Joakim NoahWith Derrick Rose sidelined for the year, and the mid-season trade of Luol Deng, anyone would have forgiven the Chicago Bulls for hopping aboard the Tank-a-Palooza 2014 Express. In fact, that’s probably what owner Jerry Reinsdorf had in mind when the team shipped Deng off to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum (who was promptly cut). The problem with Reinsdorf’s tanking plan is that he has a head coach who doesn’t understand the word “quit” (Tom Thibodeau), a Sixth Man of the Year favorite (Taj Gibson), and a nightly triple-double threat at center (Joakim Noah) — and, of course, the part where they play in the Eastern Conference…

…wait, what’s that? Joakim Noah is “a nightly triple-double threat”? Yes, a nightly triple-double threat. In his last five games, he’s averaging 10.2 points, 11 rebounds and 7.4 assists. Read that last number again — 7.4 assists per game. That’s absurd for a center (sample sizes be damned!). With his latest triple-double (a 10-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist effort against a sizable Detroit Pistons front line), Noah becomes the first center to notch three of them — with ten or more assists — in 20 years. I don’t care what the level of competition is, if the last guy to do it was David Robinson in his prime, you’re in good company. Also, Noah did it over the span of 23 days.

Of course, Noah isn’t entirely responsible for the Bulls’ somewhat miraculous 34-27 record. But, in the absence of their two best playmakers (one due to injury, the other due to trade), the offense now runs through Noah, who — arguably — already was the best passing center in the NBA. Now, he just gets to do a lot more of it. Couple that with his unparalleled motor on the defensive end and ball handling skills, and he’s quite possibly the best center in the NBA right now.

In fact, the only thing stopping him dead in his tracks these days are mascots.

Joakim Noah[.gif via BTB, photo via AP]