Joakim Noah Award, for players who never stop

This is the first year of the Joakim Noah Award, given Sam Smith just made it up. It basically should go to the players who never stop. That is Noah. On offense and defense he is going constantly, running, rebounding, helping, what the scouts in this era

The fans in Miami were having one of those faceoffs you hear among protesters at times with MVP chants as LeBron James went to the free throw line, and then more when Derrick Rose did.

One of the big postseason award debates this season is the MVP award, which has lately been considered to be between James and Rose, though with the Bulls sweeping Miami, it likely is now more between Rose and Dwight Howard.

The Heat fans also chanted MVP when Dwyane Wade shot free throws, making it two MVP candidates from a what is currently a third place team. They are a late arriving crowd in many ways—physical and mental—it would seem.

In any case, I’m wondering some also about who will get the Joakim Noah Award.

No, this is not for wearing kooky hats and being a hipster dancing on South Beach, though it could be as well. This is for, well, being like hoopster Joakim Noah.

Sunday’s Bulls 87-86 win was a perfect example with Noah making all sorts of key plays in the game which don’t show up in the box score, like his defense on LeBron James on the Heat’s final possession and his tip to Luol Deng on the missed free throw that provided the winning margin.

This is the first year of the Noah Award, given I just made it up. It basically should go to the players who never stop. That is Noah. On offense and defense he is going constantly, running, rebounding, helping, what the scouts in this era call a player with a “motor.” It’s lately considered one of the most important—and hard to find—elements in a basketball player. We once called it hustle. It’s the guy who never quits on the play. Offense and defense.

These guys don’t have the most talents and they usually won’t get the big stats. The stats they impact generally are winning, though they need the stat stars as well. But when you have a guy or two who can provide the highlight plays, you most need a guy like Noah in addition.

So here’s my candidates this season for the Noah Award:

-- Anderson Varejao, Cavs: The Cavs center has been hurt most of the season, which is why the Cavs have been who they are. But he’s relentless in the Noah style. Perhaps a bit less skilled, but you don’t like to play guys like that.

-- Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers: This is how you go from undrafted to invaluable. The word was Deron Williams was most upset in Utah about losing Matthews. The scouts miss on guys like him because they don’t always believe players like that can do it against pros.

-- Luc Mbah a Moute, Bucks: Scott Skiles plays him everywhere, which is another sign of that kind of guy, that a coach like Skiles uses him as a fallback. Plays guards and big guys with equal aplomb, though as a blue collar guy would resent the use of a big word to describe him.

-- Carl Landry, Hornets: One of my favorites. One of those undersized fours who just makes plays, especially on offense. Will fight you. Got shot and almost killed was playing within a short time, not that I recommend that for inclusion. The Bulls, by the way, see him Monday with Chris Paul out after a concussion Sunday.

-- Al Horford, Hawks: Something of an exception as a guy who can score as well. But he does all the tough stuff for a team that mostly wants to look nice and seems almost embarrassed when he has to score.

-- Chuck Hayes, Rockets: The classic little big guy, a what, 6-4 or 6-5 center who routinely battles the big men and gets more than his fair share of wins in the individual matchups. You’ve got to be considered just for his matchups.

-- Kris Humphries, Nets: Maybe if Robin Lopez got any rebounds, who knows. But no matter the circumstances is always in there coming up with numbers and basically showing you can stay in the league just working after being halfway out.

-- Lou Amundson, Warriors: One of those fans’ pets kind of guys whom they like to chant his name. But he gets more time than Scalabrine. He’s another of those annoying gnats who you basically ignore thinking he’ll fall down the way he walks, and then he has the ball.

-- Kevin Love, Timberwolves: Again a bit of an exception as he puts up mind numbing numbers, but he clearly has to be with better players as he cannot impact winning. His role better is as just the hustle guy without being the star.

-- Grant Hill, Suns: This is my tribute to people my age. The league’s third oldest guy and just by a day after Kurt Thomas, he guards everyone from ones to fives and is the hardest practice player.

There are some others who should get votes, like Kirk Hinrich, Brandon Bass, Reggie Evans, Jonas Jerebko and DeJuan Blair. I’ll check with Noah. He picks the winner in case I missed anyone.

Collins, Popovich and Thibodeau among Coach of the Year candidates

-- Yes, coaches like other coaches. Jeff Van Gundy always makes it a 30-way tie for coach of the year. But Dallas Rick Carlisle is right about Doug Collins, in the three-way coach of the year race with Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich. “The key was hiring Doug Collins. He's had a massive effect [in Philadelphia]," Carlisle said. "It's been a total culture change. Last year, it was an undisciplined team at both ends of the court. This year, after a very difficult schedule and a difficult start, it's now one of the best teams in basketball. It's a team that I don't think anybody in the East wants to play in the playoffs." The Bulls now are in the two seed in the East, which would open against the 76ers if the playoffs started today. The 76ers have Andre Iguodala getting consecutive triple-doubles, but their secret weapons may be their matchup nightmares of Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young off the bench, two offensive forces most reserves cannot handle. … The Nets swept the Raptors in the two game set in England last week, and it was pretty smart planning to have two teams you knew had no chance to make the playoffs (both with 17 wins when they left) going there in March. Can you imagine the screaming if they’d sent, say, the Lakers and Heat? And it’s not true Nets assistant and former Raptors coach Sam Mitchell yelled at the Buckingham Castle guards and made them cry…Tracy McGrady has become inactive after the Pistons’ mutiny of a week ago, which gives everyone an idea who was Richard Hamilton’s muse.

