Joakim Noah after brutal season: ‘It’s like being a rookie again’

NBA Free agent, Joakim Noah

To say that Joakim Noah struggled last season during his first campaign as a member of the New York Knicks would be an understatement of epic proportions.

The center hauled in a ridiculous contract in free agency, only to put up a relative egg of a season. He averaged just five points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.8 blocks per game, averaging just over 22 minutes per contest before a hamstring injury and a 20-game suspension forced him out for the rest of the season.

Now that he’s about to play in his first game for the Knicks since that injury, Noah knows he has a lot to prove.

“It’s been a long time away from the game,” Noah said following the morning shootaround. “I’m still a work in progress. I’m just excited to get back on the court. I’m dealing with a lot of adversity right now. It’s just where the cards fell. It’s like being a rookie all over again. I got to prove myself, I got to prove myself every day. It’s my challenge. It’s the challenge that I put myself in. I just got to keep working every day.”

The former Defensive Player of the Year will have a lot of work in front of him to play much at all this season. He’s currently either third or fourth on the depth chart as the Knicks look to build, likely behind Willy Hernangomez, Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn.

Noah will be a bench player this year, and his ability to contribute will be almost exclusively determined based on whether he can become a dominant defender once again when he’s called into duty. And he knows this is the new reality.

“Yeah, that’s probably what it’s going to be,” Noah said about being a reserve. “Right now we have a lot of very talented players at my position, so that’s just the reality. Be as supportive as possible and when my number is called just making an impact.”

The Knicks will be forced to play without Noah for their first 12 games this season as he sits out the remainder of his 20-game suspension stemming from a failed drug test.

With that in mind, it seems more likely than not that Noah will become even less of a player the Knicks count on this season, barring injuries to other players. This is a franchise that needs to build from the ground up, meaning washed-up former stars likely won’t have a big hand in what the team does.