Starting Carlos Boozer at small forward on opening night (as is rumored) is a creative way for the Lakers to fill a hole. Boozer can binge score. He has a nice turn around jumper. He can catch at three feet and arc a floater. He has decent footwork and is not hampered by the various injuries that plagued Pau Gasol.
But Carlos Boozer is not a small forward in the way that really matters. He is not athletic. He is not a leaper. He can’t put the ball on the floor and dribble by his man. At the rim he can’t rise and dunk. He is an average passer asking to be an impressive passer. Paired with Julius Randle who likes to create off the dribble and find open teammates Boozer will be the recipient of Randle’s foray into the paint as long as he is not past 12 feet. And that is the main Carlos Boozer problem. He is a power forward being asked to forget he is a power forward. He is being asked to forget the first 11 years of his career.
Carlos Boozer, at 6-8, and without much length is a strong rebounder. Last year he had his shot blocked 96 times. Nevertheless the Lakers plan to match Boozer against the best small forwards in the Western Conference such as Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Nic Batum and Chandler Parsons. They expect Boozer to be the recipient of Kobe Bryant double teams, free in the corner when he hasn’t attempted a corner 3 in a decade.
Even as all of that is true and it seems like a ridiculous idea- Carlos Boozer at the 3- the thought behind this Lakers experiment falls in line with how the NBA is evolving. Positions are less relevant than players on the floor. In that sense the Lakers want to slot in their 5 best players as starters and then fill in the blanks as the game goes on.
Carlos Boozer was an All-Star. He is a proven player at the power forward position, but his is an old school game in a young explosive league. Still, Boozer averaged 14 points last season, playing 28 minutes. There is no reason to expect anything different since Boozer has never scored less than double figures in his 11 year career. With Jeremy Lin as a starting point guard driving in the paint Boozer will be a valuable asset in catch and shoot possessions, someone who won’t be double teamed and who Lin can find easily.
When Carlos Boozer tallies his six or seven minutes in the first quarter Nick Young or Wes Johnson will enter. The tempo and energy of the game will change. The slow pace of the starters will translate into an open court game with Nick Young, Xavier Henry and Jordan Clarkson. So in effect the Lakers will have two teams that play two separate styles: old and slow, quick and reckless.
Friday, at his press conference, Carlos Boozer admitted how difficult it was for him not to play in key 4th quarter moments during last season. The strategy of Tom Thibodeau may be the same strategy as Byron Scott. The truth is the Lakers best athletic team has Boozer on the bench.
Byron Scott warned that this team better be ready to play defense. It’s a sound bite welcomed in these parts after the defensive disaster of Mike D’antoni. But the practical application is one in which eyes roll. Who exactly can Carlos Boozer guard at the small forward? Matched up against more explosive players they’ll just dribble around him. Or elevate over him with a three point shot. Is Boozer comfortable on the perimeter for much of the game? Players are habitual creatures and he is being asked to do something he has never done before.
How is that any different than what Mike D’antoni asked of Pau Gasol? D’antoni was vilified for it, for forcing Gasol to play a position he was not comfortable playing and marginalizing what Pau could do well. Boozer is a player who stays in the paint and who doesn’t block shots or protect the rim.
The Lakers had a chance at a small forward in free agency but if they couldn’t get Carmelo Anthony they decided to make do with last year’s mediocrity. Wes Johnson had bright spots on defense last year but he made mental mistakes as he relied on his athleticism instead of footwork and fundamentals. Nick Young improved under Kobe’s mentorship but still had huge lapses defensively even as his scoring was a career best.
Of course D’antoni was a huge problem with what player’s did last year. D’antoni never saw himself as a teacher of defensive principles. As a young player D’antoni remembered being picked apart for his weak habits during his brief NBA run. So he came into the Lakers organization with a certain philosophy that did not include making player’s answerable to a host of many wrongs. There were no punishments for missed assignments, sleepwalking through games and just generally screwing up.
That is not Byron Scott’s style. One of the reasons the Lakers hired him was because he makes players accountable. He believes in discipline and structure and insists there is a certain way to do things: his way. Byron is married to the idea that Lakers basketball is a religious experience that must be taught first, and then felt, and then executed.
So how long will it be before Byron Scott discovers that Carlos Boozer at the small forward position is like covering a surgical wound with a band-aid. The bleeding keeps coming and coming.