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Sam: Much ado about Bulls' Boozer

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Sam: Much ado about Bulls' Boozer

Saturday, April 23, 2011
Posted: 12:25 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLISThe only thing I care about is winning, Carlos Boozer explained. I dont care about the rest of it.

That should say it all. Not that hes apathetic, but despite the five-year, 76-million contract he signed in the offseason, it should now be obvious that the power forward simply isnt concerned about his production.

Actually, lets amend that assertion. Boozer would certainly like to play betterand so would his teammates, coaches and legion of Bulls fansbut hes come to understand that his play doesnt dictate the teams success.

Sure, hes bothered by the criticism. Who wouldnt be?

But in reality, the Pacers are devoting significant attention to Chicagos second-most established scorer and as long as he commands double teams and is a presence on the glass, Boozer is helping the Bulls win.

I liked the way he persevered. It was a tough game; foul trouble. I like the way he rebounded. He made the big shot late on the post move and things werent going his way, but he hung tough, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau after Thursdays Bulls win. Thats what you have to do in the playoffs. Theres a lot of things you have to get through. Theres adversity, sometimes calls arent going your way, sometimes youre in foul trouble, sometimes youre missing shots you normally make. You have to go through all that and then you still have to get things done in the end, and you have to have the belief you can get it done and he does.

I thought Carlos played very well. Rebounded the ball well, the ball went into the post, he had a big score late, he had three assists. He had the kick-out to Kyle, got us a wide-open three. Hes got to try to avoid foul trouble. Thats the thing thats taking him out of rhythm a little bit, but hes got to stay aggressive. Hes been in a lot of playoff games. He knows what he has to do, Thibodeau said Friday, a statement that probably has folks thinking he watched a different game. Its part of the responsibility when youre one of the best players on the team. That goes with the territory. Hes handled it extremely well. I thought he showed great poise in the fourth quarter. It wasnt going his way early, but he stayed the course, kept fighting. People collapse on him in the post. You have to, you do. You leave him single coverage, hes going to score.

The thing for Carlos is he just has to play. You guys worry about all that other stuff. Hes got to play to get his job done. Hes got to do what hes got to do for us, so if hes rebounding the ball, running the floor, getting deep post-ups, screening well, he doesnt have to score big points to play well. If theyre good shots and theyre his shots and hes missing them, thats part of the game. Hes still got to do all the other things to help the team win, so you have to have the ability to do well when youre not shooting well.

Thats par for the course for the predictable coach, who rarely criticizes his players publiclyand even then, hell only deliver a mild rebukebut Boozers teammates, although they could be biting their tongues, offered opinions in the same vein.

Carlos is fine, said Joakim Noah. Overall, Carlos is getting the ball where he wants it and its just a matter of time. Hes a very gifted player.

We expect big things from Carlos.

Echoed Derrick Rose: Hes going to find his way. Youve got to understand, theyre putting size on him and theyre doubling, so its going to be tough. Shots that he normally hits, he wasnt hitting Thursday, but rebounding, he was there. He just kept fighting.

Still, Boozer wasnt brought in to simply be a decoy. His defensive shortcomings would perhaps be more acceptable if he was putting up the 20-and-10 numbers expected of him, but that just hasnt been the case against a young, long and athletic Indiana frontcourt that smothered him for the better part of this first-round matchup.

In a physical series, foul trouble has been a convenient explanationit would be an excuse if the Bulls had dropped a game or twofor his offensive woes.

Tell me about it, Boozer responded when asked about the tight officiating. It throws your rhythm off a little bit, but for the most part, Ive been able to bounce back and do well, and were winning.

At the end of the day, all you can do is play. Youve got to be able to play through that kind of stuff. Sometimes the refs let you play, sometimes they call it tight, he continued. Its the playoffs. You cant sit down and worry about it.

You go on the road, things arent going to go easy for you. Youre not going to get the same calls you did at home; youve got to play through it.

