Taj Gibson was the Bulls' most important man defensively off the bench last season. This season, look for him to have more importance offensively as well as he moves into contention for the Sixth Man of the Year.
It's not quite the stretch you might think.
After all, Taj Gibson garnered the only first place vote that wasn't cast for James Harden last year. You could make a case that he deserved it more, when you consider the impact he had on the court.
Based on data compiled by NBA.com, while Gibson was a plus 10.9 per 48 minutes while he was on the court (the best number in the NBA), Harden was "only" a plus 9.1. Granted both numbers were spectacular, but Gibson's impact was on the defensive end, while Harden's was offensive.
Gibson is a defensive playmaker who turns defense into offense by making plays like the one below.
Still, while Gibson's defense is spectacular, and it does result in offense, he's not noted for his offensive play.
The Sixth Man of the Year is an offensive award, given to the player who scores the most points off the bench, and last year there is no question that the best offensive player off the bench was James Harden.
So the question this year is can Gibson generate enough offense that he can win the Sixth Man of the Year?
The answer is, yes!
He won't have to generate as much as Harden, but if he can get to double digit scoring, his defense should make the difference.
Primarily, the reason is that Gibson will be playing more minutes. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has suggested that Gibson will play as many as 30 minutes a game this season. Even if he were to produce at the same rate, that would put him at 11 points per game.
According to Nick Fridell of ESPN Chicago, he could produce at a higher rate this year as he takes on a larger role, including playing small forward and center in addition to his usual power forward spot. Fridell quotes Thibodeau:
His strength I think is his versatility. Of course, defensively he has the ability to guard, in some cases, all five positions and I think he's gotten more comfortable offensively playing the five and he's certainly very capable at the four and we may even take a look at him at the three. I think he's done extremely well; this is the first summer in the last two years in which he's been healthy. He's had a very productive summer. He's really added a lot to his game.
As the video below demonstrates, Gibson does have more of an offensive skillset than most recognize. He can put the ball on the floor. He can post up. He can get to the rim.
He can really get to the rim.
His points per play, from Synergy, of .93 is not bad at all. It's better than Zach Randolph (.88) and just short of Carlos Boozer (.95).
Most impressive, though, is his ability to score in transition, where his 1.48 points per play is ninth-best in the NBA. This should help him see a boost in his scoring as well—if their first preseason game was any indication.
It was clear that the Bulls were intent on pushing the ball harder than they have in the past, as they scored 32 points in transition.
This means that Bulls fans should brush-up on their Facebook video posting skills. There will be plenty to upload this season as Gibson will give.
The game also affirmed that Gibson will be more utilized on offense than he was in the past.
While he struggled from the field (as did almost the entire team), it was evident that he will be more of a focus on offense, as he used 10 possessions, compared to about seven that he would have used on average last season.
On top of all that, Gibson has worked to improve his offense as well, so his production should be more efficient. Fridell quotes him as saying:
I just tried to get more consistent with my jump shot. [I] Worked a lot with Thibs right before USA camp, just trying to get more fluid with post work. Get more confidence, get stronger because we lost Omer in the off-season, try to just get more physical.
More minutes, more plays and more efficiency all combine to mean more points—probably a lot more points. Fridell speculates something in the 12-14 point range, and if Gibson hits that, then look for him to get more than one vote for Sixth Man of the Year.
Look for him to win the award.