Is Joakim Noah the best center?

Howard's down year and Noah's career highs making a statement

Updated: February 11, 2013, 1:56 PM ET
By Chris Palmer | ESPN the Magazine
Joakim NoahGregory Shamus/NBAE/Getty ImagesNoah has been key this season for Chicago, which boasts the East's fourth-best record.

When it comes to the new center position, throw out all the rules. Amid this upheaval about what makes a top-flight center, the Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah has entered the conversation as the NBA's best. Noah is by no means a traditional back-to-the-basket center but he can fill many roles from multiple spots on the floor, making him the perfect weapon in this small ball age. And that's precisely the calling card of today's 5-man.

The center position has evolved and traditional measuring sticks such as points and rebounds paint an incomplete picture. In today's game, scoring from any center is gravy. Intangibles in the post loom as large as blocked shots.

Among All-Star bigs, his verve, enthusiasm and unselfishness is unmatched. The word dominant will never be attached to his name but his skill set affects a game as much as any pivot man playing today. Noah's odd, vexing style of play often gets overlooked in conversations about the NBA's best bigs, however the game and times are changing. Multiple post moves, set plays and a permanent home on the block no longer automatically qualify (or rule out) a big as the best in the game.

Despite suffering from a foot injury that caused him to miss three games, Noah returned Friday, scoring 12 points and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes against Utah. He has stated he might sit out the All-Star Game to rest his foot, as he has made clear his team's goals supercede his participation in the exhibition.

"To me, [the All-Star Game is] pretty important," Noah said Sunday. "I mean, it's not that important, but it's something I want to do. I also have to do what's right for the team. There's obviously a bigger picture than the All-Star Game."

Still, Noah is the only player in the league putting up career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Impressive in any season, but considering that he's in his sixth campaign, it officially signals a breakout year for the 27-year-old Bulls center.

With a career year and the decline of Dwight Howard, Noah has made a strong case for the best center in the league. His game screams non-traditional, but let's take a look at how Noah has put himself in the conversation.

Chris Palmer

ESPN the Magazine