It’s starting to seem like media in Chicago have a particular soft spot for players who are not good at their jobs. After Kirk Hinrich received a glowing little write-up from the immortal Joe Cowley for accepting a diminished role after returning from injury — we’ll leave aside the issue of his regaining his starting spot — Sam Smith came out in defense of one Carlos Boozer following the Chicago Bulls’ 101-92 win over the Phoenix Suns.
Both pieces are essentially about Boozer’s comments on Monday asking for more playing time in the fourth quarter. Since then, Tom Thibodeau has played Boozer extended fourth quarter minutes in garbage time against the Sacramento Kings, and then putting him back in during actual crunch time against the Suns. Boozer actually got to the rim and scored in his stint in Phoenix, something he hasn’t done a ton of this season. It was nice to see.
That actually brings me to the point here: Boozer has been bad this year, and that outlier drive against Phoenix tells me why. Here’s a look at Boozer’s shot distribution this season. See if you can spot any obvious problems.
It’s that 45 percent from midrange that concerns me. Boozer takes about 14 shots per game, so 45 percent of that is a little more than 6 midrange attempts per game. That’s too many, and it’s also why Boozer is posting literally the worst statistical season of his career.
Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s go down the list. Boozer’s 17.8 points per-36 minutes this season is the lowest he’s put up since his second season in the NBA in 2004. If, for some inexplicable reason, you prefer per-game totals, his raw 14.8 points per game is the worst he’s averaged since his rookie season.
But wait, there’s more! Boozer’s posting his third-lowest mark in both rebounds per-36 (10.4, tied for third-worst with 2011-12) and in total rebound percentage (16.3%). He’s posting by far the worst PER of his career, a below-league average mark of 14.5 (his previous worst came last season at 17.1), as well as career-lows — by a lot — in true shooting percentage (.488) and effective field goal percentage (.452). For good measure, I’ll also mention that this season’s .215 free throw rate — which translates to a bit more than one free throw attempt for every five field goal attempts — is the second worst mark in his career. Keep in mind that this is all happening while Boozer posts his second-highest usage rate (26.7) ever. Oh, and he’s putting up NEGATIVE OFFENSIVE WIN SHARES, per basketball-reference, which is where I got all of the information in the last two paragraphs.
Please note that I haven’t even addressed defense yet. Boozer’s defense is obviously poor, so rather than go down an entire list of his failings, I’ll simply point to Sam Smith’s defense of his defense — heh — and how absurd it is.
Boozer always has been known as a limited defender. But because he was with the Bulls, and little difference than he ever was before, he’s become a target of fan and media criticism at times over defense. The truth is as good a defensive team as the Bulls have been, there always have been two or three weak defenders among them. None have been condemned as Boozer has been. Even very good ones like Jimmy Butler are often beaten off the dribble. It’s often impossible to play great defense on any regular basis in the NBA. Especially with so many rules against physical contact.
Oh, Sam. Sam, Sam, Sam. Anyway, Boozer has been bad, and it all comes back to how many midrange shots he takes. See, once upon a time, Boozer was an elite midrange shooter, posting a 44 percent mark from there back in 2011-12. Now, he’s merely about average, as he’s shot 38 percent from there the last two seasons. 38 percent isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s far from elite. It’s about average. Meanwhile, as he’s stopped making jumpers quite as often, he’s begun taking them much more often. Since arriving in Chicago, Boozer’s gone from taking 32 percent of his shots from midrange in 2010-11 (30 percent for Utah in 2009-10) to the aforementioned 45. So there you go.
Look, there are definitely reasons not to hate Boozer. Mini-outburst on Monday aside, he’s always been a true professional. He’s still an elite rebounder, and he’s actually quite good when he gets to the rim, as he’s shooting over 61 percent in the restricted area this season. But to suggest that it’s somehow unfair to call him out for playing poorly — and again, he has played very poorly by the numbers — is ridiculous.
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com/stats.