When he stepped onto the NBA court for the first time as a 24-year old rookie, many were quick to write off potential, and labelled Gibson as a player who was who he was.
But is that mindset accurate? While it's usually correct that older rookies carry a lower ceiling than a 19-year old fresh out of a one-and-done in college, does it necessarily put them in a situation where they simply cannot get better?
Gibson will begin his second season here in October. His minutes could see a decline with All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer in the fold, and veteran Kurt Thomas scrapping his way to some playing time. Then again, Gibson was not expected to have that kind of impact last season. Drafted as the 26th pick in the draft, the expectations were limited and most focused on forward James Johnson, the versatile combo-forward out of Wake Forest. Yet, Gibson earned the starting power forward spot and helped the Bulls into the playoffs.
As brilliant as the Boozer signing was for the Bulls, there is still some risk involved. Having missed large parts of NBA seasons before, Boozer is a candidate to go down and miss extended time. In such a scenario, Gibson can be inserted immediately into the starting unit and drastically limit the decline in rebounds, while actually improving the defense.
Gibson understood how to make an NBA roster. He moved without the basketball, didn't force up bad shots, played as hard defense as he possibly could, worked hard in practice and got on the glass. He played as something he was; a role player. He understood that role, and accepted it right off the bat.
At 25, why should Gibson's work ethic hinder him in developing further? During the early stages of last season, Gibson struggled on the glass. He didn't fight through contact, couldn't maintain his box-out position and was often seen flat-footed on rebound attempts. But slowly this changed, and he ended up grabbing 7.5 rebounds per night in just under 27 minutes a game. He understood a limitation, and worked to make it a strength.
Already in pre-season of last year, Gibson surprised with his mid-range jumpshot. It's a common goal for power forwards to have a 15-17 foot jumper in their arsenal, and Gibson showed just that. Shooting 44.8% from the 10-15 feet area and 37% from 16-23 feet (decent for a rookie power forward), Gibson punished the defense when they packed it in against All-Star point guard Derrick Rose. It's far from unusual to see pivot men improve their jumpshots, which again questions why Gibson shouldn't be able to also.
Listed at 6'9 and 225 pounds, Gibson isn't the prototypical big forward. But he doesn't show any signs of this. Often overlooked is an athleticism which has helped him guard bigger and stronger players. And don't forget the cross-over blow-by and downright dirty slam on Clippers center Chris Kaman, which definitely required quick feet and some vertical leap.
The Bulls currently could stand to see some shooting improvement, and not just from behind the arc. If Gibson could further improve his jumpshooting from 15 feet and out, it is entirely possible that he will somehow find a way to get a solid 25 minutes a night, even with arguably the best big duo in the Eastern Conference in Joakim Noah and Boozer.
When Houston Rockets power forward Luis Scola hit the league, he was the most accomplished big man in Europe at that time, and he was 27 years old. Still, his numbers and efficiency improved every year, and now at age 30, he's good for 16 points and almost 9 rebounds in just 32 minutes a game. Gibson would clearly not get the necessary minutes or role to become such a player, but their situations are not entirely unsimilar.
In fact, just look at Turkish big man Omer Asik, who has Bulls fans drooling for his potential. Asik will be 24 years old to start the season, which is the same age Gibson was last year.
Not only does Gibson have the physical tools and fundamentals to improve. He has defensive talents that few players his age has. What's lacking is the ability to create his own shot in the post. Despite that, Gibson still nailed a solid 9 points a game his first year and is fully capable of running towards the ball and spotting up from mid-range. As an offensive rebounder, he also puts in the ball off missed plays as he's hitting 57.6% at the rim.
It is entirely possible that potential is in the eye of the beholder, as well as through hype. Asik and Scola were hyped, and little footage exsisted of them. Gibson was on national TV during his college days and access to his highlight reels were fairly easy to come by. It's a common problem with college players and scouts. When they get to see a player long enough, they start finding faults. Those faults can overlook the positives the player brings, and Gibson was no exception of this.
Playing next to Memphis guard O.J. Mayo and Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan at USC in separate seasons, Gibson was overlooked due to lack of flash the other two provided. He was considered a clean-up guy. Someone who filled in and didn't complain about shots. Even when his role changed to accommodate Mayo, he didn't make a fuss. He was the limited player who could be taken in the second round, and no one would care.
Now, this label is moving on. Making the All-Rookie 1st team will do that. Silencing doubters will do that. Standing above the expectations of the vast majority of basketball fans, will do that.
Last year, Gibson went above and beyond to show he was 'more'. This year he will try to prove he's in fact capable of exceeding that.