Why Taj Gibson Will Make Amnestying Carlos Boozer an Easy Decision

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Why Taj Gibson Will Make Amnestying Carlos Boozer an Easy Decision
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Taj Gibson scored a whopping 7.7 points per game last year. Carlos Boozer averaged 15.0, which was second best on the team.

So why is it a no-brainer to extend Gibson and amnesty Carlos Boozer? The explanation is as easy as the decision. 

To be clear, this is far from a minority opinion. Gibson is currently negotiating for a contract extension with the Chicago Bulls. His value to the Bulls is such that Marc Stein of ESPN has Gibson at the top of the list of deals that will get done by the Oct. 31 deadline: 

Next to Derrick Rose, there's no Bull valued more by the organization than Gibson. Which is why many rival teams expect the Bulls to have Gibson signed to a new deal by month's end, even though Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is seemingly never in a rush to do extensions.

The high dollars and luxury-tax implications are such in James Harden's case that it wouldn't totally shock the world if the parties reach November without a deal ... but no deal in Gibson's case would expose the Bulls to the same conditions that made it possible for Houston to pilfer Omer Asik in restricted free agency this past July. Which is something Chicago really can't afford. Extending Gibson now and cutting ties with Carlos Boozer later via the amnesty clause, sources say, is still the most likely outcome here.

So why is it such an obvious decision to cut a player and replace him with someone who generates but half the scoring load?

For starters, the difference isn't as dramatic as the totals make it seem. Boozer averaged 18.3 points per 36 minutes last season compared to 13.6 points per 36 minutes for Gibson (via basketball-reference.com). Couple that with the fact that Boozer's usage percentage was 23.8 to Gibson's 18.6, and it's evident that the bulk of the difference was based as much on opportunities as it was better individual offense. 

According to Synergy, Boozer scored .95 points per play, and Gibson scored .93 points per play. That's a pretty minimal difference. In fact if the same number of plays were run for Gibson as were run for Boozer, he would have only scored 13 fewer points based on their points per play. 

Is Boozer better offensively? Yes, but not as dramatically as you might think.

There may be reason to believe that Gibson could help the Bulls' offense more than Boozer, scoring notwithstanding. 

Lost amid the player-by-player and cost-by-cost comparisons of the new Bench Mob versus the old is the commonality of the new mob: It's a lot faster. Marco Belinelli is faster than Kyle Korver; Nate Robinson is faster than John Lucas III, and Nazr Mohammed is faster running the court than Omer Asik.

Clearly the Bulls have been making a concerted effort to push the ball more this preseason than they did last year. They've averaged 16.8 fast-break points per game this preseason compared to 13.4 last season. That's a better than 25 percent improvement. 

Defensively there's no comparison between Gibson and Boozer. Boozer played 700 more minutes than Gibson, yet he was the primary defender on only 27 more plays based on Synergy data. Boozer was the primary defender on 387 plays to Gibson's 360.

That's because while Gibson is featured defensively, Boozer is hidden. 

Gibson surrendered .89 points per play, compared to .77 for Boozer. But it's important to bear in mind that Gibson's defensive assignments were much tougher than Boozer's. The Bulls on average gave up .81 points per play, the best average in the NBA

Calculating the difference based on how many minutes they played and how much better Gibson was defensively, we can determine that if Gibson had been the starter last year, the Bulls would have surrendered 120 fewer points over the course of the season and postseason. 

That more than compensates for those 13 points that they would have lost on the offensive end. That's a net difference of 1.6 points per game. 

But Gibson, with the new faster-paced offense, might also make the Bulls a better offensive team than Boozer—or at least eliminate the difference suggested by the gap in their points-per-game averages.

Here's why. 

Gibson is one of the best transition players in the game. He ranked ninth in the entire NBA in points per play at 1.45 in transition. That number alone is absolutely ridiculous, but it actually might be low-balling the effect Gibson has on transition points because that doesn't account for what he does on defense to create such transition opportunities.

In the first screen cap below, you see that Gibson is in isolation defense against Jrue Holiday. Under normal circumstances, a point guard with above-average speed being guarded by a power forward would be a mismatch.

It certainly would be if Holiday were being guarded by Carlos Boozer. Holiday would have easily gotten around Boozer and driven straight for the basket. 

However, in this case there's not a mismatch, and the Bulls aren't the least bit concerned with it. Note how all of Gibson's teammates are playing well off the ball and trusting that he can take care of business. 

In the next screen cap we see Holiday that tries to spin around Gibson and take a shot, but Gibson stays with him and blocks the shot from the side, directing it to Deng who gets the rebound. 

After blocking the shot to Deng, Gibson is sprinting into transition, and Deng finds him with the outlet pass. Gibson feeds the ball to Hamilton for a potential bucket. While in this instance, Philadelphia does make it back in time it doesn't change the premise, Gibson's defense ignited the transition game. 

That's simply an element that Boozer doesn't provide, and this limitation slows the whole team down.

As a result, they don't have the kind of fast-break game they could have because Boozer is almost as fast as molasses in a Maine winter. 

Gibson can push the transition game while Boozer can only hinder it, and that will offset the difference Boozer makes in the half-court game. In fact, in spite of the tremendous advantage Boozer had in playing time last year he only made 11 more transition baskets than Gibson.

That also doesn't account for the points in which Gibson helped to push the ball up the court but didn't end up scoring. 

The Bulls are simply a better transition team with Gibson on the court. Both the signings they made this summer and the style of play they've been striving for indicate that's the direction they want to go, and Gibson is so far superior to Boozer in this regard that it should be an easy decision for the Bulls to sign Gibson to the extension and wave goodbye to Boozer when the amnesty period starts in the offseason. 

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