In the Chicago Bulls game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan 30, Carlos Boozer's streak of 123 straight starts came to an end. The response from the Bulls community was neither chagrin nor joy nor disdain, all of which could have been expected earlier this year. Instead, it was genuine concern.
Bulls fans are finally starting to come around on Carlos Boozer, but it's not for the reasons you might think.
Boozer's made the complete trip up the fan ladder this year.
This offseason there was a lot of hope from Bulls fans that Boozer would be amnestied. He was easily the most unpopular player on the team. Since winning the Eastern Conference Player of the Week though, Boozer has worked his way into fan favor.
Boozer's career with the Bulls had an ominous beginning when he tripped and broke his hand after signing a massive contract but before ever playing a game.
Finally, after missing all of the preseason and the first few weeks of the regular season, Boozer was able to play, but it was always uneven.
From the start when he was playing there was a cloud looming in front of the silver lining of Boozer's performance. He was productive while he was in the lineup. He's scored 18.8 points on .509 shooting and 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes as a Bull.
The only two players with 5,000 minutes who have the same level of production, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 boards per 36 minutes, are Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard.
So yes, Boozer has always been productive when he is in the lineup.
The reason he was so much an annoyance to Bulls fans was that his opponent seemed to be almost as productive as him.
This year though, particularly since his New Year's resolution turn around, Boozer has taken his defensive game to another level. Now, for Boozer another level does mean from really bad to slightly above average, but for him that is another level and it's enough.
Not to get to gushy here but not only has he not been bad, he's been pretty decent. His Synergy numbers are vastly improved, only giving up .79 points per play. Opposing power forwards only have a PER of 13.5 against him.
For a frame of reference those numbers aren't far off of All-Star Zach Randolph who yields .75 ppp and has a 13.1 oPER against power forwards.
What is it about Boozer's defense that's improved so much? It's not one major thing, it's a compilation of little things. He gets to his spot on time in rotations. He gets his hand up to alter shots. He leaves his feet to challenge them. He's poking his hands into passing lanes.
All those little things make a great deal of difference, especially in the paint.
Last season, according media.nba.com/STATS, while he was on the court, Bulls' opponents scored 40.8 points in the paint per 48 minutes. This year, on the whole, that's down to 39.1. Since January, it's down to 37.8. And that's despite the fact he doesn't have Omer Asik to back him up!
Boozer hasn't been great defensively but he has been solid.
Where has Carlos Boozer improved more?
The result is that Boozer is getting more playing time on the court for the defensively minded coach Tom Thibodeau. Boozer's minutes are up from 29.5 last season to 31.2 this year. Because he's getting more minutes, his scoring and rebounding are up too.
But they're up because of the defensive improvement, even if we're not seeing it all the time.
It's a subliminal thing. Boozer's biggest improvement is on the defensive end. Bulls fans aren't wanting to yell at him for blowing an assignment as soon as he does something brilliant. It makes it easier to enjoy his production when you're not getting mad at him all the time.