Watching a player decline as he ages is a somber reality of professional sports. The few athletes who get to leave ceremoniously on their own terms before the effects of age wear them down are celebrated. But most battle through it, until their best drops far below the peaks they used to reach.
Joakim Noah is not the same player he once was. He's only 30, but a knee surgery before the season has taken away much of the athleticism that made him so good for the Bulls throughout his career.
That's not to say Joakim Noah is a bad player, but he often can float through a game with little-to-no impact. On Wednesday, he scored four points, grabbed seven rebounds and registered four assists. In Game 1, he tallied nine rebounds and four assists without a single point. The Cavaliers are leaving him open and he's not making them pay.
This is a player that averages 31 minutes and has played at least 25 minutes in every game this postseason. Unfortunately, his scoring is virtually nonexistent these days, almost never coming off one of his own moves. His free throw shooting has bizarrely dipped too, with Noah missing 13-of-14 attempts from the line in the playoffs. Although Noah still rebounds well, his rim protection isn't what it once was -- he had a career-low block percentage of 2.6 this season.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau isn't prepared to make any changes yet.
"Not right now," Thibodeau told reporters on Wednesday. "When Jo was on the floor, we were a plus. You've got to look at a lot of things. We'll see how it unfolds, but Jo brings a lot to our team."
Noah can still punish a team with his superb vision and pinpoint passing from the high post. But with the way his scoring has fallen off, defenders have made a habit of completely leaving him when he tries to initiate from that position. It is simply a waste of time for a Bulls team that already struggles with its offensive spacing, and has dragged the Bulls down in stretches all season.
In a series tied 1-1 and a chance to advance to the Conference Finals, there's an argument to made that the Bulls would be better served with Taj Gibson in Noah's spot. A move like that would also put a more versatile defender next to the slow-footed Pau Gasol.
It's hard to watch Noah struggle through these games, robbed of the impact he used to make. He's still an emotional leader and the heart of the Bulls, but on the floor, Chicago might be better served with someone else in his place.