It was very sudden, realizing I hated Carlos Boozer. But I realized it about midway through the third quarter that I didn’t like Carlos Boozer and his approach to the game. It’s hyperbolic, obviously, even by the inflated standards for hyperbole in sports, but I stand by it: I don’t much appreciate Carlos Boozer.
It’s probably his statistics that make me feel that way. They look great: about 20 ppg on very efficient shooting (59.9 TS%) with a great rebound rate (19.4). But Boozer’s statistics are deceptive in a way that most basketball statistics aren’t; when you see Durant’s line, you say “oh that’s sick” and you’re absolutely right. And so people see Boozer’s line and assume and talk him up; Boozer looks like he sees his line and talks himself up.
Consider how he gets his points: he gets them from Deron Williams. He can’t really create shots against the length of the Los Angeles Lakers, and so he’s missed prolifically. But more revealing than his poor play is his attitude towards his poor play. Consider Utah’s sixth man, Paul Millsap. Millsap has the same general body type as Boozer and the same lift as Millsap, and so he too has had trouble against the Lakers. But Millsap has chosen to attack the Lakers, head-on, to get into the body of the big men. It’s a strategy that has resulted in fairly good production. Boozer, by contrast, has played afraid on the offensive end: the damning moment happened in the third quarter (I think) where Boozer received the ball on the baseline on the left side, maybe four feet outside the paint—Boozer immediately turned, faded away, and shot. Boozer had made up his mind that he was shooting, but had made up his mind to shoot in a way that he didn’t have much skill at. He was fearful, and worse, he was selfishly fearful. Boozer also has been prone to launching midrange jumpers with more arc than he usually does during this series, without considering other options, because…why? I don’t know, but it almost seems as if he’s afraid to acknowledge the weaknesses in his offensive game versus the Lakers.
Boozer’s behavior on the offensive end reinforces the intuition that he is unable to admit his weaknesses and deal with them. He’s shot a grand total of 5 free throws against 54 field-goal attempts; Millsap, by contrast, has taken 16 free throws against 35 field goal attempts, a much better ratio. Boozer seems to believe this shouldn’t be the case—he screams out every time he goes into the lane, whether or not a Laker has even thought about touching him, in the mistaken belief that he can somehow fool the refs into creating contact that doesn’t exist. At the end of the game, in the penultimate Utah possession, Boozer found himself with an offensive rebound: he elevated, and shot. He missed the shot. The first thing he did at the break of the possession was to slam the ball in anger on the floor and complain about not getting a call there. Well, Carlos, you’ve been complaining all night about the lack of calls in situations that don’t deserve calls—is it any wonder refs don’t want to reward the boy who cried Laker? Again, to me, this reinforces the idea that Boozer labors under a delusion: that he’s always fouled.
His defensive game has been a study in weakness. This exposé of Boozer’s help-side defense from Game 1 is the gold standard, but his defense was even worse in Game 4, in my opinion. The defining play for me is this: Shannon Brown and Pau Gasol were on the right side of the floor; Gasol was at the elbow, and Brown had the ball in the corner. Brown was dribbling, and Boozer went to cover the baseline, though Brown had never shown even the desire to go baseline. Brown, almost amused, snapped a pass over to Gasol, who, uncovered, hit the midrange jumpshot that’s one of his specialties (Hoopdata has Gasol’s ’09-’10 10-15 foot numbers as 44.2%; his ’08-’09 numbers are 52%). That play betrayed a lack of awareness on Boozer’s part as to the relative strengths of the personnel he was playing defense.
Moreover, another play occurred late in the fourth quarter. Boozer was guarding Gasol around ten feet from the basket on the left side. Gasol began to loop into the lane; Boozer was watching the ball and kept his hand on Gasol’s chest. This was fine; obviously touch is the time-honored way to keep track of a player while keeping your eye on the ballhandler. But the shot went up and Boozer never made an effort to touch Gasol with anything but his hand, i.e. he never boxed Gasol out! This was a critical possession in the fourth quarter and Boozer can’t summon the focus to do a fundamental basketball play on a player who’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the league! Furthermore, it was a play concerning one of the critical differences in the series for Utah: they can’t keep the Lakers’ size off of the boards. So, to make up for it, a player who’s determined to win will work all the harder by doing things like boxingyou’re your opponent while they’re ten feet away. Predictably, the shot rimmed out and Gasol tipped it home. In fact, Gasol’s maneuver—cutting around Boozer to the basket in a horseshoe shape—could only be attempted on a player prone to not making fundamental basketball plays. In a game won by one point, Boozer’s failure to do the right thing ultimately cost his team the game.
Plays like this can only be appreciated by watching closely and not watching the ball. In general, Boozer looks much better when you watch the ball—when he has the ball, it’s either because he’s going to try to score or is rebounding. He looks worse when you consider most of the game is played without the ball in your hands. Boozer will almost certainly be overpaid by some team that doesn’t pay attention, and I really hope it isn’t the Chicago Bulls. Because I hate players like him.