Game 6 should include more Taj Gibson

Game 6 should include more Taj Gibson

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. 

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  • I think Niko is probably a bit tired, not used to having to play so many games. If I recall correctly, he didn't miss a game all year. So I don't think his struggles in this playoff series are necessarily indicative of his overall ability, but yeah, he's not producing right now and Taj is, got to play the hot hand.

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    In reply to Roman F:

    I think it's been Thibs misuse of him since Taj and later Derrick came back. In March it got to a point where the offense was basically running through him.

    Imo he and Butler are the best offensive options the team has now and going forward. Gasol scores but he isn't that guy you give the ball to in crunch time. And Rose is too turnover prone right now.

    Niko is the future but Thibs is too thick to utilize him effectively with a healthy roster.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I don't buy that these guys are tired. The guy barely played in Nov, Dec and Jan. Plus, just because he did, are we supposed to believe that those minutes 5 months ago are making him tired now?

    The guy is like 23 and there are 1-2 days off between EVERY playoff game. It's not like in the 80s and 90s when there were back-to-backs.

    Nico doesn't even play that much!

    It just goes to show that playoffs are different than the regular season. Nico is a rookie. Plus, he is playing out of position. And, he has been injured in the series, so he may be out of sorts.

    I'm not worried about him. Milwaukee is super long and athletic, so it may not be a great matchup for him - especially at the 3 again Giannis.

  • In reply to Granby:

    Well, we frequently see rookies struggle with the "wall" and the requirement of playing 82 -- or this case, 88 -- games. So yeah he's young and may not have seen a lot of game time earlier in the season but that doesn't mean he's conditioned to play 88 games in a season. Considering this is his first year as a NBA pro, it's only natural he'd be fatigued by this point in the year.

  • i think the frustrating thing about this team all season has been the lack of identity. Slightly above average offensively, and slightly above average defensively. If Thibs is the coach, I think this team needs to be about defense first, rebounding second and scoring third. Thibs' defense is built around mobile bigs who defend the rim, rebound in traffic and switch on everything. Pau cannot do this. Noah (even hobbled) and Taj excel at this. Noah at the 4 is not working offensively as Milwaukee has too many long defenders and shuts down the paint. Let Derrick and Jimmy create offense. Let Taj and Noah crash the boards offensively and shut down the paint defensively. Hold Milwaukee to 80 points and bring on Cleveland.

  • In reply to piggy7:

    Very good point, this team's lack of identity is indeed frustrating and basically tells you that they're not going anywhere.

  • OK, I'll buy into getting Gibson more minutes if he promises to do one thing: Quit bringing the ball down below his waist when he gathers himself to go up. He has been doing this through his whole pro career. Most average 8th grade basketball players have been coached out of this habit, but yet here is a guy making $8 million a year who can't seem to figure it out.

  • In reply to bjb57:

    Well Gibson is a better scoring option than Noah, Noah is missing too many layups and not even looking to score when he is in the paint. The Bulls are easier to defend when Noah is not looking to score, there playing 4 against 5 and have no floor spacing.

  • In reply to bjb57:

    Yep, he's breaking the first rule of bigman play, stay big, although he's really not that big(and isn't quite the explosive athlete that he used to be), which might be why he's doing the crouching tiger move everytime he gets the ball down low

  • If Taj Gibson is the answer then I don't want to know the question?

    The problem is the two highest players on the team and a cement head coach. Does anyone in the league have a dumber combo of top player and head than the Bulls?

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    I would sit out Rose, & Noah for game 6. Play Aaron Brooks E'twaun Moore, Mirotic and McDermott.
    I would give plenty of recovery time for Rose and Noah to turn it up in game 7.

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    Then it's a good thing you have absolutely no involvement in roster management.

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    Isn't it too early in the day to be drinking?

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    Stop it. That's crazy talk.

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    Absolutely not. Bad Taj comes out to play when you give him extensive minutes. That's when you start seeing missed layups, turnovers, multiple 3 second violations and travelling calls, and Taj imagining he's some kind of offensive force in the post..... For some reason.

