Nets-Bulls Playoff Preview: Center Matchup

Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez

The Brooklyn Nets will face the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, starting Saturday night at 8 P.M. Today and tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how the teams match up.

Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez trying to score on Joakim Noah. (AP)

C: Joakim Noah vs. Brook Lopez

Tale of the tape:
Brook Lopez: 74 G, 74 GS, 19.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 0.9 APG, 2.1 BPG, .521 FG%, .758 FT%, 24.7 PER
Joakim Noah: 66 G, 64 GS, 11.9 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.1 BPG, .481 FG%, .751 FT%, 18.1 PER

This may be the toughest matchup of all to decide, and that photo above is a perfect microcosm of the matchup: Brook Lopez will bore down trying to score, Joakim Noah will work to keep him away from the basket. On the one hand, you have Noah — arguably the game’s best pick-and-roll defender, a big man who functions as the fulcrum of Tom Thibodeau’s league-best defensive system, and a smart offensive option with passing skills and poor finishing ability. On the other, you have Lopez — arguably the game’s most potent offensive low-post force: a gangly, awkward points machine, whose rebounding is undervalued by the stats, and whose defense has improved drastically from “league-wide joke” to “average.”

Lopez’s strengths have been well-documented here: he’s as adept finishing around the rim as any big man in the league, he’s got a soft touch both in the post and in the midrange, he’s a reliable free throw shooter, and the team’s defense, rebounding, and ball control improved significantly with him on the floor this season.

One offensive area that Noah wipes the floor with Lopez in is passing. Lopez still struggles to pass out of double-teams effectively, often passing only to reset the offense rather than create offensive opportunities. Noah is much more adept at all facets of distributing: from the high post, in transition, across the floor, and off the dribble. To quantify the difference, Noah matched Lopez’s 74-game season total in assists (70) in his nine best games.

Assists aside — and it’s worth noting that the Nets’ assist-to-turnover ratio gets significantly better with Lopez in the game, while the Bulls’ assist-to-turnover ratio is actually worse with Noah — even though Lopez is unquestionably the better offensive player, Noah’s all-world defense would give him the edge if not for one major issue: health.

While Lopez has hardly struggled with health issues this year — missing just seven games with a foot injury in December — Noah has not been so lucky, struggling with plantar fasciitis in his right foot right through the end of the season. Noah himself has said he’s not at 100%, that “only time will tell” how effective he can be, and Noah is listed as doubtful for Game 1 and beyond after suffering a tear in his foot.

If Noah is 100% during this series, that could swing the outcome in Chicago’s favor. But as of now, he doesn’t look it. For that reason, the edge goes to Lopez.


Previous: Reggie vs. Boozer Next: P.J.C. vs. Tom T.

Deron Williams vs. Kirk Hinrich | Joe Johnson vs. Jimmy Butler | Gerald Wallace vs. Luol Deng | Reggie Evans vs. Carlos Boozer | Brook Lopez vs. Joakim Noah | P.J. Carlesimo vs. Tom Thibodeau | Bench Mob vs. Bulls Bench