As a whole, the first year of Joakim Noah’s four-year, $72 million contract with the New York Knicks was a disaster.
In 46 games played (due to injury and suspension), the two-time All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year averaged 5.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in 22.1 minutes per contest.
But, Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek is impressed and optimistic with how he looks at the current moment.
“Coming off those injuries, literally, I’m shocked of how well he’s played just because I didn’t think he was gonna be ready this early,” Jeff Hornacek said following practice on Saturday, per Howie Kussoy of the New York Post. “I’m extremely happy with how he’s playing. He’s playing the right way. He sets great screens, he rolls hard, which opens up other things for guys if he doesn’t get it. He’s been finishing with driving layups. He’s been playing great.”
“He wants to come back and show everybody what kind of player he is and he’s worked hard to do that over the summer. I give him a lot of credit so far,” the coach noted.
Earlier this summer, Noah was asked to reflect on his tumultuous year. His response made headlines.
“I wouldn’t trade it for s–t,’’ Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post. “I know a lot of people are mad about it, but I’m not. I don’t feel sorry for myself. Everything that happened were my decisions. I’m a grown-ass man. I’m playing in New York City. It sucked because I didn’t play well. I get to bounce back and come back next year. … I’m not going to quit… I know New York — I know if I can come back and get it right, that could be a big story, too.”
On Saturday, he echoed that sentiment.
“I just know that I have a lot of experience in this game, good and bad and I just want to use that to try and help some of these younger players,” Noah said. “When you go through what I went through and you have a lot of injuries and things like that, you just appreciate practice and competing and things like that. I’m just happy to be here… I want to compete. I know I have a suspension but I just want to be a good influence on the younger kids from now on.”
Noah still has 11 games remaining on his performance-enhancing drug suspension. But, he’s eligible to play in the preseason. Therefore, it’s very reasonable to assume that Hornacek attempts to figure out a potential rotation in a crowded center position that includes Noah, Guillermo Hernangomez, Kyle O’Quinn and newcomer Enes Kanter.
If Noah can return to his old form or can resemble the defensive force that he used to be, he could begin to live up to his gigantic contract. If Hornacek is telling the truth, it seems like he’s heading on that path, which should bring a smile to the faces of Knicks fans everywhere.