    Last thing I want to see is him in the post performing useless spin move after spin move into 3 defenders that only results in a turnover and whining. Give him 30+ minutes and you will see that Taj.

  • Taj looked good when he was in there. If greater Taj means less Noah, I'm all for it.

    Noah's defense is so overrated this year since he's just not the same guy. I love him, but it could playing the 4 or the knee... But, it's 5 on 4 out there with Noah in the game.

    I'd like to see Gasol in there for 35-40 minutes at the 5. I'd love to see Taj and Mirotic play 24 min each at the 4. Those guys can space the floor more. Taj can hit the 15 footer and is actually decent in the post in spurts. Mirotic is even more versatile offensively.

    It's clear that Milwaukee is clogging the lane. Putting shooters in there and shooting them out of this strategy is what we need to do. Rose-Butler-Dunleavy-Moritic-Gasol are all pretty good shooters and must be guarded away from the hoop. Maybe the Bulls need to think about hoisting up some 3s - as long as it's not 6 or 7 by Rose.

  • In reply to Granby:

    Noah can't jump anymore and has lost at least a step, probably more. While playing out of position doesn't help him, he's physically not the same guy. Why he's 0-for-8 in free throws this series, though, I can't explain.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Your legs are a big part of shooting, so that just might be it. With his hideous form, he has no margin for error, so even a small knee/leg problem could throw off even his free throw shooting.

  • I think Niko is still hurt from his skirmish with Zaza and is just playing through pain. With that being said Taj is also still hurt and playing through pain so options are limited. It doesn't help that we're not really getting anything from Noah who is also still hurt and playing through pain. I'm not gonna beat up on the bulls too much but I will say this; No matter what the outcome it's time for changes to be made. It just seems to me like some of the players on the team have just been here too long and they feel a little too comfortable and safe. I don't see the hunger and as a fan they often times look like a bunch of guys just going to work with no passion for the game. I really feel it's time to depart with Dunleavy, Hinrich, Noah, Gibson and bring in some fresh legs. It's not a total rebuild but rather it's fixing some major problems by doing away with the sources. I think it's also time for Thibs to take a hike. I've seen more than enough of his coaching to see that he is not an ideal fit for this team. Not saying he's a bad coach but with this teams injury history and all the depth we have it's mind boggling that we don't really use it. And what's the deal playing Rose and particularly Butler so many damn minutes even in the playoffs. It's easy to point the finger at them when we lose but they look tired and exhausted to me. as for this series somebody else has to step up or we just might make history and given how inconsistent this team has been this year, I for one wouldn't be at all surprised.

  • In reply to ajaychitown:

    Good thing we didn't get the Wizards. For all that revenge talk people were saying I think that series would've been a repeat of 2014 all over again only this time with the Bulls at full strength. I really hope the Bulls prove me wrong but right now I'm just not seeing it.

  • D. Rose on 2 days rest is the good D. Rose, betting on that for game 6, and if Thibs figures just a little bit out concerning who to play when, this will be the blowout win that the Bulls are due for. Don't blow this Thibs.

  • "Milwaukee's offensive rating drops from 103.5 to 92.8 when Gibson plays"

    I don't know where those numbers came from, but the NBA's official statistical database says that the Bucks' Offensive Rating for the series is 93.6 overall, but shoots up to 99.4 when Taj is on the floor.

    http://stats.nba.com/team/#!/1610612741/players/advanced/?Season=2014-15&SeasonType=Playoffs&PerMode=Per36&sort=DEF_RATING&dir=1

    In fact, Taj's 99.4 Defensive Rating is easily the worst among the 9 players in the rotation (Niko's 96.9 is 2nd highest, but his is much, much lower when he's playing PF).

    Taj's -11.1 Net Rating is 2nd worst overall (Brooks at -16.6 is the worst), and Snell's 3rd-worst-on-the-team Net Rating is -5.1 (Noah at -2.2 and Niko at -2.0 are the only other players with a negative Net Rating).

