What should you expect from Carlos Boozer?


Jan 18

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Carlos Boozer didn’t take the bait Tuesday night after perhaps his best game as a Bull with 31 points, 26 in the first half, in the wipeout win over the Phoenix Suns.

Reporters wanted to hear Boozer say things were different and his scoring touch was back and he was feeling like a dominant force again, but Boozer would have none of it.

Perhaps that’s part of what’s bothered some about Boozer, that he’s stayed with the company line of teamwork and winning.

There’s been a fair amount of criticism regarding Boozer’s production since he was signed by the Bulls in the summer of 2010. But that’s really been more a level of hopeful fantasy than cloying reality.

He is averaging 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds this season playing 29.1 minutes per game.

His career averages are 17.2 points and 10 rebounds in 32.5 minutes per game.

Carlos Boozer

The points and rebounds this season in proportion are almost identical to his career numbers given the reduction in playing time.

Only twice in eight seasons before the Bulls signed Boozer did he average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in a season. So maybe you’d say there was a 25 percent chance he’d do so again after leaving the Jazz.

In both those 20/10 seasons, Boozer averaged about 35 minutes per game, far more than he plays with the Bulls. He also averaged 16 shots per game those seasons with the Jazz, almost 25 percent more shots per game than Boozer attempts with the Bulls now.

The mistake everyone makes with Boozer is the same mistake you see often in sports, and not only with fans but team managements.

They sign or trade for a player and want him to be what they need or what they want him to be rather than who he is.

The Bulls needed a 20/10 postup player to provide spacing on the court and interior defense. Remember, many even said to draft Michael Beasley over Derrick Rose because of that vital need. Boozer never was that overwhelming producer in Utah, where he was, nevertheless, an excellent player in a very different system. Boozer was an All-Star and made the 2008 Olympic team.

But he played in a system that emphasized his pick and roll play with an elite floor leader who was more distributor in Deron Williams. The Bulls need Rose’s scoring. In Utah, Boozer was the team’s leading scorer maybe half the time. The Jazz on offense played a more spread out game with a center, Mehmet Okur, who shot three pointers, thus leaving the lane more open for pick and roll penetration.

The Bulls generally play Boozer with a center, Joakim Noah or Omer Asik, who has almost zero shooting range and hovers in the lane.

On defense, the Jazz played what was called a tight interior shell where the defense almost looked like a zone to protect a team of not very good defenders. There wasn’t as much switching and helping as the Bulls employ. No one ever selected Boozer for an all-defensive team.

Neither did anyone ever accuse Chris Bosh, David Lee or Al Jefferson, the power forwards the Bulls had interest in when they signed Boozer, as being defensive specialists, or even average defenders. Bosh, you’ll recall, pretty much gave up on the Raptors when the Bulls needed to beat them at the end of the 2009 season to make the playoffs. Bosh sat out the crucial game against the Bulls that cost his team a playoff spot.

If anyone is disappointed in Boozer’s production, they just didn’t pay attention to his career in Utah or who he was.

The biggest question hanging over him was health, and other than a freak broken finger early last season his health has been relatively good.

Actually, Boozer could be a huge problem if he chose to. He’s clearly not the No. 1 option on offense, and he often is taken out to sit fourth quarters and latter parts of games. The offense often is geared toward him early, but rarely after the first quarter. His playing time is the lowest since his rookie season.

Yet, you never hear a word of complaint from Boozer. He’s got a guaranteed long term contract that likely is his last big one in the NBA at 30. He could make himself very difficult given less playing time and fewer shots, which equals lower production. There aren’t many big money free agents who stay quiet when they become part of a platoon at their position. That would be difficult for a team based in large part on chemistry, selflessness and harmony. But Boozer talks about team and winning even as questions come at him daily in all forms about why he isn’t better.

Carlos Boozer

“I feel good. We’re winning, which is the most important thing,” Boozer said when I had a chance to talk with him about this the other day. “I feel great about my game and look forward to doing a lot more and winning more. My biggest thing is winning. Everyone wants to talk about numbers and minutes and fourth quarter (playing time). I just want to win. At the end of the day I ride with my team.”

Reporters often aren’t thrilled with Boozer because the feeling is he isn’t being earnest.

Boozer isn’t the most revealing person. None of those empathetic stories with him of remorse and recovery. He’s private, though usually available to reporters. Even when the criticism is at its most stern, he does interviews, if not often the kind reporters prefer.

Luol Deng went through this sort of thing with the Bulls a few years back as well. He was paid some $70 million. So now be an All-Star. It was a tough few seasons for Deng with injuries as well. But being paid an extraordinary amount of money doesn’t change you or your game. Fans have now come to accept and embrace who Deng is, even if he still hasn’t become an All-Star or even all-league defender in the eyes of those around the NBA.

“Are we winning?” Boozer offers to probes about play. “Everybody keeps saying me and Jo don’t play well together. I don’t agree with that. In my opinion, we have the No. 1 defense in the league (No. 1 in fewest points allowed). We’re tops in the East and trying to be even better. The games we lost we did not have juice for them for whatever reason. At the end of the day the most important thing is the Bulls win. If it was not working Thibs would have made a change already.

“Our system is so different than Utah,” Boozer noted “Memo was (effectively) a guard, one of the top five three point shooters in the league. The middle was open for me and D-Will to do our thing. It’s different playing with an actual center in the middle.

“You’ve got to pop, either roll into traffic or pop,” said Boozer. “I like it. We have space to move because I can shoot the ball and we have guys who can shoot the ball. It also gives other guys lanes. Look at Derrick. I’m poppin’ (so) he has space on my side to drive to the hoop. Luol the same thing. That’s why our jump shooting becomes so important. And we’re winning.

“We’re pros,” says Boozer. “We can adjust. At the end of the day we’re able to do more than one thing. Our team made up differently. I don’t shoot (up to) 20 times a game like did in Utah. Sometimes 10 or less (Boozer has 10 shots or fewer six times this season and at least 20 shots for the first time Tuesday). It’s going to vary because we’re a more talented team. This is one of the most talented teams I’ve been on aside from All-Stars and Olympics. I don’t have to carry the load. Derrick is shooting less (down about three per game). Our team is better. It’s more a collective group.”

Boozer didn’t have a very good playoffs last spring, though there were questions about injury. That turf toe problem Rose now has. I don’t profess to know anything about it. I only had heard it before with football players and assumed it had something to do with the turf. Now I’m completely baffled.

Boozer’s not Kevin McHale, Buck Williams or Dennis Rodman on defense. He’s not Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor or Karl Malone on offense. Carlos Boozer is not what a lot of people want him to be. He’s merely the player the Bulls signed who couldn’t carry the Utah Jazz past the conference finals in six seasons. Nothing wrong with that. He did pretty well and never suggested he was anything more than the sum of his previous achievements.

He may not be the answer, but he’s not the problem.

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