The Thug Label and Joakim Noah

13 05 2008

Joakim Noah is a thug.

How often do you hear that and what type of feeling does it evoke from you?

I’ve found that some polarizing sports figures like Joakim are being given the “thug” label with reckless abandon. You can make an argument that a few athletes deserve it but most definitely do not.

Joakim is the son of a former professional tennis player turned musician and a former Miss Sweden. He was brought up through private boarding schools until he attended the University of Florida. Additionally, the man can speak fluent French.

Clearly, he does not fit the socio-economic mold of an American “thug.” And although plenty of thugs exist in francophone countries, those applying the thug label to Joakim Noah aren’t being true to form in the first place.

A thug is a violent, petty criminal. The name is derived from an Indian network of robbers and murderers. This definition is the same to most. However, it’s taken on a different spin as several hip-hop musicians have taken to labeling themselves as “thugs.”

Generally, these musicians have used the label purely as bravado. And sadly, as with most things, mainstream America has just as brusquely taken the label from some artists and generalized it. Now it has become a type of scarlet letter, especially for athletes, that deviate from what the public sees as the norm.

After winning the national championship in college, Joakim started dancing and doing sporadic crotch-chops between fits of joy. Thug.

SportsCenter fans saw Joakim’s draft day outfit and immediately came to one conclusion. Thug.

Joakim made a Barack Obama endorsement in French. Thug.

It’s difficult to understand why one person would throw that label out. But when everyone starts throwing it out, things become much clearer. Some people want to neatly place persons into categories. And when a clear anamoly comes along, the categorization is reduced to a rationalized diversion of truth.

Sure, Joakim Noah has had some alleged disputes in the locker room. If you’ve ever played sports, please recall how many times “disputes” can get blown up when taken out of context.

The man can be immature publicly but remember how old he is. He’s a year removed from college and he’s barely 23 years old. Think about the 23-year-olds you’ve known and how they have handled themselves. Now think about those kids being put in the national spotlight with critical media-types dissecting their every move.

I appreciate a kid that cares about the game. And I’ll definitely appreciate someone with a personality trying to be real.

Admit it; Joakim Noah isn’t all that bad.

Joakim Noah (07-08 Synopsis)

7 05 2008

There’s a funny thing about polarizing sports figures, you either love them or you hate them. After a year of Joakim Noah, I’m actually starting to like him.

Joakim Noah – Chicago Bulls Center
Measurements: 6’11” – 232 lbs.
Experience: Rookie, 23 years old
From: University of Florida

Season Highs

Points – 18 (vs. Milwaukee)
Rebounds – 20 (vs. Cleveland)
Assists – 4 (4x)
Steals – 4 (2x)
Blocks – 4 (3x)
Minutes Played – 40 (vs. Cleveland)

What This Year Proved

Joakim Noah showed the same tenacity and hustle that he displayed while in college. After Ben Wallace’s departure, Joakim must have led the team in rebounds tipped to himself. The man is tenacious.

Joakim’s a very good interior passer. He’s also quite adept at passing out of the block. Unlike the majority of big men, Joakim on the block isn’t a black hole for basketballs. He’s very much willing to toss it out and allow the ball to reverse or let himself re-set on the block.

The rookie big man also showed that he’s got some defensive skills. Oddly enough, I think his man defense is better than his off-ball defense. You would think it’s the other way around but I think you can catch Joakim watching the ball too often. He tends to drift when he’s playing weak side D. Then he overplays on help penetration, allowing his man easy buckets at the rim.

When Chicago plays zone, he’s marginally better because he’s still in college mode. Joakim still puts a hand on opponents in the zone rather than just shuffling his feet.

He has also proved that he’s willing to learn and capable of improving. His numbers in November were 3.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 blocks and 0.7 steals. He steadily improved his game throughout the season. His improvement as well as an increase in playing time — mutually inclusive — lead to quite an increase. In April, his numbers were 10.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.6 steals.

