Joakim Noah has opened eyes this month by becoming the Bulls' most reliable passer, averaging 5.8 assists in January.
When discussing his second straight selection to the NBA All-Star Game on Thursday, Noah stayed in character and focused on sharing the experience.
"Just going with my guys; just bringing my crew," he said on a conference call, when asked what he's looking forward to the most. "I'm excited. I'm bringing the whole wolf pack this time. If you're there, you'll see us mingling around … hunting."
Maybe Noah and his wolf pack will stand out on the streets of New Orleans during all-star weekend, maybe not. But he made it clear that the game itself is dwarfed by the meaning of the trip.
"I don't remember (last year's) game too much," he said. "I just remember my father (Yannick Noah) sitting there with my coach, Mr. (Tyrone) Green, who practically raised me in New York; is like another father figure to me. Having both of them sitting at the game and being able to watch me play in the All-Star Game, I was just really proud to have my loved ones watching it and I know they were proud as well."
Noah got off to a slow start this season after missing most of training camp with a groin strain. He's at 11.7 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists overall. The rebounds and assists are career-highs.
During January, Noah kicked it into another gear, averaging 13.6 points and 14.1 rebounds, in addition to the 5.8 assists. He's recorded double-figure rebounds in 17 straight games.
The Bulls went 11-4 this month, even after losing Derrick Rose to another knee injury and trading top scorer Luol Deng on Jan. 6.
"We've gone through a lot of adversity throughout the year -- losing Derrick and then losing Lu was tough, too," Noah said. "So we've gone through a lot as a team, but I think we're growing as a team and to me, that's all that matters.
"I wouldn't be in this position right now if it wasn't for my teammates. It's not like I'm out here scoring points or anything like that. I just play off my teammates. My teammates find me for layups and I find them for open shots and layups, too. So you've got to credit them for improvement and playing with that fighting spirit."
Noah also had a compliment ready for coach Tom Thibodeau.
"He's probably the hungriest guy I've ever been around," Noah said. "He's really passionate about the game. All he cares about is the game, it seems like. We've gone through a lot with the player-coach relationship, I guess. I definitely admire his work ethic. He definitely instills that in his players."
Joining Noah on the East reserves are Miami's Chris Bosh, Indiana's Roy Hibbert, Washington's John Wall, Brooklyn's Joe Johnson, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan and Atlanta's Paul Millsap. The coaches in each conference vote for the all-star reserves and cannot vote for their own players.
The biggest gripe seemed to come from the omission of Indiana shooting guard Lance Stephenson. His numbers aren't necessarily eye-popping (14.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists), but the Pacers own the league's best record, so many analysts felt they deserved three all-stars, like Miami.
The East starters are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving and Paul George. There's probably a good chance Wade will skip the game, so Stephenson could end up being an all-star starter.
The West reserves included two from Portland (LaMarcus Aldridge and Damien Lillard), two from Houston (Dwight Howard and James Harden), plus Clippers guard Chris Paul, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki and San Antonio's Tony Parker.
The West starters are Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. Bryant won't play, so look for Phoenix guard Goran Dragic as a potential late addition.
Noah spent most of his early years in Paris, then moved to New York before entering high school. He made it sound like Paris may now be in third place when it comes to places that feel like home.
"I've been in Chicago for seven years, so it's kind of like a second home to me now," Noah added. "When I play out there on the court, I try to represent the city.
"The United Center's a special place. I feel like I've fought a lot of battles in the United Center, a lot of great memories. The fans are always great. They're always passionate about their team. They've the best fans in the world.
"I'm trying to live in the moment, enjoy this experience, because you never know, it could be over at any time. So just appreciate playing for such a great organization and I hope we can win even bigger."
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