With fans preparing for the upcoming NBA season, let's further analyze each Chicago Bull to gauge what kind of impact they could have as the team looks to reach the next level. You can also check out the player previews for Omer Asik, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver.
Player: Taj Gibson (F)
Salary: $962,376 (two missed paychecks in November are taken into account). He is under contract through the 2012-13 season, but could look for an extension at the end of the season.
How did he perform last season?: After emerging as the starting power forward in his rookie season, Gibson was called on early in the 2010-11 campaign to do the same when free-agent acquisition Carlos Boozer went down with a broken right pinkie. Fortunately for the Bulls, Gibson picked up right where he left off and gave the team a presence on both ends of the court during Boozer's absence. He averaged almost 11 points and seven rebounds in November, featuring a memorable 17-point, 18-rebound performance against the Dallas Mavericks in which he knocked down the only three-pointer in his career. It took some time for the 6-foot-9 Gibson to adjust to being a reserve. But once he did, both he and center Omer Asik became a dynamic duo on the defensive end for the "Bench Mob." The two players were also the subject of trade rumors, but management felt it wasn't worth it to trade either player for the offers that were on the table. With the Bulls receiving inconsistent nights from Boozer in the playoffs, Gibson was asked to play crucial minutes and would often be on the court during crunch time due to his defense. He scored in double figures five times in the postseason and had two emphatic dunks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. While Gibson's numbers took a slight hit, he reaffirmed to everyone that he can be durable, play through nagging injuries, provide a defensive force and knock down the mid-range jump shot.
Areas for improvement: A late first-round pick in the 2008 draft, Gibson has developed into a better player than many Bulls fans had imagined. Still, they would love to see him continue to develop his mid-range shot, possibly extending his range a couple feet back. He recently told reporters that he's "starting to shoot a lot more threes now." While it's unreasonable to think Gibson will begin to hit shots from beyond the arc, his post game has improved each year, and expect him to grow in that area this season, too.
Expectations for 2011-12 season: There was a group of fans during last season's playoffs that made the case for Gibson to replace Boozer in the starting lineup, and although that's highly unlikely, given that Boozer has four years and nearly $60 million left on his deal, could those talks restart if Boozer has his struggles during the regular season? In Friday's preseason opener against the Indiana Pacers, Gibson posted 12 points and nine rebounds, while Boozer had a disappointing seven points and six rebounds. It was clear that Gibson used the prolonged offseason to work on his post-up game, making a few left-handed hook shots and doing most of his damage in the paint. Either way, he's set for another solid season in Chicago.