Quote Him

“Sometimes the media should think before writing their stories. [They wrote that] I got into a ‘physical altercation’ with the strongest guy in the league? Do you think I’m stupid?” — from SLAM, when approached about why he allegedly fought with Ben Wallace

Looking Forward

Joakim tends to overpass, especially while on the block. I’ve noticed that when he has a good shot, instead of taking it up strong over the defense, he’ll try to force it around his man to Tyrus Thomas or Drew Gooden. Jim Boylan and the coaching staff obviously got on his case about this eventually. Towards the end of the season, Joakim was starting to actually look at the basket when the ball was in his hands.

Drastic improvement should be welcomed on the offensive end. The Bulls should teach him a few go to moves that he can employ with his back to the basket. Joakim’s got a little baby hook that he should shoot with more confidence. Drawing a few more plays up for him can really increase his confidence long-term.

Season Grade: B+

Joakim did a good job this year. He filled in as a role player early but really came on strong towards the end. Once inserted into the starting line-up, he almost doubled his productivity. Joakim is a bit outspoken, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that he has no credibility as a rookie and he tended to speak up at times when no one else would. You can’t blame a guy for caring though…

The Lopez Twins Make the Jump

1 04 2008

Brook and Robin Lopez have announced that they will hire agents and forgo the rest of their college eligibility. How will they fare on the next level?

Brook established himself as a force in the college game. The elder Lopez twin averaged 19.3 points, 8.2 boards and 2.1 blocks. He compiled a healthy 9 double-doubles until Stanford was eliminated by the Texas Longhorns in the NCAA tournament.

Like a good number of other people, I think Brook is a bit overrated. If he establishes deep position, you can pretty much give him the two points. His footwork is quite good for a young big. Brook likes to drop-step while keeping the ball high and he will then try to hit a hook shot over his left shoulder. He will have trouble when facing people his size that are dramatically more athletic and crafty.

If these kids weren’t 7-foot twins, there is no chance Robin Lopez leaves Stanford early. 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks doesn’t exactly make pro scouts drool. Robin didn’t exactly dominate while his brother was academically ineligible during the first nine games of the season. Robin was only marginally better as the focal point during those early games. 11.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks — still not quite Bill Walton numbers.


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not saying these kids are useless. I’m just convinced that their hype is a product of the lack of big men in college basketball. Are they really NBA-caliber players? There is obviously a case for that; they are making the jump after only two seasons at Stanford.

But what else can you say about them? They seem to have physically-matured. I don’t see them gaining another few inches or bulking up considerably. No one has ever accused them of being extraordinarily athletic so any further improvement will have to be mentally through their floor games.

The Lopez twins don’t strike me as particularly savvy, at least offensively. Robin has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.35 while Brook is slightly better with a 0.65 ratio. For comparisons sake, let me throw a few more numbers out. Kevin Love and Roy Hibbert — both savvy bigs in similarly-constructed defense-heavy teams — own 0.97 and 1.11 assist-to-turnover ratios respectively.

If the Lopez twins aren’t a step or a move removed from their preferred shots, they punt the ball away. Brook and Robin will have to dramatically improve in this area because they will be facing physically-menacing, defensively-aware 7-footers whom are much more athletic than the likes they have ever faced.

The future shouldn’t be all bad. The Lopez brothers should prove to be a bit better than another set of low-post twins from Stanford, the Collins twins. Jason and Jarron Collins were another set of twin towers for the Cardinal. Like Brook, Jason Collins was considered to be better than his brother. While Jarron was written off as the “defensive-minded” brother — or in other words, the brother with size but without a clear competitive advantage.

Brook and Robin will be better than the Collins twins but definitely not as good as the Grant twins. Horace Grant was a cog in a Chicago Bulls three-peat. His brother, Harvey, enjoyed a peak of 18 and 6 for about three seasons in the early 1990’s.

Brook should be a solid role-player at the very least. Robin won’t see anywhere near the same success. And although he’s being billed as a Joakim Noah to his brother’s Al Horford, Robin really doesn’t have game. He doesn’t have the defensive mentality of Joakim Noah and he certainly doesn’t hustle like Noah. However, they both have big hair and both talk as much shit as Bill O’Reilly. I could block 2 shots a game in the helter-skelter Pac-10┬áif I were a foot taller.

The Lopez twins will be living the Suite Life of Zack and Cody in NBA uniforms next season but don’t expect them to make much noise while there.