One of the great things about watching Joakim Noah is that he is totally a new breed of player. That's rare in the NBA; most stars are, at the very least, homages to legends gone by. Kevin Durant is a smoother Larry Bird, or a longer George Gervin, or something in between. LeBron James is an explosive, strong Magic Johnson. Stephen Curry is Steve Nash with a selfish streak. Chris Paul is Isiah Thomas. Derrick Rose is a bigger Isiah Thomas. Russell Westbrook is a manic Isiah Thomas.
Noah is ... Ben Wallace with guard skills? That doesn't make sense, because part of what made Ben Wallace Ben Wallace was that he had no skills. None that weren't related to rotating and rebounding, at least. Tim Duncan with fast-twitch muscles and a Chardonnay buzz? That's not quite right -- the results may match that definition, but the style isn't remotely close. And that's the whole thing with Noah: the style he plays in no way matches his production. He plays like an erratic Bond villain, yet he puts up Duncanian lines. On Monday, he finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. Duncan put up 19 and 11. Their performances looked like different sports entirely. (And not just because Big Fundamental was retching with the flu.)
That's been a major theme of the 2013 NBA playoffs to date: stars are breaking down all of the rules as to what they should be. Curry is Exhibit B: skinny, relatively unathletic point guards aren't supposed to be able to shoot from anywhere on the court and drop pinpoint one-handed passes on a heady, experienced defense like San Antonio. (Curry is averaging 27 points and 9.6 assists per game in the postseason. The 27-9 playoffs average has been done only once by a player who played at least two rounds: Oscar Robertson in 1963.) Nate Robinson and Jimmy "Iron Man" Butler -- three straight 48-minute games for him, by the way -- are breaking down archetypal expectations, too. Throw in Lance Stephenson, too -- a guard that sits No. 10 in playoff rebounding average.
Noah's wild man energy makes him one of the league's most valuable defenders. The work he and Butler did to aggravate LeBron was mesmerizing. Noah is really the perfect on-court embodiment of Tom Thibodeau -- as close to the defensive mania of Kevin Garnett as we've seen. (Is that the right comp for Noah -- Weird Garnett? Hmm.) Over the past two years, JoNo has added a great deal of skill to the package of energy and smarts. He's always known his way around the court, but he's now crisp. He flails into mystifyingly solid screens. He puts his head down, gets his limbs cranking in a fashion reminiscent of QWOP and somehow ends up with a textbook layup. He watches the lane with that crazed look, wiry arms holding the ball high ... and he hits the cutter like a prime Divac.
And then he elaborately holsters the finger guns, breaks out a goofy jig or delivers a primal scream that more resembles a wounded Final Fantasy protagonist than a proud star athlete.
In these playoffs, Noah is as much nature show as basketball player. There's no one like him in the league, and he's so different I'm not sure there will be ever be anyone comparable.