Chicago’s injury rotation from last year could predict what they do this year…if there is a season
Since there may not even be an NBA season, let’s talk about something else that is somewhat depressing…injuries. Chicago had their fair share of them last year, especially between their two starting bigs, Joakim Noah and Carlos “Gym Bag” Boozer.
Despite their injuries, the three main ones that will be discussed below, the Bulls won 62 games and made it to the Easter Conference finals before falling to the Miami Heat. It was a bitter ending to a pretty great season. Derrick Rose emerged as one of the best players in the league and won the MVP award. Omer Asik proved to be a very productive player (more to come on this below in the playoffs section) and Carlos Boozer screamed a lot (among other things).
Bulls’ fans were cheated out of a full season of health, but let’s take a look at how the Bulls did when they faced those injuries. The most important thing was that players stepped up in response to those injuries.
Chicago started the season off shorthanded, with Carlos Boozer missing the first 15 games because of a broken hand. This meant the Bulls didn’t have their full rotation from the beginning, getting them used to what was going to be an injury riddled season for their big men. Boozington injured himself tripping over a bag and breaking his hand. So the Bulls started off with Noah and Gibson starting at center and power forward positions respectively. This is how the minutes broke down and each player’s numbers.
*Editor’s Note: Brian Scalabrine’s numbers were not calculated because his stats were too high and I’m not very good at math.
Life without Boozer: Volume I, Shaky, but solid start
October 27- November 27 (15 games)
Joakim Noah: 36.8 minutes, 15.6 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steal (started all 15 games)
Taj Gibson: 11.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.2 assists, .9 steals (started all 15 games)
Omer Asik: 3.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, .5 assists, .2 assists, .6 blocks (played in all 15 games)
Kurt Thomas: Did not play in any games
No Boozer, no problem. Chicago wasn’t really missing Boozington, as it had never played a regular season game with him. The Bulls were just back to their normal strategy—which includes never posting up. Chicago entered December with a record of just 9-6, but all of their losses came to eventual playoff teams. And during that stretch they beat the soon-to-be champion Dallas Mavericks and playoff bound Trailblazers.
It wasn’t the best start to the season, but Chicago weathered the storm and would be back at full strength for a long time right? OK maybe just nine games.
Boozer returns: Full strength
December 1-December 15 (9 games)
Noah: 33.1 minutes, 11.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.9 blocks (started all nine games)
Boozer: 28 minutes, 17.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists (started all nine games)
Asik: 8.5 minutes, 1.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, .56 blocks (played in all nine games)
Gibson: 23.3 minutes, 6.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks (played in all nine games)
Thomas: played in just two games, total of five minutes and two points
Boozer started slow (as expected) and didn’t work into the offense for a few games. But in his third game back he scored 25 points and in the fourth game back dropped 29. Then, on December 15, against Toronto, Boozer scored 34 points. In the same game Chicago would lose Noah, who wouldn’t be back until late February.
While Chicago was keeping Boozer’s minutes relatively low, Gibson got some good minutes and played well. Added bonus over Boozer…Gibson actually plays defense.
The Bulls dropped their first two games at full strength, to Orlando and Boston (once again both playoff teams), then went on a seven game winning streak, until Noah went down. Chicago was seemingly hitting their stride, only to be derailed, but they would quickly make the necessary adjustments.
What to do without Joakim
December 18 to February 17 (30 games)
Boozer: 33.9 minutes, 19.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists (started 27 games, missed 3 games)
Asik: 11.2 minutes, 2.8 points, 4 rebounds (played in all 30 games)
Gibson: 20.5 minutes, 5.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks (played in 29 games, started 4)
Thomas: 27.9 minutes, 5.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, .96 blocks (started 28 games)
Thibodeau thought it better to go with experience, rather than youth, when Noah went down. That meant Kurt Thomas got his minutes, and the old man did work. Thomas scored 22 in a game, the first time he scored that many since 2005. He also grabbed 18 boards in a single game; the first time since 2007 he had that many rebounds. It’s even more impressive when you consider Thomas can’t jump. Thomas was also sure to use up the six fouls you are given per game. And he made them hard fouls.
Asik also played well not putting up huge numbers, but playing solid defense, something that would become expected from the Turkish Delight. Gibson and Boozer split minutes and both put up good stats; especially Boozer who averaged a double-double in Noah’s absence.
The return of Noah, Full Strength again
February 23 to March 9 (9 games)
Noah: 29.7 minutes, 9.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 blocks (started all nine games)
Boozer: 30 minutes, 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists (started all nine games)
Asik: 16.9 minutes, 1.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, .9 blocks (played in eight games)
Gibson: 17.6 minutes, 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds (played in all nine games)
Thomas: played in zero games
Noah’s first game back was spoiled by an embarrassing loss in Toronto, but Chicago bounced back from that and topped Miami, sparking a nice run.
Through this stretch Asik scored less than two points per contest, but grabbed nearly nine rebounds per game. A sign of good things to come from the young man…not so much on the offensive side in which his skills consist of dunks, but on the defensive side where he is a good post defender and great rebounder.
Upsetting fact for the future: Noah and Boozer never seemed to develop a solid chemistry when they were on the court together, and their numbers reflected that depressing idea.
