Stat: When paired with reserve Taj Gibson rather than starter Carlos Boozer, Derrick Rose’s +/- per 36 minutes raises almost four points to +11.1. In that same vein, Rose’s number with Gibson on the bench compared to Boozer is almost three points fewer at +6.8.
Take: The Bulls have the best quartet of bigs in the league and it’s hardly worth arguing. That much has been clear since last season when Gibson teamed with rookie Omer Asik to form a defensively dominant pair of reserves behind Boozer and Joakim Noah.
Since signing a massive free agent contract in that fateful summer of 2010, Boozer’s often been the scapegoat for Chicago’s lack of individual firepower behind Rose. He was one of the NBA’s best post scorers during his time in Utah, and the Bulls no doubt acquired him with that in mind to help take pressure off of Rose and give him a worthy pick and roll partner. Obviously, Boozer hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations he set as a member of the Jazz despite subtle improvements he’s made in 2012.
Boozer’s relatively underwhelming play – combined with the consistently elite defense and often spectacular acrobatics of Gibson – has led some to believe Chicago is better off with the latter on the floor as opposed to the former. Using the eye-test this makes some sense; Gibson’s superior athleticism gives him defensive versatility Boozer can’t come close to matching, and offensively he’s a more active offensive rebounder and aggressive cutter. Still, we obviously need more than subjective analysis to confirm this suspicion, which is where today’s stats come into play.
Chicago’s awesome bench has long yielded fantastic +/- numbers, so using basic five-man unit statistics to prove the Bulls are better off with Gibson doesn’t make much sense. What does is comparing how Derrick Rose’s numbers are affected by the presence and absence of these guys, because no matter what the analytics say he’s going to play a huge amount of minutes (provided his health, of course).
And that’s where Gibson really outshines Boozer. Rose’s season-long plus/minus – regardless of who he’s playing with – is a robust +7.9 per 36 minutes. With Boozer playing that total drops by .6 points while it ascends by 3.2 points when he’s paired with Gibson. Just as telling is the net +/- Rose accumulates in relation to whether or not Boozer/Gibson is on the floor or on the bench. Rose and Boozer? -2.4. Rose and Gibson? +4.3.
Obviously there are other factors at play here (teammates, opponent, etc.), but these relatively raw advanced stats paint a clear picture that Rose – and therefore the Bulls – is better off with Gibson than he is Boozer. This will no doubt prove interesting to watch in the playoffs, as often this season coach Tom Thibodeau has opted to close games with his reserve bigs as opposed to his starters. One imagines that scenario might play out even more over the next two months, especially when Chicago inevitably runs into Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals and they need a mobile four man to help contain LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.