Taj Gibson's Extension Is a Sign of Present and Future Value
Taj Gibson signed an four-year extension which is guaranteed for $32 million, but incentives could push it up to $38 million, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley. While his traditional box-score numbers might not reflect it, this was a great value contract for the Chicago Bulls.
Taj Gibson is worth every bit of the money he's going to be getting, based on both the present and the future.
The reason Gibson is worth it is because of his defense. In basketball, defense is the hardest thing to quantify. It's easy to quantify offense because you're measuring what did happen, i.e. a player scored 20 points per game. Granted that's not the "whole picture," but it gives a number to place things in perspective.
Defense is the exact opposite. You're trying to quantify what didn't happen. How do you do that? If a player prevents points from being scored, there's not a true measurement for that. There are, however, some newer approaches to statistics that indicate the value that Gibson has for the Bulls.
On 82games.com they have a stat they call "OPER," or Opponent's Player Efficiency Rating, which measures what a players opponent does against him. It's the inverse of Player Efficiency Rating where the average is 15.0—an average OPER is 15.0.
The lower a player's OPER, the better of a defender he is. In essence they are "making" their opponents as effective as if they had PER of whatever their OPER is.
A "bad" PER is 12.0. That's considered the level of the replacement player. Players who were in the neighborhood of a 12.0 PER in 2011-12 included the likes of Landry Fields (12.0), Markeiff Morris (12.1) and Nick Collison (12.1).
In other words, when Gibson was guarding someone, he made him look mundane regardless of who it was. That's where his real worth becomes visible.
There is team defense, though, and OPER alone can be skewed, so it's not enough to merely look at OPER.
Another aspect of defense is how much is a player used on defense. Are they being hidden or are they a featured player on defense who frequently guards the opponent's best player?
Based on data from Synergy, in 2011-12 Gibson was the primary defender once every 3.93 minutes. Compare that with Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler, who was the primary defender once every 3.97 minutes.
Another aspect of his defense though—and perhaps the more important aspect—is his help defense, which was, in a word, phenomenal, and truthfully, that's not an understatement. Note the Bulls defense when he was on the court versus off it. Here's the data as provided by NBA.com.
Each of these numbers, when taken in isolation, can be skewed by other details, but when taken in totality they're hard to ignore, but just in case you want to say, "if you watch the games..." here's the visual evidence.
First, watch Gibson stay in front of Jrue Holiday and then force him into a bad shot where Luol Deng gets the block and Gibson gets the rebound. How many forwards in the league can stay in front of a point guard like Holiday?
Next, watch Gibson come from across the court in help defense to get a hand in the face of Lou Williams.
Finally, Gibson might be 27, but his actual numbers aren't peaking. Early on in the season, his usual box-score numbers are up. He's scoring 14.6 points and grabbing 9.8 boards per 36 minutes—numbers he might be projected to accrue if he replaces Carlos Boozer as the starter next season if Boozer is, as many expect, amnestied.
Those numbers are very close to the 17.2 points and 9.2 boards Boozer is averaging. When you factor in the difference on defense, you can argue that making $8.5 million a year versus over $15 million is a no-brainer of a decision.
To some degree, high-school grads and one-and-done players have morphed the idea of what "old" is in the NBA. Gibson might be 27, but he's a young 27 when compared to a player like LeBron James at 27, because the same number of miles aren't on his knees.
So, while he might not have as much as someone like Serge Ibaka, he's still got some growth ahead of him. Of course he's not making as much as Ibaka either. In fact Ibaka is making about 50 percent more than him at $12 million a year.
When you factor in what he produces and the relatively cheap cost for his doing it, Gibson's value both in the present and the long term made this an easy decision for the Chicago Bulls.
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