McNeill on Bulls: Boozer has his groove back

Carlos Boozer had 22 points and 16 rebounds, Luol Deng added 21 points and 10 boards, and the Chicago Bulls held off the Brooklyn Nets 79-76 in Game 3.
January 18, 2013, 12:30 PM

It seemed like as soon as Carlos Boozer signed with the Chicago Bulls, the honeymoon was over.

He inked a fat contract worth close to $80 million over five seasons in the summer of 2010 and the fans in Chicago still have yet to warm up to him.

Part of the reason why he has failed to become a fan-favourite is the fact he averaged at least 19.5 points in each of his last three full seasons in Utah and never failed to collect less than 10.2 rebounds per game during any of those seasons.

However, since he arrived in Chicago, he has yet to score more than 17.5 points or grab more than 9.6 rebounds per game during any of his three seasons in the Windy City.

“Well, it’s interesting, because he is sort of a lightning rod for our team,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau recently explained. “He really has played well since he has been here. He got hurt his first year which set him back a little bit. But then, at the end of every season he has been here, if you look at where he ranks statistically, he’s always at the top at his position. More importantly when you look at the wins the last two years that’s the most important thing. I think he and (Joakim) Noah have played extremely well together. He plays to win and that’s important.”

Sorry, but I’m not buying that argument and neither should Bulls fans.

Last season, Boozer failed to finish in the Top 20 in rebounding or scoring and his own teammate, Noah, was able to snag more rebounds. So much for Thibodeau’s claims in defence of his star forward.

But a funny thing has happened over the past 10 games: It appears that Boozer has found his mojo. Instead of thriving playing alongside the game’s best point guard in Derrick Rose the past two seasons, it has taken having Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich give him the rock for Boozer to find his groove.

In the 10 games leading up to the Bulls overtime win over the Raptors on Wednesday, Boozer had been averaging 19.6 points and 10.3 rebounds.

Against Toronto he had his best game of the season as he scored 36 points and grabbed 12 boards.

This is like a guy finding his love of driving when he sells his Ferrari and buys a Kia.

(Sorry for the dig, Blake.)

Regardless, the downgrade seems to be working for Boozer because he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder and is being more assertive on the court.

“I’m just hooping and trying to win, man,” a humble Boozer tried to tell me. “At the end of 2012, we all just decided we wanted to get some more wins and I think so far in January we are doing pretty good.”

Sure, the wins are nice, but Boozer’s bump in stats are about more than just getting some more wins for his team. It’s a reflection of him being more aggressive and assertive on the court.

“He’s getting deep post position,” Dwane Casey raved when he was asked what he noticed when scouting Boozer. “He’s mixing it up. He’s getting deep but he’s also playing from the outside in. He’s shooting the jump shot and he’s getting to the free throw line. Plus, it seems like he’s making every single shot, but he’s being so effective.”
The reason Boozer has been effective recently is because he’s using his physical strength to impose himself on the court — finally.

“I guess he learned so much from watching film of Karl Malone because he does a lot of similar things that he did as far as sealing in transition,” Casey explained. “Sealing in the low post. He’s coming across screens and looking to seal his man. So our bigs are going to have their work cut out for themselves tonight as far as covering the paint and covering his strength in the low post. Then, when he gets tired of that, he goes out and faces you up. He’s playing an all-around game and getting a lot of touches.”

Aside from imposing his presence on the court, after spending some time in the Bulls locker room it became clear he was settling into a role as a veteran leader on a still relatively young Bulls team.

Before the game against Toronto he spent a decent amount of time shooting the breeze with Noah and made sure Luol Deng gave him a high five before he passed to grab a pre-game Gatorade. Afterwards, Boozer was joking around with Rip Hamilton and was searching out Raptors guard John Lucas III who stopped by to visit with his former teammates.

Nothing big, but his presence seems to help unify the Bulls.

It may have taken three seasons, but at least Boozer is finally starting to thrive in Chicago on the court. It’s perfect timing because the team sorely needed someone to step into the void created by the absence of Rose.

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