Chicago Bulls: Taj Gibson Must Start over Carlos Boozer with Derrick Rose Hurt

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistAugust 6, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 10: Taj Gibson #22 and C.J. Watson #7 of the Chicago Bulls react to a technical foul during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on May 10, 2012 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. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

With Derrick Rose hurt, the Chicago Bulls need to make a change in their rotation in order to stay competitive while Rose is out. That change, regardless of the salary structure, is to start Taj Gibson over Carlos Boozer. 

Primarily the reason for this is that Taj Gibson is the vastly superior defensive player, and the hook this team hangs its hat on is defense. Gibson's defense is not only better than Boozer's, it's better than most of the power forwards in the league. 

Defensive statistics are tricky business. Most people are aware by now that judging a player's defense based on steals and blocks is simply antiquated. Defense goes so far beyond those two things for one. Secondly, those two things can be deceptive. 

A player can gamble and shoot the passing lane for a steal. In the process of doing that, he can get steals at a more frequent rate. However, the number of times he gets burned isn't measured. Is one steal worth the five attempts at a steal before that which led to easy buckets?

By the same token, a player that blocks a shot out of bounds has done nothing more than a player who kicks the ball. It has little meaning on the defensive impact of the game. 

Ultimately judging a good defensive player purely through statistics is difficult. There are several advanced metrics and stats which have different ways of looking at things though, and when you combine all those things, you can get a good idea of whether a player is an outstanding defensive player or not. 

In other words, you might be able to "game the system" on one or two stats, but when you consistently shine, you are probably a good defender; and Taj Gibson excels across the board. 

One way of measuring defense is through Synergy, and Gibson's Synergy numbers are outstanding. He gives up just .77 points per play, and his opponents shoot a field-goal percentage of just 34.6 percent. 

The flaw with Synergy can be in assuming it's all inclusive. Taking the numbers in isolation can be deceiving. Players can get bailed out by help defense, and that can strengthen their numbers. In fact, sometimes a player can come over to help another player, and as a result, leave his man unguarded, who then gets the ball and scores because someone else didn't pick up their defensive assignment. 

There are, however, ways to surmise whether that's the case. One such way is to look at isolation defense and see if those numbers are better or worse. Generally if a player has poor defense in isolation (when the defense is spread apart and less help can be provided), but his overall number is good, it's because he's getting help. 

In Gibson's case, his isolation defense isn't only better, it's among the best in the NBA, giving up just .62 points per play. This suggests Gibson gives more help than he gets. 

Another way of evaluating whether he is getting help or providing help is to see how the team as a whole does without him compared to with him. If he is receiving the help, then his departure from the court should either improve the defense, or at least, have little impact on it. 

However, with Gibson what we have is an enormous impact. In fact, the Bulls give up 11.2 fewer points per 100 possessions when Gibson is on the court than when he is off of it. 

Again though, even on/off stats can be tricky things because of who you are playing against and with. Hypothetically for instance, you could have a below average player playing with four all-stars who could look better than one all-star playing with four below average players if you are just looking at those numbers. 

Once again though, there's a way of making sure you aren't making that mistake. One way of distinguishing between a player helping and being helped is to look individually at what he does with his teammates while he's on the court. If they are consistently better when he is on the court, you can logically conclude that he is giving the help more than receiving it.

Plus/minus numbers can be helpful in that regard. Plus/minus numbers are how much a player's team is better or worse than their opponents per 36 minutes while the player is on the court. The purpose is to give an indication of  the things that don't show up in box scores, such as defense, setting screens and so on. 

If a player has a good plus/minus, it is an indication that he is doing those things well. Of course, it could mean that his teammates are doing those things well and he benefits. That's why it's helpful to look at him in conjunction with each teammate. 

For example, James Jones has a plus 8.6 while LeBron James is on the court and a minus 6.3 when James is off the court. James is a plus 7.1 while Jones is on the bench. Ergo, we can conclude that Jones is beneficiary of James' help and not vice versa.

If you look at Gibson's teammates' plus/minus numbers when they are playing with Gibson compared to when he is on the bench, it is a startlingly consistent truth that they improve when he is on the court. Here are all the teammates he played at least 100 minutes with and their plus/minus when he was on the court with them compared to when he was off the court. 

