Hawks' Horford vs. Bulls' Noah, revisited

Al Horford and Joakim Noah were always going to be connected by their basketball legacies even if neither played a game in the NBA. That’s what happens when you win back-to-back NCAA national championships for the University of Florida

As it turned out, their NBA paths also have mirrored one another. The Hawks selected Horford with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft and the Bulls took Noah six slots later. Both quickly established themselves as very good NBA centers. Noah signed a $60 million extension in October 2010 and Horford signed a nearly identical deal about a month later. Horford is a three-time All-Star, and Noah has made the team twice.

Back in 2014, Peachtree Hoops writer (and proud Gator) Jason Walker compared the two players and gave the edge to Horford because of his all-around game and efficiency. But he noted at the time that Noah, who was in the midst of consecutive All-Star seasons, was closing the gap because Horford had suffered a second season-ending pectoral injury. Walker wondered which player would be picked first in a re-draft, and which would end up with the better NBA career.

I'm revisiting the topic with because of the news that Noah is on the shelf again with what looks like a season-ending shoulder injury. It's too bad. Noah annoys some with his always-on intensity and gesticulations on the court but he was always one of my favorite players to watch when I was on the NBA beat. Noah can become a free agent after the season and is probably done with the Bulls, prompting Chicago Sun-Times scribe Rick Morrissey to highlight some of Noah's good qualities in this nice tribute.

(He didn't mention that Noah's is one of the few players who will call out LeBron James for some of his shenanigans. That's a big plus.)

If Horford stays healthy this season, he will finish this season with about the same number of regular-season games played as Noah's 572. Right now their career Win Shares are nearly identical: 58.9 for Horford, 57.6 for Noah. Horford's career PER average is 19.1; Noah's is 17.9.

Noah is more of a "true center" than Horford, whatever that means anymore in the NBA, and plays the more physical style. He's the superior defensive player—three All-Defensive team selections to zero for Horford—in large part because of his length and nonstop energy. Noah adds offensive value with his offensive rebounding and passing.

But Horford is a good defender in spite of his smallish stature for his position. He’s a very good rebounder. Horford’s offensive skills are miles ahead of Noah or most any other center. Horford’s career offensive production would probably be even better if he hadn’t spent so many seasons as a criminally underused option under ex-Hawks coaches Mike Woodson and Larry Drew.

Noah is 30 and Horford is 29, so each still potentially have good seasons remaining. The only major questions about either one them is durability but, at this point, Horford still has the edge over his ex-Gators teammate.

A cool thing about Horford and Noah is that, either though they know comparisons are inevitable, they are such close friends that neither ever is likely to say publicly they are better than the other. I remember Horford used to always seem uncomfortable with comparative questions. During the 2011 East semifinals, when the two tangled during a physical and intense playoff series, Horford acknowledged it was "weird" and Noah said it was "tough" to face one another in such circumstances.

Noah and the Bulls got the best of Horford and the Hawks in that series. Here’s hoping they both stay healthy and have another chance to go at it in the future.