NBA news and notes

-- I liked Stan Van Gundy’s point about the latest boon for big market teams, the post trading deadline buyout. "You spend all this time in your locker room talking about trying to get guys to put aside personal things and ‘it's all about the team,’” Van Gundy said. "And then on March 1st you're changing the team and sending guys out the door. I think pretty quickly players pick up that you're sort of full of crap, that they're not really part of it. And why are they buying in [to the team concept] if you're just going to jettison 'em? I don't think it's good. I'm not saying anybody's wrong, and if there's somebody out there that would've helped us, we would've done it, too. I just think the league needs to look at the whole thing." The point is it’s not good for the league. It does give an unfair edge to certain teams, though those players usually don’t make a major difference. But it’s also a questionable message to fans who’ve paid for those costly season tickets the team is just saving money for itself and not necessarily putting out its best product to try to win. Should the fans get a refund them if teams dump personnel to improve their bottom line? Hmmm. … You almost feel badly for LeBron James making one embarrassing gaffe after another. Last week he wrote on his Twitter account: James tweeted “20+ games left in phase 2. I’m ReFOCUSED! No prisoners, I have no friends when at WAR besides my Soldiers.” Of course, those ear analogies are poor for athletes, but then the Heat go out and blow two games with double digit leads and a 30-point loss in San Antonio, where the Lakers Sunday went in and won. Maybe he’ll ask the Cavs to trade for him, who by the way at this point the last two seasons had a better record than the Heat do now. … Stephen Jackson went out for Charlotte with a hamstring injury. I’ll translate that for you: “They traded our second best player (I’m best, of course) and don’t want to win. Fine. I’m done and out of here.” … Tyson Chandler has been having such a good season in Dallas that when he went out with a sprained ankle last week he was called “the soul of the team” in local media reports. It’s going to be a good free agent offseason, whenever that is, for two long underachieving big men who have come on in the final season of their six-year deals, Chandler and Samuel Dalembert, the latter of big interest to both the Heat and Knicks. Where they’ll have the money is the larger question for those two. … Chris Paul is out against the Bulls Monday with a concussion suffered Sunday night, but his play has been the mystery of the season with his scoring and shooting well below career averages. The general feeling despite his denials is his knee never has gotten right after surgery. Plus, David West is a free agent who declined to talk extension with the Hornets. There’s also been some internal turmoil as observers say coach Monty Williams has had some blowups with Trevor Ariza. … One of the best deadline pickups was Marcus Thornton, averaging more than 20 for the Kings, where it’s hard to be noticed. They’re supposed headed to Anaheim as the Lakers are safe and the league loves a chance to get back at Donald Sterling, just for fun. … Wonder what Mike Bibby is thinking about giving up that $6.2 million to play for the Heat, or watch and occasionally get in and get beaten by the third string guard. The word was the Heat player crying was Bibby thinking about what he gave up. Mike Miller for five years? Oh, that’s going to look good in 2016. … That jokester Tim Duncan on Tony Parker’s surprise return against Miami from an ankle injury: “I think he’s a faker. I don’t think he wanted to go on that trip and he wanted somebody to beg him, ‘Oh Tony, we miss you.’ So I did.”

-- Wonder who they were talking about in Denver with these comments: “Everybody's happy. The bigs are happy, the wings are happy. Everybody's touching the ball. That's how basketball should be played." Danilo Gallinari has been out with a fractured toe, but the Nuggets still went 5-2 in the first games without Anthony. … When Al Jefferson joined the Jazz, Deron Williams said he was going to make him an All-Star. Since Williams was traded, Jefferson has been playing his best basketball of the season, averaging over the past six games 27.2 points and 11 rebounds. … Could Phil Jackson be that sentimental? This season is the 20th anniversary of the Bulls’ first title in 1991, and the team will have a reunion celebration Saturday when they host the Jazz. Jackson will not attend as he still is coaching the Lakers. But when asked last week about the Lakers upcoming toad trip, Jackson mentioned the Bulls as a team the Lakers are concerned about to stay ahead of. That, of course, could only be for home court advantage in the Finals. A 20th anniversary Finals celebration, Phil in his last season against his first NBA head coaching team? "You want those matchups, just in case something happens, to be in your advantage so that you have home court," Jackson said. The Bulls with Sunday’s win in Miami went to 43-18, a half game behind the Lakers overall. The Bulls are second in the East, three games behind Boston. The Lakers with their Sunday win in San Antonio are six and a half behind the Spurs and one behind the Mavs. Though what those Bulls and Lakers road wins also suggest is the wide open nature of this season’s NBA race. Not that Houston, Denver or the Hawks really are contenders. But you’d now have to say Boston, Chicago, Miami and Orlando in the East and San Antonio, Dallas, the Lakers and Oklahoma City in the West all have a reasonable chance with no super team, especially with the Lakers struggles and Boston trading Kendrick Perkins, to make the Finals and win the NBA championship. Yes, I finally have to admit, the Bulls, too. As remote as it has seemed and really still seems. That would be assuming the Bulls get past their first round playoff matchup, which they’ve done once since 1998. Defense isn’t colorful, but it wins. Ask the Spurs for the last decade or so.

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