Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer joined forces to form the Bulls front court duo two-and-a-half seasons ago. On paper, the pairing made a lot of sense. Joakim, the hustle guy, scores points off rebounds. He gives the team energy and doesn’t need plays called for him. Carlos, the scoring forward, can play pick-and-pop or with his back to the basket and would become the low post scorer Chicago had been waiting for. But they didn’t quite meshed liked the front office expected.
Carlos Boozer arrived in Chicago as the $75 million dollar, free agent booby prize in the summer of LeBron, Wade and Bosh. He got off on the wrong foot – pun intended – by tripping over a gym bag at home and missing two months with a broken pinkie. And, upon his return to the lineup, he saw his points and rebounds per game along with his field goal percentage dip from his final season in Utah. Instead of becoming the dominant secondary scorer to Derrick Rose, he scored points quietly and often times disappeared in the fourth quarter. This was reflected in a tremendous drop in Win Shares which went from 9.9 in the 09-10 season to 5.8 in his inaugural season in Chicago. Noah, mean while, continued his 10+ points, 10+ rebounds per game averages of seasons past but looked more comfortable when he shared the court with Taj Gibson, not Carlos Boozer. Noah and Gibson started side-by-side while Carlos recovered from his pre-season injury. Then, just two weeks after Boozer’s Bulls debut, Noah suffered a thumb injury which forced him to miss over two months himself. The two never established a rhythm playing together making the 2010-11 season a trying one for both of them. Last season, Joakim and Carlos played more than sixty games a piece but each of their numbers shrunk. Boozer ended the season averaging just 15 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while Noah’s rebounds were in the single digits for the first time in three seasons. With coach Thibodeau demanding reliability, smart play and defensive intensity, both players spent significant periods of fourth quarters on the bench watching backups Taj Gibson and Omer Asik close out games. Carlos had never been a forty-plus minutes per game player but the 2011-12 season saw his minutes per game dip lower than it had been since his rookie year. And Joakim’s poor conditioning forced him to the bench at times when the Bulls badly needed his defense and energy. Though last season provided them value time on-the-court together, the couple still lacked the cohesiveness we all anticipated from the moment Boozer signed with Chicago.
With Derrick Rose still recovering from a major ACL tear, Joakim and Carlos, along with Loul Deng, have found a way to help the Bulls thrive in a mediocre Eastern Conference. In their third season together, the two Bulls big men are playing well off each other and spend more time sharing front court minutes than ever before. Noah, on his way to his first All-Star appearance, finally looks comfortable running plays with Boozer and his improved conditioning has given him eight more minutes per game on the court, a huge jump from last year. Two other major reasons for the All-Star nod are the doubling of his assists per game and the two-plus blocks per game swats. He now understands when Carlos is going to cut to the basket or step back for an open jumper, upping those assist numbers. And – on the defensive end – he feels safer leaving his feet to block shots because Carlos has made some strides defensively. For his part, Carlos is snagging almost two more rebounds per game and is hitting his face up jump shot more consistently. He snapped up a player of the week award in January and has become a double-double machine. Boozer and Noah are finally sharing the court well and playing significant minutes together. As Rose readies himself to rejoin the team, Boozer and Noah will once again find themselves adapting to a fluctuating lineup. But look for both of them to adjust well and gel heading into the stretch run.