He was the Bulls' big free agent addition this past
offseason and the long-sought-after low-post scoring threat that the Bulls have
needed for years. However, fans and
media have become increasingly critical of his play. With the playoffs upon us, Boozer has an
opportunity to change his detractors' minds.
His first playoff game as a Bull threw gasoline, not water, on the
Carlos Boozer came to the Bulls this past summer with a NBA
reputation that could be fairly characterized as a "mixed-bag." Despite a spectacular college career at Duke
where he average 26 points and 15 rebounds a game and was part of a NCAA National
Championship team, NBA talent evaluators were unimpressed. Due to his lack of athleticism and only
average power forward size (6-7 ¾ without shoes), he dropped all the way to the
second round of the 2002 NBA draft where he was taken by the Cleveland
The Cleveland Years
Boozer almost immediately began proving the doubters wrong,
scoring 10 points and grabbing 7.5 rebounds while averaging only 25 minutes per
game in his rookie season. As a NBA
sophomore, Boozer was joined by this high school kid named Lebron and the two
formed what looked like it would be a Cavs' "dynamic duo" for years to
come. In his second season, Boozer
averaged 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game and posted a team-high Player
Efficiency Rating (PER) of 20.8 (yeah, a couple points better than Lebron's
Because Boozer was selected in the second round, he became a
free agent after his second NBA season.
For obvious reasons, the Cavs badly wanted to re-sign Boozer, but in a
controversial series of events that until "I'm taking my talents to South Beach"
gave Boozer "Most Hated Opposing Player" status among Cavaliers' fans, Boozer
signed a big-money multi-year contract with the Utah Jazz. Cavs' ownership believed that Boozer lied to
them, essentially tricking them into moves that enabled Boozer to get his big
payday. This episode caused many to
label Boozer as being both less than trustworthy and selfish.
The Jazz, All Stars
In six seasons with the Jazz, Boozer established himself as
a NBA star, averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds a game and was twice
selected to the NBA All Star Team. When healthy, he was clearly one of the
best big men in the game. The problem
was that he wasn't all that healthy, missing 138 regular season games during
his 6 years in Utah...that's an average of 23 per season and added "injury-prone"
to the list of Boozer descriptors, and if you ask any Jazz fan, Boozer was
never too keen about rushing back from his many injuries.
While Boozer's time with the Jazz cemented his credentials
as a superbly-skilled offensive player, they also exposed his defensive
shortcomings. In the mind of his head coach
in Utah, Hall-of-Famer Jerry Sloan, Boozer's poor defensive play was mostly a
matter of "want-to." "Boozer's got to
work more on his defense," Sloan said in 2005, "He can't step out on the floor
and expect to get 19, 20 points a game, and his man's getting 22 or 23. I told
him he's got to do a better job defensively. And he can do a better job... But he's got to make a commitment to defending." Truth is, Boozer never has.
Boozer and the Bulls
Boozer signed a 5-year contract with the Bulls in July for
an estimated total value of $75million.
With this kind of money, expectations were understandably high. Boozer didn't exactly get off to a good start
with Bulls' fans when he broke his hand in an early-October household accident
just as training camp was starting. As a
result, he missed the first 15 games of the Bulls' 2010-11 season. He missed another 8 games during the season
due to ankle problems...ironically, that's a total of 23 regular season games
missed, exactly what he averaged in Utah.
When he's been able to play for the Bulls this season, he's
pretty much been Carlos Boozer, though he's clearly not having one of his
better seasons. While his 17.5 points
per game are right around his career average (17.3), his scoring efficiency is
well below his career standards (field goal percentage of 51% this season
versus 53.7% career and true shooting percentage of 54.2% versus 57.7%). His rebounding numbers are also down (9.6
rebounds per game versus 10.1) as is his PER (18.8 versus 20.6).
Unfortunately, his defense has been pretty much down to his
career standard. Bulls' fans now
completely understand Sloan's earlier quote from 2005. Other than grabbing defensive rebounds,
sometimes snatching them from teammates' hands, Boozer just isn't all that
interested in playing defense. He's
quite possibly the worst big man I've ever seen when it comes to providing
off-ball help to beaten teammates. He's
also reluctant to stray very far from the basket when defending his own man or to
"show" on pick-and-rolls. Boozer simply
doesn't appear willing to do anything on defense that might jeopardize his
chance at cleaning the defensive glass.
The fact that the Bulls boast the league's best defense AND
Boozer plays significant minutes is truly a wonder. If the Bulls defense was a picture from which
you were asked to pick out what doesn't belong, Boozer would be the obvious
choice...OK, Kyle Korver too.
Which brings us to the "doghouse" owned by the Bulls' fans
and media. Recent occupants have
included Kirk Hinrich, Jannero Pargo, Luol Deng (just recently released) and Keith
Bogans. There are several ways to gain
entrance, but as Deng learned, probably the quickest is for fans to decide that
you're not playing up to your contract.
Others include giving less than your absolute best on the court and being
labeled as "injury-prone."
Boozer appears to be a prime candidate, but with career
playoff numbers of 20.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, most fans have yet
to banish the big man to their canine quarters...but make no mistake, they're
getting close. If he puts up another
couple 4-for-11 shooting, 6 rebound games like he did yesterday against the Pacers,
it'll be "Move over, Keith."