Monday, April 11, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.
By Aggrey Sam
NEW YORKWith all the gloom-and-doom talk the Bulls have been espousing lately, one would think the team didnt realize theyre a 60-win team and the Easts top seed for the upcoming playoffs. But while no can argue with the results that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has gained from his striving-for-perfection approach, there are clearly some positive recent trends.
From the obvious, such as Derrick Roses comfort in the clutch and game management, to the more subtle, like Carlos Boozers playmaking abilitymaybe his scoring numbers arent always as gaudy as expected, but the power forwards ability to command a double team in the low post and set up his teammates for easy baskets has taken pressure off Rosethe Bulls goal of continuing to get better as the season goes on is being manifested in roles developing in an ongoing process.
An example: Taj Gibson. After an unexpected NBA all-rookie team debut campaign in which he started 70 regular-season gamesand supplanted Tyrus Thomas as a starter, perhaps hastening the former lottery picks departureGibson overcame a tough summer personally to pick up where he left off by filling in for the injured Boozer at the beginning of this season. But when Boozer returned to health, Gibson struggled with both injury woes and the adjustment of coming off the bench.
The second-year USC product has been inconsistent, but as of late, he has truly embraced his role as the Bulls first big man off the bench and an energy player.
At first, the beginning of the year, Thibodeau wanted me to start, take shots, play big minutes, rebound the ball and do my job. Then, it was just come off the bench, figure out your minutes, figure out less minutes, do what you need to do. Its all been learning steps my first two years in this league. Hes been around the league a long time, so hes just been helping me and telling me what I need to do: Play with a lot of pace, a lot of poise and go out there, play your game. Let everything fall out, just go out there and unleash, said Gibson, a New Yorker, who will have a homecoming of sorts in the Bulls game against the Knicks Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Whenever he needs me to go out there and calm down a big that can really stretch the floor, and just try to contain him, he puts me in that role. He uses me in a lot of different roles.
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With him, he just wants me to be ready and when I get in the game, dont worry about my minutes. Just play 100 miles-per-hour, just go out thereeven if I make mistakesand just play hard.
Gibson isnt always going to put up big numbers statistically with Boozer in front of him and a capable post-player rotationveteran Kurt Thomas and rookie Omer Asik can also play major minutes, depending on matchupsbut with starting center Joakim Noah still struggling with his timing since returning from a sprained right ankle, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native has been increasingly valuable. For instance, in Sundays win over Orlando, Gibson was key in containing the Magics Ryan Andersonwho started in place of suspended All-Star center Dwight Howard. Anderson is primarily a pick-and-pop big man, whose versatility gave Noah trouble.
I had to go against him for two years. In college, it seemed to me that he was shooting a little deeper, so I already had my eyes set on what Coach needed me to and thats one thing about our team, explained Gibson, who faced Anderson when both were Pacific-10 Conference stars in college. We have a lot of different big men for any situation, so when he called my name, I understood that he wanted me to show a lot, wanted me to stay out there on the wing and when they went to a smaller lineup, he wanted me to switch a lotone through fiveand I was ready and better equipped for that.
Gibsons efficient play and improved work ethic has earned praise from Thibodeauboth publicly and privatelywhich is no small feat.
Hes just been telling me that Ive been doing a good job with staying late, getting my reps in, working on my game, keeping my game crisp, getting better and taking advantage of the situations, just going in, play my game, playing with effort.
"I feel good. Ive been taking care of my body, revealed Gibson. One thing about Thibs, he lives in the gym and I have teammates that have been helping me get better in Derrick, Carlos, Joakim, Lu. Its been up and down all year, but theyve been sticking with me and its been getting better.
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Taj has been playing terrific, whatever role you put him in. you play him at the four, you play him at the five, praised Thibodeau, who has been quietly been giving Gibson some of Noahs minutesHes got to do better. Hes capable. We need him. We need him to play better and he will, said the coach of his starting centerwhile the latter attempts to get back in the swing of things. He plays defense, he challenges shots, he blocks shots, he sets great screens, hes playing with a lot of energy.
He had some setbacks with injury, but hes gotten better as the seasons gone along. I think the biggest adjustment for him was going from being a starter to coming off the bench, Thibodeau went on to say about Gibson. I think hes comfortable with that now and of course, we know if he has to start, he can handle that great. But his shot-blocking ability to switch on pick-and-rolls, hes gotten much better with his jump shot from 17 feet, hes got a great jump hook inside.
Hes playing at a very high level for us right now.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.