Joakim Noah. Al Horford.
To a Gator such as myself, there will be nothing like watching the two of them, along with Corey Brewer, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey cut down the nets in back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007.
As Horford and Noah went pro, I thought there was no doubt who the more complete was and who the Atlanta Hawks should take with the #3 pick in the 2007 draft.
Al Horford was the man the Gators would look to for a tough score. It was Al that was the rock, the cornerstone, of those back to back championship teams.
He could finish above the rim, defend well, take the shot outside and run the floor faster than almost all bigs in college.
Sure, it was Brewer and Noah that won the MVPs of those respective tourneys, but Al was the reason.
So when Horford went to the Hawks at #3, all was well. It was hoping against hope that Noah, who was crazy at Florida and a notorious free spirit, would still be around with the Hawks other pick, the #11 pick in the draft.
It was close, but the Bulls gobbled up Noah with the ninth pick in the draft, oh so close to realizing Horford and Noah taking their teammating ways to the ATL together.
Noah was a raw offensive player, but he was vicious. He could finish strong on the inside and showed superior hands at Florida, traits that travel well to the NBA. His defense was not fundamental, but what he lacked there he made up for with length and timing, and he rebounded and blocked shots at plus paces.
Noah got into trouble early in Chicago, where his passion for winning and doing things the way Billy Donovan taught him at Florida caused issues on a losing Bulls team. He famously got into trouble with the team in January of his rookie year by challenging the behavior of his teammates while losing and got himself suspended by the team for crossing the line while doing so.
A dream at the time in my mind was that the Hawks could swoop in and liberate the Bulls from such a headache and score the Hawks a true seven-footer with an endless motor. Alas, the Bulls got wise and soon it would be clear that Noah was going to be extremely productive in the NBA,
Meanwhile, the Hawks slowly brought Horford along, rendering him a bit player on a usage crazy team that featured Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Mike Bibby and, later, Jamal Crawford.
Still, Horford blossomed into 10+ win share, 20+ PER player. Noah improved as well, but couldn't match the all-around game of Horford and the efficiency that which Horford delivered that production.
In fact, the two are almost identical statistically, with Horford edging ahead but showing such a strong similarity to Noah that Joakim is his fourth most similar player by Basketball Reference's model.
The two ex-teammates even signed similar contract extensions, both getting 5 years and 60 million dollars the same offseason.
The only reason the issue of Noah v. Horford can come up is due to what is now a second regular-season ending injury to Horford, both with the torn pectoral muscle. Noah missed significant time in 2010 with a torn ligament in his thumb, It cost Noah 30 games, but it pales in comparison to the 100+ games Horford will miss with his.
Noah seems to be gathering momentum, too. He has gained back-to-back All-Star berths and a reputation of being one of the finest defenders in the NBA, currently ranking second in defensive win shares. Being on a Chicago Bulls team with Tom Thibodeau coaching. Horford was also the way to his best season under new coach Mike Budenholzer when he was injured. It might have been Horford getting his third All-Star appearance over Noah if that hadn't occurred.
But it did occur and now questions will persist: Is Horford prone to these tissue injuries or are they simply freak occurrences that bear no guidance on future injuries? Long term, will Noah end up being the better or more impactful player in the NBA?