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Why the Bulls should not trade Taj Gibson

Why the Bulls should not trade Taj Gibson

I must remind myself that it's only preseason, but to date, the Chicago Bulls have been a complete mess defensively.

As per NBA.com, through seven preseason games played, the Bulls currently have a 107.5 defensive rating. Put simply, that is bad. Real bad. This lowly metric has the Bulls placed 29th overall in defensive rating, only bettering the Minnesota Timberwolves (107.7).

Now, it must be noted that the defensive output has looked quite good at times, albeit inconsistent. In their three wins, the Bulls have held their opponents to 99.7 points per 100 possessions, which is exceptional and mirrors the output of the prime defense-first teams' driven by Tom Thibodeau. In four losses, however, the Bulls have been a sieve, giving up a 113.3 points per 100 possessions.

Yes, I am aware that it is, in fact, preseason. I also recognise that the team has had constant lineup changes as well as missing two starters to injuries. All of these are valid reasons for some of the inept performances on display, but clearly, there have been serious signs that the defense is sure to plummet to new depths this season, with only time knowing the true extent of the fall.

This bipolar approach to stopping opponents has begun to feel all too familiar, with the level of inconsistency highlighted perfectly in the most recent outing against the Pacers. Paul George would roast the Bulls with 15 first quarter points, guiding Indiana to 34 points in the opening quarter. It didn't look promising, but somehow, Chicago would flip the intensity switch and go onto shutting out the cold shooting Pacers, holding the division rivals to just 60 points for the remainder of the game. Clearly, an ability exists to exert quality defensive possessions, though the nonchalant approach is troubling.

New coach, Fred Hoiberg, was highly rated as a prospective NBA coach. Amongst others, he was courted by the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves before eventually signing with the Chicago Bulls on a 5-year, $25 million deal. Praised for his progressive offensive schemes that encourage spread pick-and roll, transition scoring, quick reads and lots of three-point shooting, concerns were also raised about his defensive chops as a coach at the NBA level.

Knowing yourself is an important skill. Thankfully, Hoiberg has this in spades. Recognising his limitations defensively, the rookie coach was eager to bring along a defensive coordinator. To assist, the Bulls would poach Jim Boylen from the coaching farm in San Antonio. Coming with a high pedigree and reputation on the defensive side of the ball, the hiring of Boylen signaled the importance of balance on both sides of the ball. So far, the results have been mixed.

As the regular season approaches and rotations begin to take shape, Hoiberg has benched Joakim Noah, electing to start Spanish national teammates, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic. Removing Noah from the starting lineup and reducing his minutes was the bold decision that many had hoped for, mostly due to the spacing issues and offensive limitations that have rapidly caught up with the former Defensive Player of the Year. Though it may only be temporary, the pairing of the Spaniards is, well, odd.

Pick and roll defense, especially in the middle of the floor. We’re giving too many blow by’s, where there’s nothing you can do for it. We gotta guard the ball better.

Rightly, Hoiberg has recognised the poor defense, particularly in pick-and-roll coverage. Given this, with Chicago keeping its two best paint defenders submerged on the bench, don't we have to ask ourselves, "Why are you running with these rotations, coach"?

A perception exists that the Bulls are loaded in the front-court, with a cavalcade of quality options readily at the disposal for Hoiberg. Whilst an over supply of big-men exist on this roster, can we say with any confidence that the mix of bigs is correct, and that any one of these players deserve to be fully-fledged starters that can be relied upon consistently?

Gasol and Mirotic, the current day starting center and power forward, respectively, are valuable offensive threats. Unfortunately, neither provide resistance defensively, nor do they intimidate teams from penetrating to the cup, especially when their poor pick-and-roll defense can be exploited with ease. Essentially, expect to see more of this.

The constant ball stopping 20 feet out as he searches for a threading assist on a back-door cut. The inability to make a layup or consistently hit an open 18 footer. The willingness of defenses to sag off and leave him open, thus clogging the painted area for the slashing Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. These are just some of the reasons why Noah, at age 31, will be played off the court despite his quality defense, much like Andrew Bogut in the 2015 Finals.

Bobby Portis, the team's leading rebounder in preseason, has been exceptional and appears to be yet another late first-round special by the front office. Despite showcasing his intensity and ready-made professionalism, he hasn't made anyone expendable on this roster. Well, at least not yet. At 20, we must remember that the rookie is just a kid, and at some point, will tire. He also has plenty to learn about defensive positioning, rotations and timing.

In their own right, all of these front-court talents provide something unique to the team. They do so, but typically only on one side of the ball. The Bulls may find themselves with an army of names up front with a varying array of skills and weaknesses, but none of these players are two-way threats. None, except for Taj Gibson.