Against the Pacers, as feisty as they may be, he gets a pass. As the postseason goes on, Boozer better heed his own advice and elevate his game or his season-long honeymoonthrough multiple injuries, seeming indifference on defense and inconsistent offensive productionmight just come to an end.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Shaquille Harrison could improve the efficiency of Bulls bottom five defense

Shaquille Harrison could improve the efficiency of Bulls bottom five defense

The Phoenix Suns released guard Shaquille Harrison last week, and although it is not a move that will send shockwaves through the league, the Bulls picking up Harrison could be the exact type of move to help solve what ails them.

At 6-foot, 4-inches and with a long wingspan, Harrison would step in and likely be at least the second-best perimeter defender on the team behind Kris Dunn. And he is the type of player, when combined with a talent like Wendell Carter Jr. and/or Dunn, could help form the type of lineup that could have a transformative effect on the overall team defense.

Last season Harrison had a defensive rating of 109, this despite the fact that the Sun—as a team—had a defensive rating of 113.51, over four points worse than when Harrison was on the floor.

His best skill is his ability to “get skinny” around a screener, meaning that on defense, Harrison is adept at angling his body to get around players trying to screen him off his man:


The Bulls need more players who show Harrison’s effort level when navigating screens on defense, not just because it will make life easier on their rim protectors, but because they also need to make sure they continue adding players who lead by example on that end of the floor. A team as young as the Bulls needs to collect young talent who pride themselves on defense, and Harrison fits the part.

When it comes to offense, Harrison doesn’t have the most impressive profile, but his play on that end of the floor is similar to former Bull David Nwaba. Harrison is not even an average 3-point shooter  (23.1 percent from 3-point range), but he makes up for it in other ways.

His rebounding is an area of strength, and fitting in with his preference to bring physicality to his matchup, he is adept at getting to the free throw line.

Last year Harrison’s 30.6 percent free throw attempt rate would’ve been a top-five mark on the Bulls. But his low usage rate (18 percent) will likely be lower in Chicago, so the free throw numbers may fall. But with so many score-first players on the roster, Harrison will still be able to crash the glass against the many guards who forget to box out their man.

Offensive rebounding will be less of a focus for a Bulls team that wants to preach getting back on transition defense, but Harrison gives Fred Hoiberg a special player that can do both. Harrison will run back on defense to help create the “shell” that the best teams create to cut off easy forays to the rim, and then when his team gets the ball back and is on the fastbreak, he brings value as the “trailer” (trailing man on a fastbreak) even without shooting ability:

This signing could end up being a big one for the Bulls, however small it may seem now.

Around the league, more and more teams are starting to invest resources in multiple ball-handler offenses that negate the differences between point guard and shooting guard, making versatile back court defenders a must.

This will be evident when the Bulls take on the Dallas Mavericks in game No. 3 of the regular season, as Rick Carlisle's Mavericks feature Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic in an explosive offense that doesn't have a defined "lead" guard.

The Bulls will continue to attempt to curtail offense with a high-scoring back court duo when they take on the Charlotte Hornets in a back-to-back on October 26 and 27. If Harrison is worked into the rotation by then, expect to see Harrison and Dunn on the floor together to match up with Doncic and Smith respectively, but have the flexibility to switch defensive assignments on the fly. If Chicago's perimeter defense starts to offer significantly more resistance, it will allow quicker improvement from Carter and the rest of the Bulls bigs on the interior.

With Zach LaVine currently in the top-five in the NBA in points per game, Dunn returning and Lauri Markkanen getting healthy, the Bulls front office is slowly approaching the point where their team has enough players who are considered possible focal points of an offense.

To become a championship contender, you need to have that one player who is unequivocally a superstar capable of a heavy workload, and only time will tell if the Bulls already have that player or need to acquire him. But the other important factor in building a championship roster is having the elite-level role players who do the little things that make life easier for their teammates in all phases of the game, and Shaq Harrison is excellent prospect who fits that exact mold.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.