Bulls center Joakim Noah stuck around, shooting jump shot after jump shot after all but one of his teammates had left the floor at the Berto Center after practice Thursday. Again and again, Noah fired up what might be the quirkiest shot in the league and the most original shot of any Bull since Bill Cartwright retired.
It’s as much a two-handed set shot as it is a jumper. He doesn’t shoot it so much as heave it at the rim. Instead of rotating on a high-arcing trajectory, the ball spins sideways like a globe on its axis.
“That’s just how I started shooting,” Noah said. “I’m stubborn. I don’t shoot that many jump shots anyway. I’m proud of my ‘J.’ My mom calls it unique.”
Noah is one of the most athletic centers in the NBA. He can run the floor. He can grab a rebound, go coast-to-coast and finish on the other end. He brings defensive intensity and, most of all, energy. What he has struggled most with during his three-year-plus career with the Bulls is scoring. For some reason, his athleticism hasn’t always transferred to the offensive end.
“Just effectiveness on the court,” Noah said when asked how he measures his ability to make an impact on a game. “If I’m being effective on the court and affecting winning, that’s usually what my mind-set is.”
Noah has struggled this season. He signed a $60 million contract extension with the team last fall. He wouldn’t be the first player to let a big contract crawl inside his head and wreak havoc.
Chances are, whatever has been ailing Noah is something he’ll snap out of. Maybe he’s trying to do too much. It’s still early in a strange season. The Bulls have the best record in the league and haven’t matched up against the Heat yet. He’ll figure it out. He cares too much about winning and his teammates not to.
“I worked harder than I ever worked this offseason,” Noah said after he had 13 points and 12 rebounds Tuesday against the Suns. “I’m confident that I’ll be better.”
Noah also made two outside jumpers against the Suns, which is as good a sign as any that he’s snapping out of his funk. He worked hard on his offensive game this offseason, adding a variety of hook shots to make himself more potent around the rim. But they haven’t been falling. All too often, when he scores, it’s the way he always does – hustle points, put-backs, garbage baskets.
As great as it is to have someone so willing to do the dirty work, these Bulls could use more scoring from the post, which brings us back to his jumper, the very sight of which often offends the sensibilities of NBA purists and shot doctors. He admits somebody tries to convince him to change his shot every offseason.
Coach Tom Thibodeau hasn’t been among them. He has tinkered with Noah’s shot but otherwise leaves him alone.
“If you look at how he shoots and what he’s doing, he’s a very good shooter,” Thibodeau said. “A perfect example of that is what he shoots from the free-throw line. There aren’t many centers who shoot 75 percent from the line. Although it may be unorthodox, it goes in, and he’s a very consistent shooter from 15 to 17 feet. We’ve worked some with him, but we’re not going to change what he’s doing.”
Big men always have struggled to shoot the ball because of their big hands. Thibodeau has his own system. If a player can make 17 of 20 shots from 18 feet from seven spots on the floor, he doesn’t mess with that player’s shot.
Anyone who watched Noah after practice Thursday knows he can pass that test, even if his jumper is something only a mother could love.
“If you look at how his shot ends up, it’s very good,” Thibodeau said. “Everything is in line; the release is good; the finish is high; he holds his follow-through.”
Noah experiments, but it never feels comfortable, and he goes back to how he always has shot the ball. The key for him is confidence.
“I’ve just got to keep getting my reps up,” he said, ‘‘and I feel when I shoot the ball with confidence, I have a good touch with it.”