The recent pairing of Pau and Nikola - which has yet to be set in stone - will not be able to contain opposing offenses. The point guard defense is also a concern, as is the fact that no noted wing stoppers exist on the roster that can support the offensively focused Jimmy Butler. Defensive holes exist all over the floor for the Bulls, which makes the bold move of benching Noah a potentially poor decision. Should he remain on the bench for the regular season, his defensive prowess - which will likely be limited through a reduced role, playing time and/or declining health - will need to be supplemented by improved defensive performances by others.

Enter Taj.

With his ability to guard pick-and-roll, whether hedging out onto the ball carrier or switching directly onto a perimeter player without giving up the middle of the lane, Gibson has been a critical yet under appreciated linchpin for the organisation. As the league progress to more perimeter play with teams all over downsizing in a quest for "position-less" basketball, a mobile big-man who can guard 4's and 5's, as well as switching onto wings, is huge in the modern NBA.

Point guards are now seeing time at both guard positions. Shooting guards are becoming small forwards. Small forwards are transitioning to power forward. The traditional dominant, low-post presence, is a fading art. The Bulls must recognise this quantum shift in the leagues landscape, and embrace the idea of using the versatile Gibson as a defensive center, both from a stylistic perspective, as well as a functional need to be keep the defense afloat.

In 2014-15, Taj would excel in his minutes played as the team's center. According to 82games.com, Gibson would own a 21.7 PER whilst holding his opponents to a 14.5 PER, as well being efficient offensively (.557 eFG%). Should Noah continue to remain relegated to the pine (or decline) and the Bulls remain on the path of contention, this role becomes a necessity, not a luxury.

As the Bulls become more reliant on the offensive exponents up front, divide begins to grow amongst fans, with trade suggestions and fantasies continuing to grow. If you read these hypotheticals, you will routinely see the armchair GM shipping Gibson out for the first noted wing that becomes available. To me, such a move lacks foresight, both for the immediate and long term future.

Venturing into the trade machine momentarily, let's pretend the Bulls were able to move Gibson for Wilson Chandler, or someone of similar caliber. Let's also assume Pau Gasol were to forgo the last year of his contract, instead choosing to take one last run at free agency. The Bulls, hypothetically, could have both Pau and Noah hitting the market just as the cap explodes. With an exorbitant amount of funds entering the market, both could walk for larger deals, leaving Chicago with no centers on the roster, as well as no Taj Gibson.

Is moving the contracted USC alum, in hope of solidifying the perimeter rotation worth the risk of completely losing your defensive identity this season, as well as potentially having no veteran big-men on the roster entering 2016-17?

Redistributing the roster is necessary. In raw numbers, the front-court is crowded with bodies. The pressure needs to be eased on both players and coach, so management must look to deal. This can't be disputed. The problem is, if you do move a front-court player(s) who offers something that others simply can't offer, your team will suffer. You may realign rotations, distribute contracts more evenly and improve the wing rotation, but you're also losing other potential necessities. For this reason, with Taj being the only true two-way front-court player on Chicago's books, nevermore has the value of the unappreciated Gibson been more important.

A trade of Taj Gibson is logical. It can be reasoned and justified with ease. It makes sense on some levels, but should it occur, it will signify the continuing pendulum shift from offense to defense, which so far, has been too sudden and swift.

But hey, it's only preseason...

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  • I would trade Taj for Wilson Chandler straight up. But I would not give Taj away for a mediocre wing. I agree with Mark that keeping Taj in light of possibly losing both Gasol and Noah makes sense. Hopefully the Bulls aren't even thinking of resigning Noah since his best years are behind him and he doesn't fit well in Hoiberg's offense.

    I would love to see the Bulls trade/dump Noah, have Taj backup Gasol and give Portis some burn. But I know getting rid of Noah and his contract is easier said than done.

  • In reply to Vic Nardozza:

    It would still be foolish to dump Noah just to get rid of him, with no value in return. He is an expiring contract, it will be interesting to see how much value expiring contracts have this year and next with the cap exploding in both years.

    If Gasol opts out and leaves, next summer, Noah could still end up being the Bulls best(only) option at starting center going forward.

  • Problem is Bulls don't have enough 2-way players. Solution is not Taj, unless you consider gyrating with the ball and yelling at officials to be offense. I think Mark's piece, while thoughtful, highly overrates the impact Taj will have moving forward. His value will only go down from here.

    Problem is, when you don't have a LeBron-type player, you need to be great at every other position. Tristan Thompson is a one-way player but looks awfully good next to LeBron, doesn't he?

