Bulls

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

Taj Gibson began working on his 3-point shot as early as this past offseason. That work in the gym from beyond the arc continued into training camp, the preseason and eventually the regular season.

The eight-year veteran didn't attempt his first 3-pointer until the 21st game of the season, and that came in the final minute as the Bulls trailed by nine against the Pistons. Gibson's 27-foot heave from the left wing was off, and he proceeded to play the next 17 games without attempting another.

But recently Gibson had a conversation with head coach Fred Hoiberg, who knew the 31-year-old power forward had been putting in additional time to work on his corner 3-pointers. Hoiberg told Gibson he believed in his corner 3-pointer and that he'd allow the Bulls' forward to shoot them in games.

On Jan. 10, Gibson took a pass from Rajon Rondo midway through the first quarter and hoisted a 3-pointer from the left corner. He connected, marking just the second made 3-pointer of his career, and his first since the 2010-11 season.

Between triples Gibson, always a reliable midrange shooter, attempted and missed 22 3-pointers. But with the added practice time and confidence, and a blessing from his head coach, Gibson believes the 3-pointer can become an asset, going as far to say he’d like to shoot two triples per game.

There is, however, one aspect of the shot still standing in his way.

"When you get out there you never really realize how far it is until you're lined up and the crowd is like, 'Shoot it!'" Gibson said after Thursday's practice at the Advocate Center. "Your teammates are behind you, but it's fun. Hopefully (I) look forward to trying to make some in the future."

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Gibson attempted two more triples in Saturday's win over the Hornets and another in Sunday's win over the Grizzlies. All three were off-target, but just seeing Gibson step into the attempts and fire with confidence was a sight for sore eyes on a Bulls team lacking from outside.

Through the season's first half the Bulls rank last in both 3-point field goal percentage (31.7 percent) and 3-pointers made (6.4 per game). Their 276 total made 3-pointers as a team are less than two pairs of teammates (Houston’s Eric Gordon and James Harden, 301; Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, 283).

The Bulls' expected top 3-point shooters – Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Denzel Valentine – have combined to go 114-for-350, or 32.5 percent. Starters Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade haven’t fared much better, albeit on fewer attempts, while Chicago's trio of point guards have made 29 percent of their 144 3-point attempts. Simply put, there's ample opportunity to see what Gibson can do from deep without messing up the team's current perimeter shooting.

"It's something that he worked on a lot in the offseason. So yeah if he's open in the corner we want those shots," Hoiberg said. "It’s obviously a huge part of today's game. The 3-point shot, to have multiple players that can stretch the floor out there, those teams are really hard to guard."

Gibson's not the only Bulls big man experimenting. Robin Lopez said he, too, has been working on his outside shot in practice. Gibson joked that Hoiberg hasn't yet given Lopez permission to fire away from deep, while Hoiberg cracked that Lopez might be jealous of the 5.2 3-pointers his twin brother, Brook, is attempting this season in Brooklyn.

Lopez, like Gibson, has always had a dependable midrange shot. Per NBA.com, his 44.4 field goal percentage on midrange shots is fifth among centers this season.

"That’s something I've been working on more this season. I don't know if it's game-ready yet. That's more of a confidence issue," said Lopez, who added he's been working with assistant coach Pete Myers on the shot. "I think the way the NBA is going, I don't see why not. If Brook can do it, I definitely can."

Lopez is 0-for-5 from distance in his nine-year career, including 0-for-1 with the Bulls this season. But the defensive-minded center knows the ever-changing NBA game now includes teams wanting to get as many perimeter shooters on the floor at once. If he and/or Gibson can eventually be part of that, he knows the difference it could make.

"I think it's wonderful for the game. I think there's a real premium on skill at all positions on the court. I think that's going to continue. You're going to have more skilled and more talented big men," he said. "There's always a new breed of big men right around the corner."

Bulls Talk Podcast: Coby White and Daniel Gafford join Mark Schanowski

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Coby White and Daniel Gafford join Mark Schanowski

Mark Schanowski is joined by Bulls top draft picks Coby White and Daniel Gafford after they were introduced to the media Monday at the Advocate Center.

