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More floor time means bigger impact

Noah helping Bulls by staying on court

Nate Robinson’s locker sits next to Joakim Noah’s inside the Bulls’ locker room, giving the diminutive guard a golden opportunity to continue a habit he began when Noah entered the league in 2007.

“Ever since he has been in the NBA, I’ve told him, ‘Joakim, you’re a cool dude. But you have the worst shoes in NBA history,’ ” Robinson joked. “I used to tease him whenever we played. And now I get to kill him every day.”

Noah is the lone NBA player to endorse Le Coq Sportif, the French brand Joakim’s father, Yannick, favored during his tennis playing days. That Robinson wears Air Jordans with reverence and regularity makes the teasing all the more intriguing.

Noah’s footwear is merely one example of his individuality. But thus far this season, Noah is more a part of a crowd – and this is a good thing.

Specifically, Noah is staying on the court longer. Given that he is averaging team-highs in scoring at 16 points, rebounds at 8.8 and blocks at 2.5 (matched by Taj Gibson), this also is a good thing.

Through four games, Noah is averaging 38 minutes, 57 seconds. That’s almost 12 minutes higher than his career average of 27 minutes per game. Three times, Noah has played more than 40 minutes.

“I feel good,” Noah said. “The older you get, you kind of understand what needs to be done. I understand recovery a little bit better. This isn’t my first rodeo.”

Beyond Noah’s improved conditioning, which coach Tom Thibodeau cited consistently throughout training camp, he mostly has avoided the foul trouble that occasionally has plagued him in the past. Though Noah fouled out of the Hornets’ loss, he hasn’t incurred more than three in the other three games, all victories.

“He has been around now and he understands how to play,” Thibodeau said of the sixth-year big man. “His body position has improved dramatically. He has the ability to think ahead. He has developed more of a multiple effort mentality. That’s what has helped him the most.”

Because of his unorthodox shot, Noah never has received proper credit for his offensive game. But he didn’t earn the nickname “Sticks” from his youth coach for merely his lean frame. His ballhandling skills and ability to catch and pass as a big man resembled more of a perimeter player’s skill set while growing up.

Robinson, who pegged Noah more as strictly a defensive player as an opponent, is impressed.

“It’s funny: Every big man wants to be a guard and every guard wants to be a big man,” Robinson said. “He and I might be the most prime examples of that. But he can dribble. He works on it like a guard. I see him after practice working on his handle and his shot. That shot is unorthodox, but it goes in. I tell him to shoot it all the time.”

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