While Nikola Mirotic brought tears of joy to millions of Bulls fans worldwide during the regular season, his playoff performance too has brought tears, only stemming from a very different place. His PER of 6.0 and TS% of .377 makes the 18.8 minutes he receives a night a major negative for the Bulls overall, especially given that his primary weapon of choice this series, the three-pointer, isn't dropping (4-for-14 for 28%).
Now, I could go a long rant about Mirotic playing out of position, but even when playing the four, he's not looked good against Milwaukee's defenders and long wingspans. Seriously, those guys are pterodactyls, so it's hard to blame him. But with things being as they are, it might be time to notch up Taj Gibson's minutes a bit.
I mentioned a while back that these Bucks could be beat by role reversal, meaning defense. Their offensive abilities are nothing to write home about as is evident this series where, as a team, they're shooting 39.7% from the field. In fact, only one player on their roster is making over 45% of his shots, John Henson, and he has taken just 38 total shots over the first five games. He, along with Jared Dudley, are the lone Bucks players with a TS% above .500 - a number that in itself is significantly below league average.
A slimmed down rotation of Noah, Gasol, Dunleavy, Butler, Rose, Gibson, Snell, and Brooks with Mirotic sitting one out, might be just what the doctor ordered to get the job done in Milwaukee. Gibson himself is the most vocal player on the Bulls when it comes to the team not playing hard, or believing they can get by on merit. He's livid about this development, which quite frankly is another reason this might work. A pissed off Taj Gibson on a mission to assert himself defensively is definitely an asset, and one with potentially enormous impact.
So what exactly does Gibson bring to the table? For one, he's an excellent rim protector and shot-blocker. Unlike Gasol, Gibson moves quickly and efficiently, which makes his defensive rotations sharper and more impactful. Coincidentally, his presence allows Gasol to maximize his efforts as a shot-blocker, seeing as Gibson can switch onto smaller players and contest their drives to the basket, while leading them Gasol's, or Noah's, way. While Milwaukee presents a lot of length, they have yet to utilize this offensively on a permanent basis, which only adds to Gibson's influence. Neither Henson or Giannis Antetokounmpo are players who leave soft shots on the rim that finds it way in. On the contrary, both take forceful shots that are inclined to hit off the rim harder, and with more challenge from Gibson, than say Mirotic, those shots become almost impossible to make, removing length altogether from the equation.
Offensively, Gibson isn't the best weapon admittedly. He's not a long-range shooter, and he does struggle with length himself. But what he does offer is attention on the low blocks. Whereas Antetokounmpo and Henson likes to free-roam, when they're in together and Zaza Pachulia is on the bench, you could remove one of them from the mid-range area by simply having Gibson camp out on the block. If you cheat off of him, every single Bull on the floor will find Gibson off the lob. If you stick to him, you leave just one of Henson or Antetokounmpo to roam about, clearing the path for Rose and Butler to initiate an attack off the dribble-drive.
It should be noted, however, that Gibson's presence puts extra pressure on Mike Dunleavy to assert himself from behind the arc. If he doesn't come out aggressive and looking to fire away, the Bucks will be more inclined to focus on Rose and Butler while cheating off Dunleavy, and thus nullifying both him, and Gibson.
But even with that trade-off, giving Gibson the extra minutes Thursday would go a long way in giving Milwaukee a 35 percent shooting night, one the Bulls will need to capitalize on, preferably by spreading the wealth offensively. Isolation ball, forced passes, turnovers, lazy reads, and disinterested defense all needs to stop Thursday. Gibson, at the least, solves some of that.
NOTE: This article has been updated to correct an error. In the original piece, I printed Taj Gibson's On/Off stats, which were read wrongly. I apologize for the misunderstanding and credit Don Ellis for the correction.