How Boozer Fits With Lakers, Julius Randle
On the surface, the Los Angeles Lakers' acquisition of Carlos Boozer doesn't make a lot of sense. At 32 and going into his 13th season in the NBA, Boozer is on his last legs. He's going from starter on a good team to starter on a bad team and there’s little chance he makes it back. If he plays on a contender again, it will be as a reserve. The Lakers are signing Boozer to put up empty numbers while blocking the development of Julius Randle, the No. 7 overall pick in the draft.
However, as weird as it might seem at first glance, Boozer could be the perfect veteran mentor for a young PF like Randle. His steep decline with the Chicago Bulls, as well as his hefty contract, has masked how good a player he was in his prime. Boozer is a two-time All-Star with a gold medal on his resume who has made over $125 million dollars in the NBA. Not many guys taken at No. 7 end up with that type of career, much less ones who fall all the way to No. 34.
For all his flaws, it's hard to consider Boozer's career anything but a resounding success. Once you get out of the first round, NBA teams are just hoping to find guys who can stick in the league and possibly crack a rotation. Glen Davis, the No. 35 overall pick in 2007, has had an excellent career for a second round pick and he's never been able to hold down a starting job. Boozer was a starter on two teams who made the Conference Finals - the 2007 Jazz and the 2011 Bulls.
Despite averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds a game on 66% shooting as a junior at Duke, Boozer fell in the 2002 draft because of concerns about his tools. At 6’9 260, he had only average size for an NBA PF and he didn’t have the type of exceptional athleticism that would allow him to make up for it. The odds were stacked against him - he entered the league without a guaranteed contract and had to earn his way onto the roster, much less the starting line-up.
After two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boozer signed with the Utah Jazz in fairly controversial fashion and immediately became one of the building blocks for an up-and-coming team. In his first season with the Jazz, he averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds on 52% shooting. From 2006-2010, Utah was one of the best teams in the NBA. They won an average of 51 games a year, got out of the first round three times and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2007.
The Jazz were one of the main reasons why Tracy McGrady never made it out of the first round, as they knocked a 50+ win Rockets team out of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. With Boozer and Mehmet Okur, Utah had two big men who could make it rain 20+ feet from the basket and drag Yao Ming out of the paint. Since they ran so much of their offense through the post, it negated Houston's ability to defend on the perimeter with McGrady, Shane Battier and Ron Artest.
Those Jazz teams aren't remembered that well because they had a stumbling block of their own - the Lakers. As effective as Boozer was when matched up with a slower defender like Yao, there was little he could do against a frontcourt duo as long, skilled and athletic as Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. L.A. beat Utah in the playoffs three years in a row - they gave the Jazz problems upfront with the power game (Bynum and Gasol) and with the speed game (Gasol and Odom).
Against elite competition, Boozer's physical limitations were exposed. The same happened in 2011, when the Bulls were the No. 1 seed and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Boozer wasn't quite big or athletic enough to dominate the Heat's undersized front-line. If Derrick Rose had stayed healthy and they had gotten another chance at the Big Three, the Bulls likely would have closed games with Taj Gibson, a much better defender than Boozer.
Boozer never had Randle's physical tools - he was only as successful as he was because he was a fundamentally sound player, at least on the offensive side of the ball. In his prime, Boozer was automatic from mid-range and was very effective with his back to the basket. He didn't make the game any harder on himself than necessary and he knew how to leverage his strength to create good looks at the basket. These are things Randle will need to learn as he tries to navigate the NBA paint.
Like most college big men, Randle will have a big adjustment process at the next level. He goes from big fish in a small pond to a medium sized fish in an ocean. For the first time in his life, he will no longer be one of the biggest players on the floor. He might have seen a half-dozen NBA caliber big men at Kentucky - he will see that many in a weekend in the NBA. He needs a more consistent jumper and he needs to learn how to finish with his right hand around the basket.
These aren't things that will happen for him overnight, which isn’t a huge deal. Randle is only 19 - if he had stayed four years in school, he would have been in the 2017 draft. The Lakers don't need to put a ton of pressure on him in the first few months of his career. Playing him behind an established veteran like Boozer will force him to earn his way on the floor and it will give his coach the leeway to bench him if he's not doing the right things or developing good habits.
Unless the Lakers are contending for a playoff spot in March and April, Randle will eventually get as much floor time as he can handle as a rookie. There's no need to force-feed him minutes on a bad team in November and December. Boozer is 32 and Randle is 19 - Randle was in first grade when Boozer entered the league. There's a lot he could learn from him, both on and off the court. And if Randle learns a few things, this season won't be a total waste for the Lakers.