Is Taj Gibson Ready to Be a Starter for Chicago Bulls?

James Davis@@JDouglasDavisAnalyst INovember 30, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 2: Taj Gibson #22 and Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls high fives against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on November 2, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Chicago Bulls power forward Taj Gibson has been such a significant contributor as a reserve the past three-plus years that one can’t help but wonder if he is ready for the task of being a starter.

It wouldn’t be completely uncharted territory for the former USC Trojan as he started 70 games during his rookie season averaging a very respectable nine points and 7.5 rebounds.

Gibson was moved to the second unit when the Bulls signed then-coveted free agent Carlos Boozer in the summer of 2010.

The reassignment was a logical one since Boozer was the more experienced player of the two and had what the team was lacking: offensive production.

While another switch between this pair is unlikely, Gibson is this franchise’s power forward of the future.

His ascension back into the first unit may be more imminent if the unofficial consensus that Boozer is the team’s top amnesty candidate holds true.

But after spending so many seasons coming off of the bench, can Gibson handle the increased expectations of being a starter?


The Signs That Point to Yes

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 5: Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls shoots against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on October 5, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or u
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

The Bulls have a reputation for being a mediocre offensive team that often struggles to put the ball in the basket.

Gibson is improving his offensive repertoire, but he still has a long way to go before he can become more of an asset than a liability to combat the team’s scoring maladies.

This downside is not enough to disqualify him as a legitimate starter.

Presently, Gibson’s 46.2 field-goal percentage is the lowest of his career so far.

On the surface, that suggests that he has been displaying his poorest shooting performance to date, but in reality, he has been adjusting to his variance of shot selection.

This season, Gibson has been doing more to establish his outside jumper.

When looking at his current shot chart compared to those from the 2012-13 and 2011-12 seasons, you see that the frequency with which Gibson has been taking perimeter shots puts him on pace for a career high in mid-range shot attempts.

Even if he doesn’t develop the outside touch that Chicago has been used to in recent years, being able to at least knock down the outside jumper when open forces opposing teams to respect Gibson wherever he is on the floor.

Another boon that would come with starting the five-year veteran would be an increase in offensive rebounding.

Gibson plays roughly five fewer minutes than his starting colleague, yet he averages 2.4 offensive rebounds just the same.

The potential of more second-chance points alone would validate inserting Gibson into the first unit.

While his offensive skill set is still growing, his ability to provide extra possessions would make up for the scoring shortcomings.

Considering the shooters added to the roster, especially rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy, a starting frontcourt anchored by Gibson and Joakim Noah bodes better than the current arrangement.

For all the positives that he would bring to the first unit, there are some things that could serve as liabilities.


Areas That Need Improvement

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 18:  Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls looks to pass against the Charlotte Bobcats on November 18, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Bobcats 86-81. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

While his shooting ability is a work in progress, there are two areas that need serious enhancing in order to insure that Gibson’s negative impact on the offensive side of the ball is limited.

First, he has to improve his free-throw shooting, which stands at 69 percent this season and 65.7 percent for his career.

One of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s delicate duties is finding balance in the rotation that benefits the ultimate team goal of winning.

In the closing minutes of close games, he has developed the strategy of alternating between Gibson for when the Bulls have to defend the ball and Boozer for when the team has to score.

Gibson’s offensive limitations in the half-court set surely contribute to this balancing act, but his lack of efficiency from the charity stripe is probably the biggest reason he splits a game’s closing minutes.

The inability to be a viable offensive option can be compensated for since a play doesn’t have to actually call for him to shoot; however, if he is fouled, then he becomes a threat to his team’s chance of pulling out a win.

If Gibson could increase his free-throw percentage to hover somewhere in the mid-70s, all other scoring inadequacies could be overlooked.

Secondly, Gibson needs to improve his facilitating.

A power forward is certainly not expected to be a playmaker; nevertheless, in a system that requires floor spacing and crisp passing, being able to set up a teammate to score is a must.

Gibson’s paltry 0.6 assists-per-game average doesn’t cut the mustard in that category.

Ball movement is the crux of Thibodeau's playbook. Even if shots aren’t falling, it is still necessary to see that every attempt is a high-quality one.

If Gibson does not get better at moving the ball and keeping things fluid, he will be the black hole where scoring productivity meets its demise.

These are the categories where Gibson would be a true downgrade as a starter and more of a burden to the team’s progress.


The Verdict

On the whole, Gibson is ready to be a starter.

His budding offensive stock and his defensive prowess will soon make him a legitimate two-way player, something that the Bulls frontcourt is lacking.

Initially, Chicago may miss the outside shooting and adept passing that Boozer contributes, but having another deft defender to guard the lane will make up for it.

Some may even think that Gibson should be starting now.

While solid arguments can be made for that point, the reality is that it was never his mantle to bear once Boozer was signed.

It may be hard to justify how someone as defensively challenged as Boozer could start for Thibodeau, but it’s even harder to justify paying someone $15 million to come off of the bench.

Gibson’s time will come, and when it does, he will rise to the challenge.



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