By Shawn Muller–

The biggest question Bulls fans had about Carlos Boozer, after Chicago acquired the talented power forward via a sign-and-trade deal with the Utah Jazz back in July, was not his ability to perform on the basketball court. After all, the two-time all-star and Olympic gold-medalist has averaged just over 17 points and 10 rebounds per game in his eight year NBA career.

The concern about Carlos Boozer was his inability to stay healthy. During the last six seasons with the Utah Jazz, Boozer missed a total of 138 games. That is almost two full seasons. So when news surfaced that Boozer would miss the first two months of his tenure with the Bulls due to a broken pinkie, Bulls fans had every right to be a little suspect of their big off-season acquisition.

That was then…this is now.

In just his fourth game back from injury, Carlos Boozer is already showing Chicago fans just how important he is to the Bulls chances of making a deep run come playoff time.

After scoring 5 points in his Bulls debut last week against the Orlando Magic, Boozer has seen his production rise steadily with each game, scoring 12 and 25 points, respectively, in the following two contests against the Celtics and the Rockets.

Last night, however, was his coming out party as a member of the Bulls.

Boozer scored 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Chicago’s 99-90 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at the United Center. But it wasn’t just individual stats that made Boozer’s night so impressive: it was his mere presence that impacted the entire team.

There is no way the Bulls win a game like they did last night without Carlos Boozer in the lineup. If I were to tell you Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah were to have a game in which they combined to score just 17 points (like they did last night), and the Bulls wouldn’t miss a beat, you would probably think I am crazy. But that is exactly what happened.

Kyle Korver and Luol Deng were able to get open looks from the outside due to Boozer’s ability to score in the post and create double-teams. That would not have happened if Boozer were not in the lineup. As important as Joakim Noah is to the Bulls, I just don‘t think this would have been the case.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think Noah has done a great job up to this point in the season and is worthy of all-star consideration. You cannot argue with the positive impact he has had on the floor. He is averaging a career high in points (14.9) and rebounds (12.2) on the year. All that is great, and nobody is happier than I am with the way Noah has played, but Noah doesn’t command the same type of attention as Boozer does in the post: not yet anyway.

Having Boozer healthy and available allows the Bulls the wiggle room that they just did not have before his return. The burden of the entire team rested squarely on the shoulders of the young Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and a resurgent Luol Deng. The team could not afford to have off-nights by one, let alone two, of those three and expect to come out on top.

That is no longer the case with Boozer in the lineup.

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