    The team's Offensive Rating when Taj is on the floor is only 88.3 when it is 97.1 overall.

    If anything, Taj's minutes need to be cut so that Niko can play PF, as the Bulls have been downright dominating the Bucks when Niko is at PF.

    When Niko has played PF, the team's Offensive Rating has been 121.1 and their Defensive Rating has been 80.7 (the Bulls have outscored the Bucks 102-68 in the 42:16 that Niko has been at PF).

    But for some unknown reason, Thibs the great insists on playing Niko at SF for 32:19 in the series, even though the Bulls have been outscored 46-74 with Niko at SF. At least Thibs adjusted a little bit last game, playing Niko for 16:01 at PF and only 2:41 at SF (which was long enough for the Bulls to get outscored 11-2 in that stretch).

    In fact, the Net Ratings of the players this series just above match the minutes I'd like to see each guy play in Game 6:

    Niko...... +40.4 (at PF, -43.5 at SF so PLAY HIM AT PF THIBS!!!)
    MDJ...... +12.8
    Gasol.... +11.5
    Rose..... +9.9
    Butler..... +9.3
    Noah...... -2.2
    Snell....... -5.1
    Gibson... -11.1
    Brooks... -16.6

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Nice work as usual. Niko has been struggling but I didn't realize that Taj is struggling even more.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Thanks, and while Niko hasn't been putting up good individual numbers this series even at PF, his presence alone clears out the lane for Rose and Butler.

    Put Niko, Gasol and either Snell or MDJ out there, and there is no way the Bucks can double-team Rose or Butler, and even if another defender helps, the other three guys on the floor will make them pay.

    And while Taj may be a better individual defender than Niko or Pau, he is a horrible defensive rebounder who gives the opponent far too many easy second-chance points.

    Not just horrible, I'm talking worse-than-Eddy Curry disgustingly horrible. Taj's Def Reb % this series is 13.9%, Eddy was at 15.7% for his career.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Like you, I've been down on Taj for some time, for me it started last season(if not even earlier when he signed his extension) when it seems his perception of his offense went to his head. Never liked Curry either(I was a Chandler guy), loved the trade that we made that netted us Noah.

    Is Taj any better when paired with Gasol than he is with Noah, rebounding or otherwise, as it still seems to me that the best solution to our bigman issues is to separate Noah from Gasol. I know that during the regular season you provided some numbers that showed Noah/Niko was our best bigman pairing, has that held up during the playoffs as Niko has gotten some minutes at PF alongside Gasol, most notably last game.

    Also, as I pointed out before, when Noah and Taj play together, they are playing nearly all of those minutes with with some combo of Brooks/Hangdog/Snell and/or Niko at SF, and very likely none of those minutes with both Rose and Butler in the backcourt. So however badly they are playing, they are playing those minutes with their hands tied behind their backs.

    It appears that our most effective lineup would definitely start with Rose and Butler in the backcourt(a no brainer) with Niko at PF, then either Dunleavy or Snell at SF? The question then becomes, are they more effective with Noah or Gasol at center. Can you really get away with Dunleavy, Niko and Gasol all on the court at the same time defensively? Not sure that we've seen any of that lineup with Noah at center, so it might be hard to evaluate.

    In any event some interesting numbers to chew on, as long as they are evaluated in the proper context.

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    In reply to Don Ellis:

    Agreed 100%

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Not sure where a lot of numbers that show up here come from, I guess we need to trust but verify.

    Niko's number at PF is surprising given his almost total lack of offensive production, which is where you'd expect to see his value, although he does actually make some good defensive plays at PF.

