Over the past couple seasons, Taj Gibson has become a fan favorite player for the Chicago Bulls, but his lack of production to start the 2012-13 season provides reason to wonder if he's rapidly becoming overrated.
Prior to the season, Gibson inked a four-year, $38 million extension with the Bulls. This is quite a lucrative contract to be paying a backup power forward, but there wasn't much reason to question the signing since Gibson has looked splendid the past couple seasons.
Many have even lobbied for Gibson to be inserted into the starting lineup ahead of veteran Carlos Boozer. While Boozer is more adept offensively, he's not near the defender of Gibson. Further, while Gibson's offensive game hasn't flashed much finesse, he is a better finisher near the rim than Boozer.
Therefore, fans and analysts have speculated how Gibson's numbers would skyrocket once he played consistent minutes. The thought has been that Gibson could potentially average a double-double while also supplying All-Star-caliber defense in the low post.
But have we gotten ahead of ourselves?
Based on the first 12 games this season, the answer to that question appears to be yes.
Gibson is currently averaging less points and less rebounds than last season while playing about the exact same minutes per game. Further, his field-goal percentage rests at a measly 43.1 percent, which is beyond unacceptable for a man of his size and athleticism.
This begs us to wonder if he's becoming overrated. He's always been a fan favorite because of his defensive prowess and his ability to "posterize" opponents. Bulls fans will never forget when Gibson dunked on Dwyane Wade in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals.
However, on a game-to-game basis, Gibson's production hasn't progressed since his rookie season, when he averaged career highs in points and rebounds.
Part of this is because his minutes have been limited due to Boozer's presence, but Gibson's overall lack of development is a cause for concern. Is he really fit to be Chicago's power forward for the future? Was he really worthy to reward with a hefty contract?
An element that cannot be overlooked in this discussion is Chicago's decision to bring back Gibson but not former Bull Omer Asik, now a member of the Houston Rockets. With so much money already invested in big men (Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer), the Bulls couldn't afford to give long-term contracts to both Gibson and Asik.
They thus zeroed in on Gibson and allowed Asik to walk away. Asik was a restricted free agent, and the Bulls could've matched the deal Houston offered him, but they knew this would essentially eliminate their hope to retain Gibson.
Perhaps their decision had logic at the time, but now it's looking like it lacked sense. It now appears that Gibson is the overrated one of the two, while Asik is the underrated one (or, was the underrated one).
When Asik was in Chicago, fans were quick to complain about his inability to catch and hit free throws, but his numbers in Houston are unquestionably eye-opening (10.2 points per game, 11.9 rebounds per game and 1.3 blocks per outing).
Further, he's solidified himself as one of the game's premier defensive centers, if not the premier defensive center. Quite frankly, the Bulls defense this season has not been as formidable as the past couple years. One obvious influence on this has been the absence of Asik.
This all points to the fact that Gibson appears to have been overrated in the NBA world, while Asik has been underrated.
Now it seems like the truth is coming out, and what's evident is the Bulls likely should've kept Asik and potentially traded Gibson prior to the season (while his value remained high and they still could've attained some quality pieces in return).
But now the Bulls simply have to hope that Gibson has not hit his peak yet, and that his numbers will begin to dramatically increase. He is being paid like a starter and he should thus produce like one, especially considering the fact that he's 27 years old and should seemingly be in the thick of his prime.
The discussion should certainly not infer that Gibson's an unworthy player in the Bulls' rotation. He still brings plenty to the table, but after netting an extension, the expectations are inevitably raised. As of now, he's not meeting those expectations, and he doesn't appear to be taking his game to new levels.
Now is the time for him to break away from the "prospect"-type player who looks fantastic in flashes but lacks consistency. He simply hasn't broken away from this label and perhaps he never will. Perhaps he will just remain a high-energy reserve who can defend adequately, block shots and score off putbacks. However, his contract is clearly begging for much more.
The bottom line is that Gibson should be having the type of season that exclaims why he should be a starter.
Instead, it's been the opposite, and there have even been games when Gibson hasn't logged major minutes. This hasn't been because coach Tom Thibodeau is riding Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah too much, but because Gibson wasn't effectively contributing and thus didn't deserve to be on the floor.
This trend can't continue. Gibson must establish himself as a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor, and this needs to happen on a steady basis. If it doesn't, the Bulls are going to be left staring at a contract they never wished they would've signed (while also dwelling on how they should've actually signed Asik).
Gibson has been a core member of Chicago's success the past couple seasons, and he will remain a part of their core for years to come. But his production must start rising or else there won't just be speculation over whether he's overrated, there will be a consensus that the Bulls' backup power forward is vastly overpaid.
*Statistics used in this article were as of November 25, 2012.