thing the Bulls have needed every game. Again, Noah hasn't always played at a high level this season, but at least part of that is due to the fact he's having a hard time getting past the frustration that came after his demotion. As he goes through the final season of his five-year deal, Noah has repeatedly deflected questions about his future, but the former defensive player of the year still can't hide that frustration after games sometimes.
"I think everybody wants minutes," Noah said. "It's no secret everybody in the whole NBA wants minutes."
To Hoiberg's credit, he saw the way Noah was playing in the second half and decided to keep him in the game for the entire fourth quarter. The problem comes when Hoiberg was asked whether Noah's performance Saturday would warrant him keeping Noah on the floor for more than 20 minutes. Hoiberg answered the question, in part, by pointing out how well veteran Pau Gasol played and how emotional he was. He followed that up with a non-answer about Noah's time on the court.
"That's the luxury slash problem we have with our bigs," Hoiberg said. "Is it's not always going to be the same guy. Taj [Gibson] was the one who finished the last game with Pau. Niko's finished a lot of games for us this year. And Jo -- it was Jo tonight so that's what we have. We've got the depths to play different lineups and go with the guy that's getting the job done."
Thing is, Noah should always be in the games late and should be given more of an opportunity than he has been. The 30-year-old big man provides the type of lift the Bulls desperately need.
"He gets me hyped up for sure," Bulls swingman Doug McDermott said. "When he had that drive to the basket with the dunk, I haven't seen that since I've been here the last two years. So that really got me excited and he's really fun to play with."
Hoiberg acknowledged during Saturday morning's shootaround that Noah's chemistry with McDermott is one of the reasons he has continued to use him with the second unit, but Noah is too important of a player not to play more throughout the game. His confidence -- both for himself and the entire team -- is too important to continue to mess with. For his part, Noah has continued to try and keep a team-first attitude. He wants the Bulls to succeed; he just wants to be given more of a chance to help them.
"When it comes to all that, those aren't things that I can control," Noah said. "So I'm just trying to make the most with what I have when my name's called on."