The Bulls weren’t meant to be at full strength for long, as Boozer went down again (here is my surprised face). Once again everyone put in solid minutes, but they weren’t at full strength and Thibs had to change the rotation, for the 1,538,097th time this season.
Life without Boozer, Volume II, Shorter this time
March 11 to March 18 (5 games)
Noah: 30.3 minutes, 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists (started four of five games)
Asik: 14.6 minutes, 4.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1 block (played all five games)
Gibson: 23.4 minutes, 7.6 points, 8.2 rebounds (started one game, played in all five)
Thomas: 29.8 minutes, 3.8 points, 10 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks (started all five games)
Thibodeau went with the starting frontcourt of Joakim Noah and Kurt Thomas. Thomas was once again used more for his rebounding skills than his offensive firepower. But at this part of the season, it was obvious that Derrick Rose basically had to do all the scoring by his lonesome.
The good news is that this would be Chicago’s last major injury of the regular season, the better news was that Chicago only lost one more game the rest of the way.
Full strength to end the season
March 21 to April 13 (14 games)
Noah: 27.6 minutes, 9.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.7 assists (started eleven games, missed three)
Boozer: 31.1 minutes, 15.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists (started all 14 games)
Asik: 11.4 minutes, 3.3 points, 2.3 rebounds (played all 14 games)
Gibson: 20.1 minutes, 7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1 block (played all 14 games)
Thomas: 14.4 minutes, 2.2 points, 3.4 rebounds (played eleven games)
Chicago, still fighting for the number one overall seed in the playoffs, played some of their best basketball down the stretch. And they had every one of their big men contributing.
The Bulls entered the playoffs on a high, winning nine straight and 21 of their last 23. They would slump a little in the playoffs, but would still make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, before falling to the Big Three and the Miami Heat.
Noah: 34 minutes, 8.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 1 steal (played every game)
Boozer: 31.7 minutes, 12.6 points, 9.7 rebounds (played in every game)
Asik: 9.9 minutes, 1.0 point, 2.1 rebounds (played in fifteen games)
Gibson: 17.8 minutes, 5.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks (played every game)
Thomas: 10.6 minutes, 2.9 points, 2.7 rebounds (played in seven games)
Thibodeau went with Omer Asik and Taj Gibson in a few late game situations, and it ended up being a good choice. Some people questioned why it took so long for Thibs to make that switch and get back to his rotation he used during the regular season. Asik’s minutes jumped from just 5.8 in round one, to 12.8 in round two and 11.3 in round three.
Boozer played poorly, or exactly the way Jazz fans said he would play in the playoffs. He scored just 12.6 points per game and shot just 43.3 percent from the field (down from 51 percent in the regular season)
And with this, more and more responsibility shifted to Derrick Rose on the offensive side of the ball, until he couldn’t do enough and the Bulls fell in the conference finals.
What we learned
The Bulls have depth, especially at the power forward and center position. Asik, Gibson and Thomas can all step in and make you forget that Boozer is injured again, or that Joakim is being the biggest cheerleader on the bench (Alright, second biggest. Scalabrine was the biggest).
Many people thought Kurt Thomas had one foot in his basketball grave…O.K. most people thought he had two feet in his basketball grave and both hands on a sandwich, but he proved those people wrong. He can still hit open jumpers, rebound a little, bang bodies and give you six hard fouls. Kurt Thomas left his walker in the locker room and stepped up when Chicago needed a center.
We learned Omer Asik doesn’t just look like Linguini from Ratatouille. The rookie also played a bunch of minutes. His play was rewarded with a high price tag at the trade deadline. But for some Bulls fans possibly too high. Asik came in unproven and really showed he could be a solid back-up in this league for years to come, especially on the glass and on defense. I’d argue he could be a starter on a good amount of teams in this league.
Gibson’s numbers have fallen from last year, but again he is playing behind Boozer, and if Boozer’s history shows anything, it’s good to have a nice back-up at the power forward position. And Thibodeau loves defense, so Boozer’s inability to play that half of the game, paired with Taj’s tenacity on that end, bode well for his future with Chicago (see the playoffs for examples of Taj getting late-game minutes over Booz).
And for Carlos Boozer, we learned he is injury prone. There is no denying that Boozer is a good player when he’s on the court, but if he isn’t playing much, he will never live up to his contract.
A look ahead
Who knows if there will be any games this year, and if there are, it’s impossible to predict what the new CBA will look like. There has been a lot of talk about an amnesty clause. If that’s the case, will they get rid of Boozer and his huge contract, or give Boozington another chance? Could they possibly use it on someone else, such as Ronnie Brewer, as Bill Simmons suggested?
As of right now, Chicago has many of the same players on their roster, one dimensional big men and defensive-minded shooting guards. It’s impossible to predict what will have to change under the new CBA, but hopefully we’ll find out in the next few days. Or at least within the month of October.
Even though no one knows exactly what next season will hold, Bulls fans know a few things. They have the reigning MVP, a great coach, solid role players and awesome chemistry. They just don’t have a shooting guard that can shoot. Oh yeah, forgot about that minor problem.