After finishing as the runner-up in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year voting during the 2013-14 season, Taj Gibson — and most of his adoring fans in Chicago — expected he’d be in the starting lineup next season. This became even more of a foregone conclusion when the team finally amnestied last season’s lame-duck starter Carlos Boozer, who rarely finished the game with the rest of the starters. Except, with the signing of Pau Gasol in the offseason, Gibson again finds himself with the warmups on at the opening tip, something he’s not too keen on, but which may benefit the Bulls in the long run.
The news Gibson is a tad displeased he’ll again by used as a sixth man comes by way of Aggrey Smith of CSN Chicago:
Privately, Gibson isn’t too thrilled with the prospect of continuing to be a reserve, according to multiple people familiar with the situation, but the upbeat, team-first player values winning and chemistry too much to make it an issue or distraction. Furthermore, being an underdog his entire basketball career, it could serve as motivation and help him thrive, building upon last year’s bounce-back campaign and improvement as a scorer, which came after a disappointing, injury-riddled season immediately following a long-term contract extension with the Bulls on Halloween 2012.
In short, while Gibson might not like the writing on the wall, he’ll make the proper mental adjustment and the expectation here is that once again, the affable fan favorite will make his usual impact as one of the NBA’s most underrated defenders, explosive finisher with low-post polish and a reliable spark off the bench for a championship contender.
Gibson isn’t as strong on the defensive end as the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah. But — despite some smatterings of stout defense at the rim by Gasol during the FIBA World Cup — Gibson is a much stronger defender than Pau and one of the more underrated power forwards in the entire league on both sides of the ball. He’s significantly improved his range, and has a small arsenal of moves he can rely on from the block.
That’s why many believed — including Dime‘s writers — Taj deserved the Sixth Man award since he was better on both ends of the court. Jamal was a fine choice, but he’s primarily a catalyst on the offensive end and has to sometimes hide against weaker offensive players on the other side of the ball.
With Pau looking dominant at the World Cup, he’s probably the choice of coach Tom Thibodeau as Smith notes in his piece. But don’t be surprised if Thibodeau either continues to sit Gasol at the end of games, like he did Boozer last year, or — if the Spaniard can handle the minutes — he could team him with Pau and Noah in a bigger frontcourt, though spacing could be an issue since D-Rose needs room to work.
Nikola Mirotic is also on board now at the four-spot, coming over from Real Madrid, so there’s a logjam at power forward in Chicago with only rookie Doug McDermott and Mike Dunleavy as available small forwards. If there’s a way to use Pau as a more traditional four on the high post and if Taj can develop a three-pointer, he could get time as a small forward.
Regardless, this is a good problem for Thibodeau to have. The Bulls are likely favored to finish with the second best record in the Eastern Conference behind the triumvirate of all-stars in Cleveland, but with so many options at power forward, it could give GM Gar Forman some wiggle room at the February trade deadline.
Should Taj start ahead of Pau?
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