Joakim Noah NBA Draft Scouting Report

Joakim Noah NBA Draft Scouting Report
Mar 29, 2006, 04:19 pm
(sophomore season scouting report, see player blog tab for more recent updates)

At 6-11 or even 7-0, Noah has outstanding size for either the power forward or center positions in the NBA. His wingspan is outstanding and he uses it to the fullest extent to wreak havoc on both ends of the floor. Noah is also an excellent athlete for a player his size, running the floor like a man possessed, having nice footspeed, solid leaping ability both on his first and second jump, and possessing a nice first step to get by post players from the perimeter. He is highly coordinated, greatly improving on his fluidity, reflexes and hand/eye coordination recently despite shooting up over a foot in just a couple of years in high school. He is an extremely reactive 7-footer who responds to everything around him almost instantaneously and has still held on to many of the guard skills he had from playing the point early in his career. Noah is a well conditioned athlete with an incredible motor and boundless energy, allowing him to play for long stretches and seemingly never tire.

Offensively, Noah is one of the more unique players in the NCAA. Inside the paint he can score like you expect your near 7-footer to, relishing contact, always finishing strong and showing the raw ability to finish with either hand around the hoop. The jump-hook is currently his weapon of choice, and he’s able to get shots off thanks to his combination of tenacity, slithery quickness, reasonable foot-work and outstanding length. Despite being extremely unselfish, he’s the type of player that wants the ball in his hands as much as possible and will work extremely hard to establish deep position in the paint to attack the basket. His touch here is improving all the time, although his lack of strength will sometimes affect him by throwing the ball too high off the glass. If it’s at all possible, though, there is nothing Noah enjoys more than finishing with a thunderous dunk. He’s been on the right end of numerous highlight reels this year, aided greatly by his fantastic reach, which allows him to take the ball right at his matchup and finish impressively at the hoop in traffic and over opponents.

What makes Noah all the more intriguing, though, are the many guard skills he shows operating from the perimeter in half-court sets as well as in transition on either end of the fast break. After a rebound, Noah loves to bring the ball up the floor himself to ignite the fast break if the lane is available and his guards are not ready to take the pass. Florida has used him as a legit weapon this year in breaking the full-court press, and Noah has been extremely reliable in his decision making here. He shows outstanding ball-handling skills for a player his size, weaving his way in and out of traffic impressively, always with his head up and having the fluidity and reactiveness to avoid smaller players looking to slide in for the charge. In the half-court, Florida will sometimes play zone and go with a lineup composed of 3 big men, with Noah sliding over to the small forward position offensively. Whether at the 3 or the 4, Noah loves to operate from the high post and shows impressive ability to take his man off the dribble and make his way towards the hoop, either to finish off the glass himself, draw contact to get to the line or pass off while in motion to an open teammate after the defense rotates. He probably gives his coaches heart attacks doing so, but it’s not rare to see him even throw in a crossover move, bring it behind his back or even use basic hesitation moves to get his man off balance. On somewhat rare occasions this season when left wide open, Noah has attempted to show off his mid-range jump shot while operating from the high post. He actually knocked them down at a pretty good clip despite his extremely ugly release, and even tantalized a bit by shooting and making them off the dribble in the NCAA tournament.

In static positions from the post or the perimeter, or while on the move after breaking his man down off the dribble, Noah is a fantastic passer for a 7-footer. He’s extremely unselfish and uses his height very well to see over the top of the defenses and make highlight-reel caliber passes that most would just not expect from a player his size. His interior passing to his big man partner in crime Al Horford, or out of the post after a double team is particularly impressive.

Considering his style of play and the means in which he is used offensively, it’s no surprise to see that he draws a large number of fouls each and every game, particularly as the season went on and his role increased. Once he gets to the line, Noah shot an excellent 73% during the season, and improved to 82% in 4 games in the NCAA tournament, despite his unorthodox release.

Defensively, Noah puts just as much, if not more pride in on this end of the floor. He shows a lot of potential as a shot-blocking threat, utilizing his terrific length, excellent instincts, intelligence, timing, tenacity and athleticism to average just under 2 and a half blocks in 24 minutes during the regular season and 4.8 in 33.5 minutes in the NCAA tournament. Defending man to man, Noah does not give his opponent any space to operate, bumping him with his chest, challenging him, keeping his arms high and changing just as many shots around the rim as he sends back. As in everything he does, he’s shows superb toughness, not being afraid to sacrifice his body and jump into the stands for a loose ball even when his team is well ahead and he’s on his way to a 37 point night as he showed against Georgia. He definitely lacks strength and will struggle at times with wider and bulkier opponents, but he makes the most of every ounce he has on his thin frame and will never give up on a play. The same attributes above that make him an excellent shot-blocking threat also make him a terrific rebounder. He’s very active on the glass, going after anything that is remotely in his area and having good hands and perfect length to get the job done.

Regarding his intangibles, there really isn’t a whole lot more you could ask for here. Being a worldly person who has traveled around the globe as the son of a famous tennis player and musician, coaches and teammates rave about his attitude and character both on and off the court. Benefiting immensely from a couple of extremely late growth spurts, it’s impossible not to notice just how incredibly much Noah has improved over the past few years, which leads to believe that he’s nowhere close to realizing his full potential. His basketball IQ is high and his motor is simply off the charts, making it that much more likely that he’ll be able to achieve his potential as a player. Being more than just an upside type, his production is there too, as Noah was the MVP of the Minneapolis region as Florida’s go-to guy in making the Final Four, and was arguably the best player in the entire tournament. Just from watching him for a moment it’s impossible not to notice how much passion he has for the game of basketball, constantly firing up himself, his teammates and the crowd with his antics (chest-pounding, primal screams, etc), showing great leadership skills and being just as good of a cheerleader for his teammates when a big play is made, whether he’s off or on the court.