In the following two tables, "TOC" means Taj on court and "TOB" means Taj on bench.

Teammate TOC TOB Dif
C.J. Watson 1.4 1.1 0.3
Carlos Boozer 11.4 4.5 6.9
Derrick Rose 10.7 6.5 4.2
Jimmy Butler 12.5 -1.6 14.1
Joakim Noah 6.9 5.1 1.8
John Lucas III 12.7 6.3 6.4
Kyle Korver 10.1 5.4 4.7
Luol Deng 7.9 5.5 2.4
Omer Asik 6.1 -0.5 6.6
Richard Hamilton 12.1 5 7.1
Ronnie Brewer 3.7 4.6 -0.9

Only one player, Ronnie Brewer, had a better plus/minus with Gibson off the court, and that is negligibly better. When you couple that with the fact that the team is nearly a net nine points better with Gibson on the court than off of it, it looks like Gibson makes the team better. 

Of course, the next argument could be that Gibson is benefiting from inferior competition since he is a bench player and not a starter. Of course, this overlooks the fact that he finishes many games and plays plenty of minutes against some of the best forwards in the game. 

Here are the forwards who rank among the top 30 in Player Efficiency Rating and who have played at least 15 minutes with Gibson on the court versus how they played when he was on the bench. 

LeBron James 48 38.00% 42 64.00%
Carmelo Anthony 52 39.00% 45 56.00%
Josh Smith 32 44.00% 40 45.00%
Chris Bosh 20 40.00% 25 44.00%
Kevin Garnett 12 42.00% 34 44.00%
Ersan Ilyasova 17 40.00% 23 70.00%
Greg Monroe 15 47.00% 35 51.00%
Paul Pierce 8 38.00% 51 35.00%
Ryan Anderson 8 25.00% 30 29.00%
Andre Iguodala 8 50.00% 30 43.00%
  220 40.24% 355 47.75%

As you can see, the best forwards in the Eastern Conference for the most part fare far worse when Gibson is on the court. I included both small forwards and power forwards because Gibson will frequently guard both.

A quick look at the table reveals that only two players had a higher field-goal percentage with Gibson on the court than when he was off of it. This strongly suggests that forwards are better guarded while Gibson is on the court. 

It also reveals that he was on it for nearly 40 percent of their field-goal attempts, which disproves the notion that he is "padding" his numbers by going against weaker competition. In fact, overall the players who are the best in the league only shot a tad over 40 percent while he was on the court, which is 7.5 percent worse than while he was off it. 

So either he is consistently lucky and all his teammates play better while he is on the court, the Bulls suddenly get 10 net-points better, and superstars all start playing at a sub-par level the moment he steps on the court for some completely unrelated reason or he just makes the Bulls better. 

Two words: Occam's razor. 

When you connect the dots, it's obvious, Gibson makes the Bulls so much better of a team defensively, so they need him to play more minutes, and they need him to be a starter. 

There is another reason though, and that has to do with the bench actually being a better role for Carlos Boozer. Boozer could actually do very well in a sixth-man role, and it's a role the Bulls need. 

Boozer is still a good scorer and an efficient one at that. He's been thrashed quite a bit by the Chicago fanbase because he disappears in big games, but one thing is inarguable, he thrives against weaker competition. 

So why not let him feast on it? The Bulls need scoring off the bench, and he would be able to provide that and leadership. In fact, if Boozer is coming off the bench, another major concern, Luol Deng's heavy minutes, could be alleviated. 

With Boozer's leadership off the bench, Deng would be able to sit more rather than running with the second unit so much of the time. 

Furthermore, Boozer's biggest weakness, his defense, wouldn't be exploited so much because he would be going against weaker competition. 

The Oklahoma City Thunder found great success using a similar tactic, where they let their better offensive shooting guard, James Harden, come off the bench and exploit opposing benches. 

Gibson is just a better option for starting, and frankly, Boozer is a better option for coming off the bench. If the Bulls want to remain in contention until Rose returns (and returns to form), a good idea would be to slide Gibson into the starting spot. 


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