STRONG POTENTIAL: The Story of Taj Gibson

There have been a lot of interesting stories this season.  Deng making a quiet but consistent return from injury.  The riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma that is Tyrus Thomas.  The relentlessness of Noah, the reemergence of Hinrich and Salmons, the reanimation of Miller, and the driving narrative of the ascendancy of Rose.  One of the quieter stories has been Taj's quiet play, but his performance this year as a twenty four year old rookie has caused me to rethink the way I think about potential.

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(January 28, 2010 - Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America)

There aren't very many 24 year old rookies to compare Taj with, but the obvious comparison, in this case, is also the most apt.  I'm talking about PJ Brown, who came into the league in 1993 as a 6'11" 225 pound rookie and left in 2008 as an NBA champion.  Here are their respective rookie year stats:

PJ Brown:

Season Age G GS MP FG FGA FG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1993-94 24 79 54 24.7 2.1 5.1 .415 .757 2.4 3.9 6.2 1.2 0.9 1.2 0.9 2.2 5.7

Taj Gibson (Through 45 games):

Season Age G GS MP FG FGA FG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2009-10 24 45 33 24.8 3.5 7.3 .485 .625 2.6 4.0 6.6 0.7 0.6 1.0 1.2 3.4 8.4

For the PER junkies out there, PJ finished at 12.2 while Taj is currently at 13.4.

What's my takeaway from these stats?  First off, I hope that Taj can have as long and productive a career as PJ Brown did.  But moreover, when I looked at the long arc of PJ's career and saw that he posted his best PER at 33 (17.6), I realized that evaluating a player's potential is much more than a rough calculation of a player's athletic ability divided by their age coming into the league. 

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(March 20, 2008 - Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America)

The mental aspect of becoming an expert at any task is probably the hardest to evaluate on a case by case basis but matters a lot-I don't think basketball players, writers, or anybody else ever stop learning about what they do.  In basketball, it is a race against time, as your increasing knowledge gets pitted against your aging body, but if one comes into the league mentally ready to learn, like Taj has done, they have a head start that might be hard for other players with more physical potential to ever catch up to.

Take James Johnson.  When comparing the two rookies physically, James is a much more intriguing specimen, and his skillset certainly has more upside.  But he has come into the league "with some assembly required", to say the least-he needs to understand how to play defense and develop his shot into a real threat before he can become a player that helps his team win.  Taj was ready to go out of the box and has played great defense as a rookie big.  If he hadn't been around when Tyrus broke his arm, this team would have been in even a deeper hole, but he has played well enough that I can call him a contributor and a good piece for the future with a straight face.

James Johnson could still catch Taj in the future, but for that to happen he'll have to play catch up by putting in  monstrous offseason of work on his game and coming back from the summer in great physical shape.  Taj already has momentum and has gotten solid minutes: all he needs to do is keep that momentum moving forward.

I'll admit, I was surprised by the pick on draft day.  I was hoping to hear Blair's name called at #26, and when Taj got picked instead it felt like a mistake.  But right now, I'd argue Taj is the better player for these Bulls.  Blair is a beast, but wouldn't be able switch on picks and defend like Taj and would have duplicated too much of what Noah does and where he likes to be on offense for the two of them to work in tandem.  With picks of Tyrus, Noah, Asik, and now Gibson, the Bulls seem to like their bigs to be long shotblockers and have favored footspeed over bulk and size.  With the Gibson pick at #26, it's looking like they got that one right.


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  • If Taj can put on muscle/weight(which at 24 now and the way he's built I think is a big if), but if he can with his post skills he could be a starting PF for the Bulls if they get their superstar from some other position SG/Wade etc. Taj has a baseline step back he shot very well in college which he hasn't even shown yet in the NBA. If he can hit that shot and use the defender's overplay to head fake to the rim that adds four points a night to his game right there. At No.26 you don't want to overestimate what he can do because their will still be some skepticism. But I think it's possible unless they get their 2010 FA at that position that he could be a successful starter for them at PF. If he can't add the 20 or so pounds of muscle though I'd say he remains solid but limited when he faces the big boys, and likely will be a foul saddled limited player.

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    In reply to SamS:

    I think Gar/Pax are going for a FA at shooting guard (Johnson) and Taj is a big reason why they feel comfortable doing that.

    A little too much might be made of the fact that he's a 24 yo rookie. He's still a rookie afterall. He hasn't gotten the chance to do significant weight training with a professional training staff like he will this off season.

    ANY rookie comes into the league with a rookie jump shot. Right now Taj needs a lot of time and space to make that shot at the elbow or else he back irons it every time. That's going to chance in the next year or two.

    More than anything though, his ethic is what the organization likes about him. He plays the right way and he shows up with effort every night. How many rookies can do that??

  • In reply to SamS:

    Being one of the 3 people who had Gibson at 26 before the draft, I am thrilled that he has played as well as he has. Of course, I didn't have Blair on the board at 26, and likely would not have passed on him a second time. Unfortunately, with the way Johnson has looked(think baby seal, sea lion, or walrus) Blair should have been the choice at 16, he would have added a nice dimension of brut force to the Bulls front line, and we would be a better team right now.

    However, I see Taj as a journeyman starter, not necessarily a true starting PF in the NBA. Then again that pretty much sums up PJ Browns career. Brown was apparently 2 inches taller than Taj which is no small thing as a power forward in the NBA.

    I still see Taj as more of a Joe Smith type player(maybe a little better shooter than PJ, but not as good on defense), which would be pretty solid for the 26th pick.

  • In reply to SamS:

    Forman said he was really surprised Taj was still there at 26. I guess now people can see why. I liked Taj and Marcus Thornton at 26. I still have serious doubts about Blair two or three years from now. I would not have taken the chance on him.

  • In reply to SamS:

    scary is that Taj still is raw. Imagine when he reaches his full potential.

  • You really have to hand it to GarPax on this one. This was not a popular pick on draft day (I remember reading some very violently angry things about the drafting of Taj when we drafted him), yet he's turned out to be one of the better rookies in the league. I'm still not entirely sold on him being a longterm starter, but he's absolutely a keeper.

  • In reply to WearShades:

    I agree GarPax really did well with this pick. Even if he doesn't improve that much he still would make a solid back-up at the 4.

    However, I can't believe how poorly JJ has played at times. Maybe its confidence thing with him Dougy T was drooling all over him and I trust what Doug says.

  • In reply to WearShades:

    do you really taj has significantly more potential ? I think he bulks up and learns the game in terms of offense/defense, and players in the league, that might be it for him. what's the limit for him? carl landry with defense?

  • In reply to WearShades:

    I really really like Taj and I think he could be a very good bench player for the Bulls for years. He could start but he wont be a great starter imo. If the rumors are true that Phoenix wants Kirk,Taj and Jerome James for Amare....Id do it in a heartbeat. I would deffinetly try to get them to bite on Tyrus before Taj though....but if it came down to Taj leaving or no trade....i would have to trade him.

  • In reply to WearShades:

    If the Bulls make the trade for AMare....your trade could pretty much be looking like this when next year comes around....

    Taj,Kirk,Jerome James FOR Amare,Joe Johnson....Gotta do that trade

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