I could only chuckle when I first read the story about Carlos Boozer's New Year's resolution to play better. Even though he was currently in the middle of a pretty solid stretch, I couldn't believe that something as simple as a statement like that would make Boozer, the bane of Chicago's existence the past couple of years, magically turn back the clock and become a consistent dominant force.
I'm not laughing now.
Since the New Year, Boozer has had a renaissance, playing his best basketball as a member of the Bulls. We saw the big man at his best in the win over the Raptors, scoring 36 points on an extremely efficient 16-of-24 shooting while also pulling down 12 rebounds. He attacked the basket early and often, getting a bunch of easy buckets and setting the tone for a great Bulls start. His 17 points in the first quarter were his most ever in a quarter in a Bulls uniform, and his 36 overall points were his most ever as a Bull. The only real squabble I had about his performance was that he disappeared at times down the stretch, but that certainly wasn't all his fault.
The double-double that Boozer notched against the Raptors was his Eastern Conference leading 21st of the year, and his 2013 resurgence has some people talking All-Star Game. I personally don't think Boozer deserves an All-Star nod just based on a couple strong weeks of play, because his play in 2012 was mostly crap.
However, Boozer truly has been amazing in 2013, and he has shown an effectiveness that I really didn't think he still had in him. The Boozer we have seen the past couple of weeks is the one that we've all been waiting for, and while he still must show this over the long haul and in the playoffs, there's certainly plenty of reasons to be encouraged.
So far in eight games in January, Boozer is averaging 24.0 points and 10.8 rebounds on a sterling 55.9 percent from the field. He has double-doubles in all but one of those games. And even more encouraging is the fact that he's getting to the line over six times per game this month, which is way above what he has ever been at with the Bulls. In 2010-11, Boozer went to the line 4.1 times per game, and he saw that number plummet to a puny 2.1 times per game last season. And not only is Boozer getting to the line more this month, but he's making 81.6 percent of his attempts.
The increase in free throws signals an increase in overall aggressiveness, which is something we've been pining for from Boozer. Also proving that he has been more aggressive is the increase in shots taken closer to the basket. According to Basketball-Reference.com, 64 of Boozer's 136 shots this month have come from three feet out or closer. In November, only 49 of 167 shots came from three feet or closer. That number moved up to 66 in December, but it was still out of 193 shots, so the rate was much lower than it is so far this month.
Boozer's improved play hasn't been limited to the offensive end. While he still has those Boozer-y defensive lapses, he seems to have at least tried to make more of a commitment on the defensive end of the floor. It shows in the Bulls' defensive rating with Boozer on the court, which is down several points to a much more respectable 100.7 according to NBA.com. Boozer's net rating is also now just -1.0, far better than it was earlier in the season. It's also quite interesting to note that according to Synergy, Boozer is giving up just 0.75 PPP, which is 39th in the NBA. Last season, Boozer was ranked 302nd in overall PPP allowed. Pretty remarkable.
Now, there's obviously no guarantees Boozer is able to keep this up. There's always the possibility that he tanks again in the postseason and we all go back to hating him. But if he doesn't, and Derrick Rose comes back reasonably healthy, the Bulls will be set up for a really nice run. I'm not going to make any grandiose statements about beating the Heat, but things certainly could get interesting.