At just 227 pounds and with a fairly narrow frame, Noah’s body has a long ways to go until it can be considered NBA ready. He has the size and length to play center in the NBA, but his lack of bulk likely makes him more of a PF in the NBA (where his skill set is actually best suited) until he grows into his body more. At times this can be a hindrance to him on either end of the court. Offensively, stronger opponents have at times denied him the type of position in the paint that he would prefer, and his lack of strength will force him to just heave up an uncomfortable looking shot that he doesn’t always have the touch to convert. Defensively he can be outmuscled at times in the post as well, simply being pushed him off his spot on the block when attempting to corral a rebound.

There are two caveats that need to be mentioned here, though. One is the fact that you would think his lack of strength would affect his game much more than it actually does. His tenacity and fighting spirit simply won’t let him back down and use every bit of energy he has in his body to scrap back. Usually as the game moves along, Noah has shown the intelligence to adapt himself to his rival and find ways to exploit his weaknesses. The second is the fact that Noah has been steadily growing over the past few years and has shown remarkable improvement in his body, particularly earlier in the year when he had time to actually lift weights for a short period before the wear and tear of the season and college lifestyle saw him lose much of it. Beyond the fact that he recently turned 21, as a late bloomer both physically and skill-wise it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which his body is done developing, particularly since his world-wide travels have never really afforded him an opportunity to spend an entire summer in the weight room.

Noah’s relentless style of play can sometimes get him into early foul trouble, and it’s no coincidence that Florida lost every time this year (3, of their 6 total losses) that he had to sit with five fouls. He has a tendency at times to leave his feet early biting on pump-fakes, but has shown an infinite amount of improvement in this part of his game compared with last season.

Offensively, he could probably still use some work on his arsenal of post moves; improving his foot-work, utilizing spin-moves and counters, developing a turnaround jumper, pump-fakes and all the other back to the basket moves that all the great post scorers have in their arsenal.

One thing that is really holding him back from being a complete and extremely dynamic power forward is his perimeter shooting ability. Noah makes many of the mid-range jumpers he takes, but his release is incredibly awkward; bringing the ball up from his waist and shooting the ball from his nose in one fluid motion, soft of heaving the ball towards the basket. If you watch him closely go up for two handed lay-ups right around the basket, you’ll notice that these same mechanics are evident here as well. He’s at least extremely consistent with his release every time he shoots it and his touch is surprisingly good, particularly from the free throw line. NBA people we’ve talked to don’t seem to think this is going to be too hard to fix, but it will be up to Noah to want to correct.

Another cause for concern could be the fact that he’s a bit older than your typical sophomore at age 21. Noah moved back to the States from France at age 13/14 and therefore started his freshman year of high school when most of his peers became sophomores. Considering how much he improved from his freshman to sophomore year, though, he appears to be nowhere close to realizing his full potential.

Noah was born in New York City in February of 1985, two years after his father Yannick won the French Open. He moved to France at age 3, and lived there for the next ten years before coming back to New York City as a 5-11 point guard. From the ages of 9 through 15 he attended John Thompson's summer camps at Georgetown. In New York, he played at Poly Prep in Brooklyn for his first three years of high school, growing to 6-2 as a sophomore, 6-5 as a junior, and 6-10 as a senior. He went to the ABCD camp in the summer after his junior year, and it was here that he exploded onto the recruiting scene, going from being considered a likely mid-major prospect and project player before to being recruited by all the heavyweights of college basketball. Playing well with the Long Island Panthers AAU team over the summer also helped his cause. For his senior year he moved to Lawrenceville Prep in Princeton, N.J, where he helped his team beat JR Smith’s team twice to win the state championship. He committed to Billy Donovan early in his senior year at 6-10, 200 pounds.

Noah now is a sophomore for the Florida Gators, an extremely young team that made the Final Four this year after being bounced out of five consecutive tournaments in the first weekend. There are no real first, second or third option on this team, as their ball-movement is exquisite and everyone seems to play for each other within the set offense.

Florida plays in the SEC, which is widely considered the most athletic conference in college basketball and surprised everyone by sending two teams to the Final Four this past season.

He made rapid improvement from his freshman to sophomore year, growing to 6-11 or possibly 7 feet and bulking up to his listed weight of 227 pounds. As a freshman he was not really considered an NBA prospect, averaging just 3 points and 2 rebounds in under 10 minutes per game. People who watched him practice and play saw that he was highly uncoordinated for a player his size, looking extremely awkward at times and possessing nowhere near the swagger that he shows today.

Noah blossomed into a legit college superstar over the last few months of his sophomore season, winning the MVP award for the Minneapolis region of the NCAA tournament, and elevating his stock firmly into the top 10 of the NBA draft lottery should he decide to declare. He has consistently maintained that he is extremely happy in college with his teammates, living with the other 3 members of Florida’s outstanding sophomore class and saying he has no interest in declaring for the NBA draft. It’s possible that once the euphoria of reaching the Final Four subsides, Noah could begin to consider his NBA options when he realizes the risk in passing up being a likely top 5 or 10 pick and potentially the number one player taken overall rather than return as a 22 year old junior next season.

Noah has an interesting background, being the son of French tennis star and pop icon Yannick Noah and Swedish artist and beauty queen Cecilia Rodhe, now a sculptor. His sister Yelena is a model in New York and Paris. His grandparents on his father’s side are from Cameroon, where Yannick was born.

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