Taj Gibson’s preseason and early-season production is making him look like a nice asset via trade as the season moves along. Developing the young, big forwards should be a better option, while Gibson gets a potentially bigger role elsewhere.
After a great 2-0 start for the Chicago Bulls in the first week of the season, we’ll continue to see how the power forward position works out for Fred Hoiberg with Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis all wanting minutes there.
There will be teams where Gibson might have a tough time grabbing rebounds and scoring with the same high level as he has shown in the preseason and in the wins over the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. Scoring 20+ points and grabbing 10+ rebounds on a consistent basis might look like a great fit for the moment, but those stats might be like Pau Gasol‘s own stats in his two seasons in Chicago. They might win games now, but looking at the bigger picture, it might not help the Bulls make a good run at the playoffs.
Gibson didn’t show much during his playoff performances under Tom Thibodeau before Fred Hoiberg took over last season. Does Hoiberg risk a playoff run with a fragile power forward?
Or, do the Bulls start early and develop both Cristiano Felicio and Bobby Portis as better and more versatile offensive weapons? Paul Zipser, who’s just 23 and has the same high-energy, high-IQ that Gibson plays.
Those three guys on the bench will be having a bigger impact on the power forward position with staggered minutes than Gibson getting empty stats like Gasol.
Prior to the 2016 preseason and the start of the regular season, offensive rebounds were not a priority, and Hoibergs’s teams tended to trust that a faster-paced game and sure shooters would be the team’s advantage.
That experiment failed miserably in Hoiberg’s first season with the Bulls. But, with the help of everyone, from Gar Forman and John Paxson wanting more defense and rebounding from the back court, to assistant coach Jim Boylen reworking the team to harass opposing playmakers and to rebounding the ball well, the Bulls have shown a renewed defensive outlook going forward.
In fact, many teams are now reverting to the traditional low post offense-defense look, which is more balanced than the frantic small-ball that was popularized by the Golden State Warriors. (The Warriors lost by 20 on Opening Night to the more traditional team makeup of the San Antonio Spurs.)
As good as Gibson has performed so far, he is a second slower recovering in the paint to help on slashers — the Bulls’ bane in the preseason.
There is a difference between having a wall body to make the rim more difficult to drive to and a tall and long post defender keeping the rim safe by just relying on athleticism. Though Gibson has proven worthy with his production numbers, the eye test says a different thing and you can see Gibson is rather a liability as a rim finisher when swarmed and as a post defender against slashing tall and long forwards.
The Bulls need someone like Cristiano Felicio in there instead of Gibson as the wall body or as the shot blocker. Bobby Portis can compensate for the defensive and offensive rebounding and still provide the team with mid-range and three-point shooting. Portis was averaging 9.4 rebounds a game as the designated power forward in the Summer League team, but with Gibson starting, he won’t have the opportunity to take on the role and produce.
The only bruiser-power forward combination right now for the Chicago Bulls will be Felicio and Robin Lopez. Having an intense rebounder like Portis to help out and to run out after ball recovery should make the team play faster, too. With Gibson playing, the Bulls lose out on that until Hoiberg remembers how all the guys in the bench played late last season.
The Bulls should trade Taj Gibson sooner rather than later
The time to trade Taj Gibson should be late in the month or by mid-December after Hoiberg sees and remembers how the other Bulls power forwards play more productively when given the chance.
To be honest, I don’t like Gibson because he tends to be a black hole on offense in the paint and sometimes forces shots against body walls, unlike Felicio, who can step around a wall and reverse or fly and jam into a wall. Portis can play with loads of energy, while Zipser plays bigger than his height and more aggressively than his size. All three have more efficient scoring skills than Gibson.
Even when shooters are free on the sides and out at the top of the arc, Gibson almost never waits for the defense to collapse and kick the ball back out for a stronger scoring chance from long range.
Given that the Bulls’ catch-and-shoot prowess is actually underrated, official stats don’t always tell what you can see with your own eyes watching the game. When Gibson got hurt last year and Felicio and Portis stepped up to man the post defense and pick-and-dive game, the Bulls played more explosively and played the rim-running game better.
The Bulls should ship Gibson for another wing perimeter defender like they were thinking in acquiring Michael Carter-Williams. When the Bulls transition into Felicio and Portis as starting stretch-bigs, we’ll see more consistent Hoiball offense and the same intense defensive posture in the paint.
Gibson might even be worth a first-round draft pick from 2017 for teams in the Western Conference that want to beef up with a proven strong rebounder and backup post scorer.