    Problem is, the wing position isn't good enough for the Bulls to make a serious run.

    Hey if you can keep all our bigs AND upgrade the wing spot, great! If you can trade Noah, great!

    Otherwise we've got 4 quality big men, possibly 5, but a hole at wing. That's not going to win a championship. Mark's argument, to me, is that we're not winning this year anyways, best to think about the future. Maybe we should but then we should actively try to trade Gasoline.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I agree with you that Mark's argument has some surface level merit, but he over values Taj as a 2 way player and as a center. Even if you keep Taj, but Noah and Gasol leave next summer, then we have no center on the roster. While Taj can play small ball backup center for limited minutes there is no way on earth that he can ever be a starting center. Frankly, he isn't really a starting PF. As I've always maintained if Taj is your starting PF, then you will always be looking for a starting PF. Another thing that Mark ignored is the fact that Taj is already 30, only slightly less than one year younger than Noah.

    The one thing that Mark has exposed is that our vaunted frontcourt depth is somewhat of a mirage because none of them are complete players, and even if you ignore that our depth will/can vanish as early as next summer.

    The player that Portis appears to replace most directly is Taj. Despite being about 2 inches taller, I still don't see Portis as a starting center either. He probably can fill in as a backup to either Noah or Gasol, if one of those guys isn't around next year. Without a trade or injury this could be a wasted year for Portis, with this weeks Indy game being the norm rather than the exception.

    I say trade the guy that brings back the most value whether it is Taj, Noah or Gasol, but it has to be for a starting caliber wing/SF. Next summer we will be scrambling for a starting center whether we make a trade this year or not.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Right, our frontcourt isn't that great. We have a lot of bodies to throw at it, but all are one-dimensional and either aging or unproven. The solution isn't to throw 5 guys at 2 positions -- it's not like they can be on the court at the same time, which this and past arguments for keeping everyone seem to ignore. IMO, the solution is to bet on the unproven guys, cross your fingers and hope for the best. I like what I've seen from Mirotic and Portis enough to roll the dice on them. I know what these vets can give us, and it's not enough.

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    I have to agree w/ Roman F on this piece being thoughtful yet overrates Taj's impact.

    Nikola Mirotic was highly efficient last season when Thibs allowed him to play over 30 ppg. He should be given the opportunity to log more mins this season.

    Drafting Portis makes Taj more expendable in the trade market. Last season Bulls Nation criticized Thibs for not playing his rookies. Now they have a new head coach and a rookie who is playing really well and we want him to sit on the bench behind 4 other players who play the same position. Just trade Taj already.

  • I love Gibson and Noah, but NY boys but if we can trade 1 or both of them while they have decent to good value then we should!
    Noah we could let walk after this season or trade at the deadline this year, but with us getting Portis who is ready to go now as a backup PF/C...we need to let him play!
    It is refreshing that new coach Fred isn't playing entitlement games like Thibs did by him starting Niko and Pau and having Gibson and Noah off the bench!
    We have a good team, but not a great one and now with the Cavs overpaying TT and having their center spot firmly fixed, they even have Varajo off the bench they are pretty loaded at PF/C, with even Lebron being able to play PF easily with his size, athletism, weight etc.

    We have a aging roster and need to get more athletic and younger...Hinrich, Dunleavy, Pau, Noah, Gibson all are nearing the end of their careers very quickly!

    We took a huge gamble on drafting McD by trading away Center Nurik and SG Harris and the 2 2nd rounders we gave up to get rid of Randolph that the Nuggets dumped on us!
    Hopefully McD scores like crazy and can be a valueable 6th man esqu SF scorer for us...however as we all know we are very weak at backup PG and with man made of glass DRose that isn't a good thing! We also need a decent experienced SG/SF 3 and D guy (2 way player) to help Butler. While Snell has hit moments, I wouldn't stop with him!

    This season is the time to win, well last season was the season we should have gotten thru the Cavs to play the Warriors in the Finals! I doubt we will ever have a easier time to get thru Lebron as we did last year and still couldn't do it!
    The Bulls are just too conservative! You have to take gambles and they did with McD in the draft but they rarely want to make trades and you need to once in awhile! With the crazy 50% salary increse coming...players on teams will be very hard to pry away with the Bird rights and huge $ they can offer a player to stay on the team!

    I'm for the Bulls trading Taj for Wilson Chandler or even Brandon Jennings if both are healthy and ready to contribute to winning and playing for the Bulls, not themselves!

