Posted Nov 27 2009 10:12AM
The whole Samson thing works a lot better now, now that he's got the muscles to go with the mane.
Joakim Noah, the free spirit from the University of Florida title teams, the disappointment of a lottery pick in Chicago, the man with the flowing frizzes, has become stronger in body and mind and a player after all. He's become one of the league leaders in rebounding, actually, a development no one would have seen coming a few months ago.
Then again, almost no one from the NBA world saw Noah once he left Chicago during the summer either. That's when he made his greatest gains, hitting the weights like never before, adding bulk and focus, lifting even as he vacationed.
Lifting was a highlight of vacation.
"When we came to L.A., for example, I went to Venice Beach and worked out at Gold's Gym, worked out with all those big monsters, some body builders and stuff," Noah said. "I felt like it gave me confidence. The intensity that they brought to the weight room was a little different than a basketball player would bring into the weight room. It was just good to be around different people and understanding that you really have to bring a certain intensity into the weight room to get results."
His best friend tosses iron. When they did the L.A. thing in the offseason, they went to Muscle Beach. When they hit Tampa, Fla., they spent time at a gym filled with dedicated hulks. Noah found it very motivating, the way so many of the people, lifters with a lot of experience, offered encouragement and advice. He loved the energy of the places.
Noah entered 2009-10 with a focus like never before. Already shaped by the classic first-round series against the Celtics the previous spring, Noah was different. Seemingly gone was the rookie from 2008, the guy who was suspended after a confrontation with an assistant coach, then suspended again by teammates when they voted to keep him on the bench for another game, showing their total disapproval of his actions.
In his place was the guy Chicago envisioned when it used the ninth pick on Noah in 2007.
"Two things," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "One, he's growing up a little bit. He came in in better shape in training camp, kind of re-focused himself a little bit. And, confidence. He's playing with a lot of confidence right now. He's doing the things to help us try to win games. He's being aggressive on the glass and trying to be a threat offensively when he's out there. He's still a young player and he's still developing. He has a ways to go, but his effort and spirit and his energy are always very good."
Noah has gone from 2008-09 averages of 6.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 24.2 minutes with 55 starts to 11.1 points, 11.7 rebounds. He trails only Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard for the league lead in rebounds per game, is logging 33.4 minutes and has started all 14 games for the 6-8 Bulls. He's already had a stretch of six consecutive double-doubles, an early platform of a growing candidacy for Most Improved Player.
"I feel like I'm a lot more confident on the court," he said. "I know that a lot more is asked of me. I know that if I miss a shot or if I miss a drive to the basket or I turn the ball over, I know I'm not going to come out right away. It's a good feeling knowing my teammates are behind me and I have a guy like Brad [Miller], who comes off the bench and who can tell me what I need to do better on the court every night. I just feel really lucky."
"I think it started last year," Del Negro said. "He had a tough beginning to the year. By the second half of the year, he started to grow up a little bit, I think, and mature and understand what was expected. What I expected, especially, of him and how we needed to play and what he needed to do. He had a pretty productive second half and playoff series and he took that over and gained confidence in the summer with that and got stronger and came into camp in better shape. He's seeing some of the work he's putting in pay off in some of the things he's doing in the games."
The new confidence, the growing maturity, the improving offensive game for a player who gets the majority of his baskets in transition or from offensive rebounds -- it's definitely a different Noah. Talk about serious lifting. He has raised an entire career.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.
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