The Chicago Bulls' Carlos Boozer had, how shall I put it, a rough postseason last year. Injuries did play a part in his poor play, but Boozer's far too numerous disappearing acts made him an easy whipping boy for the fans. Add in his mammoth salary, and that made him an even easier target.
Boozer took the criticism to heart and went to work in the offseason. When the lockout finally ended, Boozer showed up to camp slimmer and in better shape. He went on to play all 66 games in the regular season, which marked the first time in his career that he played every possible game in a season. And he played pretty darn well for most of it, with averages of 15.0 points and 8.5 rebounds on 53 percent shooting. He still had his struggles against top flight competition, but for the most part, I was pretty satisfied with Boozer's season. And yes, I've learned to live with the "defense."
Of course, none of this staff actually matters. What matters is that Boozer plays well in the playoffs. Obviously this postseason has lost a lot of its significance due to the Derrick Rose injury, but if the Bulls somehow get bounced by the Philadelphia 76ers and Boozer stinks up the joint, get ready for countless calls for Carlos to get whacked via the amnesty clause in the offseason (I'm not ready to go there just yet).
Safe to say, things have not gone well for Mr. Boozer thus far.
Through two games, Boozer is averaging just 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds. He's only taken 18 shots and has made just 44 percent of those. He's only attempted three free throws. The defense has been quite abysmal with him on the floor, as NBA.com tells me that the Bulls' defensive rating with Boozer playing is 109.3 (that number is actually worse when he's off the court, but more on that later). Boozer was especially terrible in the Bulls' catastrophic third quarter in Game 2, committing a litany of errors and ultimately proving to be pretty much worthless. But to be fair to him, pretty much the entire team joined him in that venture.
Going forward, Boozer must get more involved (thanks Captain Obvious). I'm not looking for him to all of a sudden be putting up 25 and 15 and dominating the low block, because quite simply, he's not that type of guy anymore. He'll go down to the block occasionally, but he prefers to live on the perimeter. In fact, over 50 percent of his shots this season came from outside the paint (he did make 45 percent of those shots, which is a damn good percentage).
Losing Rose is obviously a huge blow to Boozer, because running pick-and-roll with Rose is significantly different than running it with C.J. Watson and John Lucas III. Even so, the Bulls need to find ways to get Boozer the ball in his comfortable spots. And ideally, the Bulls will make a concerted effort to get him the ball early and often in Game 3. When he gets going early, he's bound to continue that strong play throughout the game. But if he does not get involved early or he simply starts slowly, he tends to become just another guy as the game wears on. The Bulls cannot afford Boozer to be "just another guy" if they want to make any type of noise in this postseason.
Now for those clamoring for more Taj Gibson, just be aware that Gibson has been even worse than Boozer so far. Remember how I said the Bulls' defensive rating was worse with Boozer off the court in these first two games? Well, that's because the Bulls have a 112.5 defensive rating with Gibson on the court. That's a far cry from the regular season where Gibson and the "Bench Mob" dominated defensively. Also, the offense has been a train wreck with Gibson on the court. How does an 89.6 offensive rating sound to you?
While these are obviously small sample sizes, I think my main overall point stands. Boozer has to step up and deliver some better minutes, because as nice a player as Gibson is, he's not likely going to carry you through playoff games. Gibson can help close games with his defense and make things happen with his work on the offensive boards, but Boozer has the ability to carry a team with his offense. Even if it's not the offense we envisioned when the Bulls signed him in the summer of 2010.
There's no reason Elton freaking Brand should be outplaying Boozer. It's about time we take a ride on "The Booze Cruise."
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