On a night when Carlos Boozer believed the Chicago Bulls "all had great shots," the team shot 45.9 percent from the field, piled up 19 assists on 38 field-goals, placed all but one player, Omer Asik, on the scoreboard and three players in double figures, led by Boozer's 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting. Coach Tom Thibodeau, often guarded when it comes to handing his squad any sort of praise, told the assembled media that he was pleased with the ball movement in Monday's 92-68 victory over the Detroit Pistons at the United Center
Yet, the Bulls' Joakim Noah scored only four points on 4-of-4 free throws and did not attempt a single field-goal in just over 25 minutes of action. Here's a concerning fact for fans: The last time Noah failed to take a shot in a game was Jan. 23, 2009, against the Toronto Raptors during his sophomore campaign.
While the 6-foot-11 center added eight rebounds and two blocks and provided more activity than he did in the one-point, four-rebound outing Saturday night against the Atlanta Hawks, it was made clear that he doesn't have much confidence in his offensive game right now, at least compared to the amount of aggression he exhibited before last November's right thumb injury.
Through 10 games last season, Noah had dropped a double-double in seven games and scored in double figures each day. A year later, he has one double-double and has been held to eight points or less in seven games. Bulls fans are starting to realize Noah has lost whatever type of rhythm he had early last season, despite the fact that he's 100 percent healthy, as far as we know, and is coming off a prolonged offseason in which he worked very hard to improve his offensive repertoire.
It simply hasn't produced results, though. Heck, even backup center Omer Asik attempted a shot Monday night, and hit a layup that was canceled out because of an offensive foul. Bulls announcer Stacey King applauded Asik for his confident mindset, while Noah passed up several open looks and didn't even take his trademark left-handed hook shot.
During Noah's struggles, his teammates and coaches have defended him and deflected the attention toward the team rather than just one player. However, Bulls followers all know that the team will not reach the next level unless Noah is able to return -- or come close to -- the consistent double-double threat he proved he could be early last season.
The problem for the Bulls is that they're unsure about how they can get Noah more comfortable, more involved, offensively moving forward. The fifth-year big man hasn't helped his cause by dealing with foul trouble in five of the squad's 10 games, often times early in the contest. He has also missed lots of shots from point-blank range, leading to a pedestrian 38.1 percent from the field. Having entered the first season of a lucrative five-year contract, Noah knows the pressure on him will continue to rise if his sub-par play continues.
"We may have missed a couple that we could've made, but I thought we had great shots, did a good job of moving the ball," Boozer told reporters after the game. "We only had 19 assists but that's because we missed a couple of good shots."
From Derrick Rose to Brian Scalabrine, each Bull attempted a shot on Monday night -- expect for Noah. And that could be a troubling sign heading into the Bulls' busiest stretch of the season.
Meanwhile, Boozer scored the aforementioned 23 points and made 9-of-13 shots, all on 13- to 18-foot jumpers. Although it wasn't the 6-foot-9 power forward's best game in Chicago, he most likely had his best mid-range shooting performance in a Bulls uniform. For Boozer, it's seemingly very important to get off to a rhythmic start.
Following a pregame shooting session with assistant coach Ed Pinckney, Boozer did just that. He knocked down three jumpers in the first quarter and kept on taking and making the shot, which had been the bread and butter of his game in Utah.
"Carlos played a terrific game," Thibodeau said. "He was active, very active. He had good bounce to him. It was a good bounce-back, I think for everybody."
As the Pistons "soft-blitzed" Rose, Boozer received plenty of open looks, either coming off pick-and-pop sets with the reigning NBA MVP or being the beneficiary of his teammates' drive-and-kick passes. Three of Rose's eight assists were to Boozer for jumpers. Obviously, the duo had their best performance, playing off each other, in a long, long time.
"All of us. Not just me, but everybody," Boozer said when asked about the impact Rose has when he garners so much attention.
Added Thibodeau: "You put Derrick and Carlos in pick-and-rolls, they are tough to stop. They can put a lot of pressure on people and I thought they made great decisions."
Even so, Bulls fans are probably hoping Boozer doesn't fall in love with the jump shot, which he attempts fading away from the basket at times. Over the past year, that hasn't been a high-percentage shot for Boozer, and the Bulls would love to play more "inside-out," as Thibodeau has repeatedly said. But in Rose's mind, Boozer has an improved feel for how he can attack opposing defenses.
"Knowing what he was going to do before he got the ball, reading the defense well," Rose said of Boozer's game plan Monday. "If they were off of him, shooting the ball. That's something he's been working on and it showed tonight.
"[The pick-and-pop] opens up a lot, especially when he's making his shot. I know that my job is to get him the ball and that's what I'm going to do every night."
Bring it on: The Bulls started their lone back-to-back-to-back set on Monday and will play six games in the next eight nights. On Sunday, the Oklahoma City Thunder became the first team in the league to sweep their three-games-in-three-nights stretch. The Bulls are ready for the challenge, which takes them to Minnesota Tuesday night and back in Chicago to face the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
"Fun. Fun," Rose said. "Just to see how it's going to go. We're 1-0, trying to keep it going, but we know it's going to be hard. We got to get our rest and we're prepared for it."
The majority of the Bulls are used to having games in bunches, participating in AAU and other various leagues in their youth. Plus, if they're playing a game that means they're not going through one of Thibodeau's grueling practices.
"It's kind of like going all the way back to our grass roots with AAU ball," Boozer said. "In AAU, when we were in high school, we'd go to tournaments and different places and we'd play two games in one night, three games, we played back-to-back-to-back trying to win a big-time tournament. ... It's more like AAU, except it's in the NBA, so it gives you a chance to flashback and then get back to work. And honestly, we'd rather play the games than the alternative."
Status of Hamilton, Watson uncertain: Bulls guards Rip Hamilton and C.J. Watson missed Monday's game versus the Pistons. Hamilton is dealing with a strained left groin he suffered Dec. 30 against the Los Angeles Clipper and has missed five of the team's last six games, while Watson dislocated his left elbow in the Bulls' 104-64 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies Jan. 1 and has missed the last five games.
"I don't [know]," Thibodeau told reporters of both players' status for Tuesday's contest against the Timberwolves. "C.J.'s coming along pretty well. Rip is still day-to-day, each day it's a little bit better. And again, it's hard right now because as a team we're not really practicing. So we'd like to get some practices where we can evaluate their soreness the next day. But they're coming along."
Ronnie Brewer made his fifth straight start at shooting guard on Monday and posted 12 points and four assists while shooting 6-for-9 from the field. It's a safe bet the 6-foot-7 Brewer will remain in the starting lineup this week, because the Bulls will bring Hamilton along much slower than before, following the veteran's setback last Wednesday against the Pistons, his longtime former club.
John Lucas III has played well in place of Watson and dropped six points and four rebounds Monday. The Bulls have shown supreme trust in the 29-year-old and aren't the least bit surprised about the way he's been able to handle the team when Rose is watching from the sidelines.
"John, his attitude and approach are great," Thibodeau stated. "He stays ready to play, he's a high energy guy, he's smart, he can run the team, he can shoot and, much like Scalabrine, he could not play for a long period of time and then when he's called upon he's ready to go. He's executed his role perfectly. We all have a lot of confidence in him. C.J.'s coming along, so when he's ready to go he'll be back in there."