  • In reply to smiley:

    When you reminded me what the Bulls gave up for McDermott I want to throw up. I so wanted him to be a solid NBA wing player. But his lack of speed and athleticism makes me wonder if he even can make it in the league as a spot up 3 point shooter.

    I am having a debate with my son as to who is slower: Kyle Korver or Doug McDermott? I say McD. I would be curious as to what others here believe.

  • In reply to smiley:

    You say the Bulls are too conservative, but it seems like when they do take a risk like the McDoug trade or way long ago, the Tyrus Thomas trade, it doesn't work out. We don't want them to take more risks, we want them to take more risks that work out. Jerry Krause took some risks that worked out and was hailed as a genius, then took more risks that didn't work out and he got fired. That's the thing with risks, they don't always work out or they wouldn't be risks.

    When you don't have a LeBron-type player or a super bargain MVP like Steph Curry -- or you pay an average PG like one of the game's best players -- you simply have no room for error. You need to take risks, and those risks better come up aces, like GS did with the Curry contract.

    The Bulls FO does a solid job but we're all frustrated because they can't flawlessly climb up a steep, slippery mountain.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Outstanding.

    Being a die-hard Patriots fan for as long as I've been a Bulls fan (about 40 years now), we all know that Belichick is (rightfully) seen as one of the greatest talent evaluators of his era, his list of steals (Brady in the 6th round, Edelman in the 7th round, I could easily go on) is legendary.

    BUT, as a die-hard, I can easily list many "busts" he's created by taking chances in the early rounds of the draft. And free agency, and trades.

    My point is, nobody is perfect. Not even GarPax, not that anybody claims they are. But trying to judge a move after ONE season, like folks keep doing with McD? It's just stupid, no offense anyone.

    People act like Nurkic and Hood were all-Rookie or something, and haven't you noticed that NOT ONE PERSON who bitches about the two 2nd-round picks they gave up to dump Randolph can name either one of the 2nd round picks? (Too late to look it up, those picks are basically worthless).

    People seem to forget that Tyrus looked like a pretty good pick with super upside for most of his first 2+ seasons.

    For every Asik in the 2nd round, there's a Sonny Weems.

    GarPax have done a pretty damn good job over the last few years, each year the team has outperformed realistic expectations with Rose out. Take LeBron off the Heat or Cavs, take Curry off the W's, if those guys had been hurt like Rose the last 85 years, those teams would be irrelevant.

    At least GarPax have done enough to keep the Bulls relevant without Rose. That should tell you something about the overall job they've done.

    Quityerbitchin'. everyone. Wilson Chandler? If he's the difference, sorry I have nothing. He's NOT the difference, nor is anyone else we could trade Taj for straight-up. Which makes sense, because neither is Taj.

    Basketball is a STAR game, plain and simple. Hell, you want a boring example?

    I'm coaching the 5/6 Grade Bulls in Little League right now. We lost our first two games 30-3 and 29-6, because my best player/PG was playing baseball last weekend.

    He was here today, and we lost both games by less than 20, and -scored in double-digits in both games. And he's just a 5th grader who played his first game EVER on a 10-foot rim today (3/4 Grade plays on a 9-foot rim).

    I'm sure nobody gives a fuck about my LL team, but the point is that take away your best player, and you're screwed. Yet GarPax have kept this team winning even without Rose.

    If Rose can play like he did in the final pre-season game, this team could win 60 this year. And challenge the Cavs, even with Snell and McD at SF. It's not like JR Smith and Shumpert are close to being All-Stars, right?

    People want to talk about how old Noah and Taj are, but Bron is OLDER, right? It won't be long until Jimmy Butler passes him is effectiveness on the floor, simply because Father Time is undefeated.

    I'm done rambling, hopefully I can post more as the season goes. Well, my coaching season ends the weekend before Thanksgiving, then I'll have time to deal with the real Bulls.

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    Taj is excellent. His value means the Bulls could get draft choices or talent in return. GarPax's drafting ability is excellent, so I like draft choices. The Bulls will be a good team for a long time, so they won't get high draft choices. A trade acquired draft pick enabled the Bulls to get McDermott, for instance. Added draft picks will help the Bulls replace their aging lineup.

  • The two things that concerned me going into preseason was the defense was going to fall off from last year and Hoiberg would favor Hinrich over Moore. Looks like my nightmare scenarios are coming true. The way this team has performed in preaseason looks like a low 40 win team at best because the D stinks and the offense is on and off with the 3pt shooting not being that impressive.

