A year ago, Bulls fans were pretty excited about locking Taj Gibson up at the price of 8-9.5 million per season. After watching Taj play last season and seeing the current market play out, what do we think about Gibson's deal now?
On the surface, the one thing that makes the deal look a bit worse to me is that the market this summer seemed far less generous to role players than it had in the past. Whatever we think about Gibson's impact coming off the bench, the fact remains he played 22.4 minutes a game last year for a team fighting injuries all season long and missed 17 games in the process.
Taj has played only about 20 minutes per game the past three seasons and despite that fairly limited workload has constantly been playing through injuries as he's suffered knee and foot problems. He definitely doesn't look like a player you could throw out there for 30 minutes a night if you wanted to.
Taj also lacks much in terms of offensive punch. He's not the type of player you can leave completely alone as he's quick to go up for the dunk and can finish inside when given a lane, and if given a mismatch against a small player he's good enough down low to take advantage. He's got a jumper that he'll take if given to him, but he doesn't knock it down at a clip that really frightens anyone.
He's certainly not giving you as much as Carl Landry offensively, and Landry just signed for 4/26.
It's hard to judge Gibson on the glass. His numbers are certainly not poor, and he's always excelled getting offensive rebounds. His defensive rebounding numbers have never been particularly good, but the Bulls as a team never suffer from poor rebounding while he's on the floor. The lack of defensive rebounding numbers seems as much to do with playing next to greater rebounders as it does his own effort, especially given the success of the team rebounding.
He's a tremendous shot blocker and rim protector and that's where Gibson's really earning his keep. There aren't many big men in the league with his mobility, timing, and length. Despite standing just 6'9, Gibson's one of the more dynamic shot blocking forces in the NBA. Beyond blocking plenty of shots, he plays tremendous fundamental defense, defends the pick and roll very well, makes great decisions when helping, plays well in transition, and can probably defend any position on the court in bursts off a switch.
Given more minutes, Taj Gibson's probably a 2nd team all defense caliber player.
If Gibson were a perimeter player that'd probably be worth about 3-4 million a year. The NBA doesn't pay perimeter defenders. However, on the interior? That's worth some serious coin. Taj doesn't merely have the responsibility of defending his man, because an interior defender is your last line of defense. He's the guy stopping the opponent from getting those high percentage shots.
The importance of interior defense is why guys like Drew Gooden and Carlos Boozer can kill a team despite putting up solid offensive numbers, spacing the floor, and scoring in a number of ways. Having a poor interior defender improves the offensive ability of every other player on the team not just the one that man is defending.
The free agent market looked depressed this year, but that was partially due to the talent. There were also no comparable players to Taj available. The only shot blocker out there was Josh Smith who scored 14 million a season, but that wasn't based on his shot blocking ability, so the comparison clearly isn't valid.
In short, if the Bulls looked to trade Taj now, it's difficult to say whether other teams would view him as being on a good deal or not. My guess is that he still carries positive value, particularly for a market with pedestrian desirability that would have a hard time luring a player over a more desirable market.
It does make a difference in how easily Taj's incentives can be reached as well. 9.5 million per year is quite a bit more than eight in terms of valuation. That said, if Gibson can stay generally healthy, increase his minutes a bit, and simply continue to do what he's doing, the deal still looks pretty good for the Bulls to me and one they could likely easily exit if they needed to.