    Not that I want any minutes for Niko at SF, but was that 2:41, the exact same 2:41 that Hangdog was on the floor, it seems to me that it was. I believe that he also had a 5-6 minute stretch in game 3(maybe 4) where he was something like minus 16. You didn't mention Hangdogs net rating, but that's minus 25 in only 8-9 minutes of play.
    It would seem that anyone sharing time with Hangdog has gotten their plus/minus or net rating killed simply by that. The guys most affected would be Noah, Gibson, Brooks and Snell, all the guys with negative net ratings as well as Niko at SF where he is atrocious in his own rite. Just curious what the numbers would look like if they were scrubbed of the Hangdog effect, if that's even possible.

    Clearly in a series that is this close, we cannot afford to have him on the floor for even 2 minutes, it appears to be a disaster so far.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    All the stats I post come from Stats.NBA.com, I trust the league's own numbers to be accurate, basketball-reference.com not as much, and I don't really trust 82games.com at all.

    The Niko SF/PF splits from this series I did myself from game logs/play by play, it's fairly simple after watching a game, you know when he came in and when he was playing SF or PF already.

    You can get the 5-man lineup numbers from Stats.NBA.com for a Rose-Butler-MDJ-Niko-Pau lineup, I'm leaving soon to go ump a couple of HS games but I'll check it out when I get home. Like you said it's probably a very small sample size from this series, and I don't know that it was a lineup that was used a whole lot during the regular season, either.

    While I don't trust 82games.com, they do say that the lineup played together for 17 minutes during the season with an Off Rtg of 0.74 and a Def Rtg of 0.86, which seems the opposite as you'd expect that group to have a very strong offense but maybe not much defense.

    And IIRC, one of the horrible Niko at SF lineups was with Kurt at SG, which will kill any lineup, but I'll check it out for sure when I get home.

  • We can make stats, blame each player, blame the coach--but, all of us who have played sports know that we have to have killer instincts to finish a game and just get it over. The minute one lets his guard down in any sport the opposition gains momentum.

    The Bulls have not adjusted to playing together because the players are not comfortable in their roles. When you have to think in a sport--its not a effective as responding, naturally reacting. and feeling what your role is. Chicago players still don't look like they know their roles--whereas Milwakee players know their roles and they seem more functional or maybe I should say reactionally responsive.

  • In reply to penwit1:

    Insightful. Killer instinct. Like at the end of game 4, Rose just dribbling around and turning the ball over. MJ would have taken the shot and probably nailed it!

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Even if he missed the shot, he would have know he had to take the chance. Rose never even getting the ball up was inexcusable.

    Plus Thibs was an idiot for not calling the timeout and subbing in his O players. This series should have been over in 4.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Thibs actually stated that he tried to get a timeout but somehow in nearly 24 seconds he couldn't, unlike Kidd who was able to get one in less than 2 seconds.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    From day one I have always contende that Rose was not an elite ballhandler(and thus not an elite PG), that you could not trust him with the ball in his hands the way that you could Michael, irrespective of the shot making ability. Other than the 95 playoffs, when he was clearly not physically ready for playoff basketball, you never worried that Michael would flat out lose the ball in any crunch time situation. With Rose, I'm always worried. He does not seem to have spent any of his rehab time working the ball handling part of his game. If anything, it appears to be even worse than before. You always read stories about the truly great ball handlers working very hard on that part of their game. Other than rehabbing his body, the only thing that it seems like Rose worked on, was jacking up 3's, and becoming irrationally exuberant about his ability to make them.

  • I guess that we have moved on from the debate that losing a game or two to the Bucks would somehow be good for the Bulls, which shockingly most people seemed to buy about a week ago.

    Clearly, the only thing that losing a game or two has done is give the Bucks a true belief that they can beat the Bulls with energy and effort alone and perhaps become the first team in NBA history to win a series after being down 3-0.

    I sure hope that we find a way to close it out tonight, as I don't think we have the type of players who will respond well to the pressures of what a game 7 in this series would mean.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    By the way, is the Bulls only shot at winning hoisting up more than 30 3 pointers and making close to 40% of them? Thats what they did in the first 3 games, while getting nowhere close to that the last 2.

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