  • Hey guys long time no seek. Noah and Gasol are both one denominational players who's best years may be behind them. With Noah being defensive minded and Gasol being offensive minded in theory they both would play well together and compliment each others weaknesses last season. However that wasn't the case. The problem is they are both centers at heart and maybe if it was a 25 year old healthy Noah that plan might have worked, but Noah is older and slower now, and coming off a severe knee injury which has him bone on bone to my understanding. I know I'm only stating the obvious but that's one pairing that we have actual evidence won't work so I felt the need to point it out. So sense obviously at least one of them have to sit then someone else has to start in their place. Our remaining options are Taj, Mirotic, and Portis.

    You can scratch Portis off the list as a potential starter because he's a rookie, and even though he's shown promise he's still unproven. Which then leaves the obvious Taj and Miriotic. Whichever one of them starts mostly depends on whether Noah or Gasol starts. I'm almost certain Gasol starts because he's far too proud to come off the bench and with Gasol being so defensively limited that then makes Taj the best option to start with him at power forward.

  • I meant dimensional. Sorry for the poor spelling, I forgot we can't edit comments here.

  • To get a starting SF, I believe the Bulls will have to trade a big plus a pick. If some team has an SF on an expiring, they might consider trading him even for Gasol. Woud the Bulls do that? No decent player at any position is likely to sign an extension now because he will get more next summer.

    The Bulls could probably land the SF by trading a big and the Kings pick. Should they? We will have to see the team in December to know!

  • I am not in a rush to trade anybody right now. GarPax bet on this team as is with a healthier DRose, Noah, and Taj, an improving Butler, and hope for growth from last year's 2 M rookies, Mirotic and McDermott. The main change was a new coach, Hoiberg. And they did add a rookie who appears to have a good future.

    I want to see how the first 30 games go before we start talking trades and after Dunleavy comes back and plays as well. This will allow us to see how the team is responding to the Hoiberg change, how healthy Noah, Taj, and DRose look, and how much more developed Mirotic, McDermott and Snell are, and if Butler has ascended to big star that we think he can be.

  • If our starting group contains Gasol, Mirotic and McDermott we are going to be the worst defense in the NBA. I don't think the preseason is a lie. frankly this is my only concern with this team and everyone is talking about the offense when its the defense that will be the deciding factor for this group.

    Thibs could barely keep these guys respectable and now that Jimmy has gone all Hollywood and is too good to play defense we are set for a epic collapse on defense. I agree with Mark I think Taj is too valuable as both a rim protector and athletic defender.

    Long term though I do think a lineup of Mirotic and Portis would be interesting if Portis can continue to develop his defensive game. That could be huge for our offense with their abilities to spread the floor without giving up size assuming they can manage to together not be a liability on defense.

  • Saying "we need Taj's defense in the lineup" is hard to argue with because it's an incomplete statement when you're not stating the clear downside which is this: If you put Taj and his vaunted defense in the lineup, who comes out?

    A complete argument is, "Play Taj over Mirotic because we need Taj's defense over Mirotic's offense". While I wouldn't agree, that's at least a complete picture of what you're advocating. I think we can all agree that we'd love to have Taj's defense with Mirotic's offense and in a perfect world, we'd sub one for the other depending what side of the ball we're on. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. Taj goes in, great, our defense improves for sure, but Mirotic comes out.

    What it comes down to for me is that I'm a big Mirotic fan. I think he'll be a star with more minutes -- starter minutes. It's a risk, but the kind of risk I'd be willing to take. He's coming off an impressive rookie year and should only improve. Taj is coming off an injury and will only get worse. Easy decision on who to play and who to keep.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    While I agree with your line of thinking, I'm less convinced that Niko will become a star than I used to be. My sense is that he has limitations which can be exploited and he cannot overcome. Also, as of now, he has not demonstrated that he is even a good 3 point shooter, nevermind an elite one. Not sure that he becomes an elite one with his current shooting mechanics.

    No matter, I still prefer him at PF over either Taj or Noah, so then it just becomes a question of who is a better pairing at the center position. Obviously, I still prefer the balanced approach(as apparently do most people and "experts" alike). While I would have started Noah and McDNP, I am very interested in seeing how Hoiberg's choice's work out. Can't really say that I have a prediction, they could bomb, or they could be great. I'm not sure that the second unit has enough/any offense, as Brooks is a one man show, and McDNP is likely useless when not surrounded by first line offensive talent. Can't wait to find out starting tomorrow night against our nemesis.

  • Long time no post. Have been ignoring the Bulls since the draft because I have better things to do.

    Definitely keep Taj and dump Noah for just about anything... 2 2nds or a heavily protected 1st like the current protected Sactown pick. Even if healthy, Noah plays great D, but is not a rim protector and his offense is TERRIBLE with no spacing and constant ball holding 18 ft away from the hoop.

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