Last season was supposed to be the year of Taj Gibson. With Omer Asik gone, Bulls fans expected Taj to play 36 or so minutes a game to fill in a big man rotation that effectively was down to three players and Nazr Mohammed. Instead, the Bulls regularly implemented small ball and Nazr Mohammed.
Gibson was limited to a mere 22.1 minutes per game. The Bulls played 17.5 minutes per game of small ball or one of Nazr, Vlad, or Malcolm Thomas over the course of the season. Some of those 17.5 minutes were due to injuries when Gibson, Noah, or Boozer were out the Bulls certainly weren't going to play the other two for 48 minutes, but Taj's low minute total in games he played was disappointing.
Going into the season, Bulls fans were clamoring for Gibson to replace Boozer. We thought with more minutes Gibson would give us more, but he gave us more or less the same. And while being the same it was on the lesser side of the same rather than the more. His rebounding was a bit less which was surprising given that he was used to playing with a great rebounder like Asik who would take many of the boards.
His shooting percentages were done just a tiny bit, turnovers up a tiny bit, fouls up a tiny bit, nothing was a disaster, he just seemed more or less the same with a bit worse all around.
A scary point thought for Bulls fans is that Gibson's never matched the 26.9 minutes per game he played as a rookie. Granted, Asik and Boozer joining the team clearly have something to do with that, but the way was paved clear for him last year, and he didn't take it. Coaching mistake? Not good enough?
That could simply be the Rose factor. He was probably asked to create a few more shots which caused the few more turnovers, gave him a few lower percentage looks, and the opponent a few more fast breaks to cause a few more fouls. The Bulls went small frequently to get more scoring, because they lacked their dominant scorer as well.
Derrick Rose changes many things on the court, and compared to Luol Deng, his decline wasn't quite so scary. That said, with Bulls fans looking for Boozer's ouster next season, Taj Gibson needs to show quite a bit more this year. The Bulls need to find a way to get Gibson on the court for close to 30 minutes a game, and Gibson needs to find a way to manage the load, stay productive, and stay healthy.
That said, what can we expect from Taj Gibson this season? I hope he gave up on hitting threes and worked on nailing the mid range jumper. If you've spent a good deal of time shooting from the NBA three point line then you know the form for an NBA three is quite a bit different than the form for a mid range jumper.
The muscle memory is different, the effort is different, the arc is different. It's difficult to become a great three point shooter and a great mid range shooter. I think that's why we saw Derrick's mid range game drop off when he started shooting so many threes and why guys like Luol Deng struggle so much to take just two steps backwards.
Taj has told me he's been working on threes for two years now, and we've not seen his mid range game ever become solid enough. The Bulls need to pick a lane with Taj, and direct him during the off-season. Hopefully they did that this season and directed him to give up on the three and focus on the 12-16 footer.
I don't want Taj shooting long twos, but true mid range twos. The Udanis Haslem shot. It's there for him pretty frequently, and it's a shot he should be able to knock down 60-65% of the time if he he focused heavily on just nailing it from a few spots on the floor and developed the muscle memory from those locations.
Taj isn't going to ever create his own jumper, so getting him accustomed to just knocking down open jumpers from set locations is fine. He's always going to be the fall back option with that jumper to use only when open anyway, so it's not quite so important how predictable the location is if he can increase his accuracy.
That's not to say he can't look to expand his post up game or add a turn around fadeaway, the Bulls could certainly use Taj to become effective as an iso scorer when he gets a favorable matchup. It would stop teams from playing small against the Bulls and stacking the floor with shooters. However, the three point thing is too Tyrus Thomasy, the type of thing that sounds good in theory but has worked lousy in practice.
At 28 and starting the first year of a four year deal, Taj needs to define who he is and hone his offensive strengths rather than looking to expand his game into areas its unlikely to ever go. He needs to prove he can stay on the floor more, and Tom Thibodeau needs to give him the chance to be out there more.
It wasn't a total downer for Taj last year though, his defense was still tremendous. He still looks like one of the best defenders in the NBA to me. He's still versatile, can switch on to guards, defends the pick and roll well, helps at the rim, and generally provides max effort. He just needs to find enough quality offense that the Bulls can keep him on the floor while providing that quality defense.
We expected 30+ minutes of improved play from Taj last season. It didn't happen, but I still expect it this season. Let's see if he gives it to us.
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