It’s not often that a player who is averaging 22 points finds himself on the bench in the fourth quarter of a very close game. Well, this was indeed the case with Carlos Boozer when the Chicago Bulls played the New Jersey Nets on January 5th.
To be exact, Boozer didn’t play the last 14 minutes and 21 seconds of the game and had managed only 12 points up to that point in the game.
“The big thing was we were behind big and they were zoning," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau of Boozer's absence in the fourth quarter. “And so the group that went in, playing Luol [Deng] at the 4, gave us another perimeter player. So it was more effective for us against the zone. So that's why we did it. And when that group cut the lead down and now we were in position, they tied the game up so we just were going to finish with the group that was going well.”
However, the decision to pull Boozer late in the third had more to do with Boozer’s lethargic play and less with the strategy that the Nets employed on defense.
Throughout the game, Boozer was the last guy to get back on defense. Often the last line of defense against players slashing to the basket, Boozer seemed comatose and clearly not giving his best effort. In the Bulls system, predicated on hard defense, an unwillingness to grind it out leaves a player exposed not only to opponents but to a lot of outside criticism as well.
So what happens if Thibodeau benches Boozer again? What if Boozer's struggles continue any further? Someone has to try and make up for Boozer’s lack of production.
Keep in mind that Joakim Noah is still out with a thumb injury.
While Derrick Rose will continue to get his 23 points and eight assists, a bulk of the offensive load would fall upon Luol Deng. In the 13 games that Deng had played in the month of November, before Boozer’s return from his injury December 1st, Deng averaged 20.5 ppg and 7.6 rpg. When Boozer returned, Deng’s production in December fell to 16.1 ppg and 5.4 rpb.
From November to December, Deng and Rose put up 4.1 and 2.1 less shots a game, respectively. With Boozer in the lineup, someone else has to shoot the ball.
One caveat in these calculations is the play of Joakim Noah. Before injuring his thumb, Noah had played nine games in November (with Boozer). During those games, Noah averaged 11.4 ppg and 9.2 rpg and Boozer averaged 17.5 ppg and 9 rpg.
It’s possible Boozer will continue his early January scoring funk until Noah returns, but keep in mind that with Boozer, Rose and Deng in the lineup, Noah averages four less rebounds than when he is playing without Boozer. In the same situation, Deng averages 15.2 ppg 5.2 rpg and Rose averages 23.3 ppg (his assists stay basically the same).
However, whereas Noah shot 52 percent from the field in November, with Boozer in the lineup Noah’s shooting percentage dropped to 48 percent, Rose’s shooting dropped from 47 to 43 percent, but Deng’s increased from 43 to 50 percent. Deng appears to benefit from the attention that Boozer warrants on offense.
Thus, judge the player's value accordingly.
You can follow Artem “Professor Dunk” Altman on twitter.com/ProfessorDunk or visit his blog: www.ProfessorDunk.com.