0:50        White on how he thinks he can help the Bulls

1:25        White on his meeting with Jim Boylen

2:00        White on joining a very young roster

2:30        White on the influence of his father

3:33        White on the viral video of him reacting to Cam Johnson being drafted

4:50        White on his teammate first personality

5:38        White on looking forward to playing w Gafford

6:42        Gafford on his skill set

7:15        Gafford on watching the NBA when he can

7:40        Gafford on evolving big man role

8:47        Gafford on if he can do more offensively

9:20        Gafford on Bobby Portis, and some of their similarities

10:30     Gafford on some of his highlights from Arkansas

11:10     Gafford on Jim Boylen

11:30     Gafford on pick n roll game

12:00     Gafford on Coby White

12:40     Gafford on falling to the 2nd round, how getting drafted by the Bulls worked out

13:22     Gafford on throwing out 1st pitch at an upcoming Sox game

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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NBA Draft: The two instances that sold the Bulls on Coby White

NBA Draft: The two instances that sold the Bulls on Coby White

From what Coby White, Jim Boylen and John Paxson have expressed, there appear to have been two key factors that led the Bulls to select the North Carolina point guard seventh overall on Thursday night.

The first came early in November when general manager Gar Forman was scouting the Tar Heels in Las Vegas. White was an absolute star in two games against Texas and UCLA, averaging 26.0 points on 57% shooting (16 of 28), 5.5 3-pointers on 11 of 17 shooting and 5.5 assists. White also had just four turnovers in 54 minutes and got to the free throw line 13 times.

"Gar saw Coby play out in Las Vegas early in the year and my phone was blowing up with texts from Gar. That was the moment he was on the radar for sure," Paxson said. "It was Gar seeing Coby in Las Vegas that got the antenna up."

Paxson also referenced White's success against Duke as attention-grabbing. White struggled in the first of three matchups against the Blue Devils, scoring just nine points on 3 of 14 shooting. But White responded at home with a 21-point outing in Game 2, and in the ACC Championship Game tallied 11 points, 5 rebounds 4 assists and 3 steals in 38 minutes.

"He talked about it when we did our background that he wasn’t’ going to have that happen again," Paxson said of White's initial clunker against Duke, "and the next two times he played Duke, he had really good games and learned from it. That’s what so much of this is about."

That second Duke game - a game the Tar Heels won, 79-70, over the Zion-less Blue Devils - was also the moment White began feeling like he might be a one-and-done prospect. He didn't arrive in Raleigh feeling that way, but the 21-point effort on 8 of 18 shooting (and a career-high 3 blocks) put the thought in his head. It was part of a dominant stretch that included 34 points against Syracuse, 28 more against Clemson and, five days after the Duke game, 19 points against Louisville in the ACC Tournament.

"I think it changed after we played Duke at home," White said. "I started to get a lot of buzz, started getting on draft boards in the top 10. And then kind of after the season, I talked to Coach (Roy) Williams before anyone, and he kind of gave me his blessing, saying that I should go. After that it was kind of an easy decision for me."

The other instance that brought White to Chicago was a pre-draft meeting on the Saturday before the NBA Draft. White arrived in Chicago and, despite opting not to work out privately for the Bulls, did meet with Paxson and Boylen. Both Paxson and White described that interview as a telling sign of the mutual interest, and Boylen reiterated that impressive interaction on Monday when White was introduced to the media at the Advocate Center.

“He looks you in the eye when you talk to him. He’s coachable. He has a soul and a spirit, which I think is important, and he’s been just awesome to deal with,” Boylen said. “We had a great meeting. It was great for both of us.”

White described that meeting with Boylen as the best he had with any coach in the pre-draft process. Paxson said White was “anxious for more” after the coaching Boylen did in that meeting, with the two looking at both good and bad film from White’s freshman season.

It all culminated in Thursday night’s selection. With both Darius Garland and Jarrett Culver off the board, the Bulls drafted for both talent and need in selecting White. He isn’t a traditional point guard – his 24.7% assist rate is evidence of that – but he gives the Bulls both a dynamic scorer and someone to push the ball in transition. Paxson said as much on Thursday and Boylen doubled down on that assessment four days later.

“Well I think the most important thing for us is when the ball is in his hands. We have to run with him. We want to play faster. We want to play smart, but we want to play faster when it's appropriate. He's a guy that can make decisions on the move. We've got to get the rest of our team to run with him. That's going to be our job, and I'm excited for that.”

White will also give the Bulls a floor spacer – he shot 35.3% from deep as a freshman – at the position, something they desperately needed the past few years. He’s hardly a finished product but should get the chance to improve right away, whether it’s as a starter or backing up a free agent acquisition in July.

But Boylen applauded White’s desire to get better, something that rubbed off in that pre-draft interview. White had a direct answer when asked what he needs to improve on in his rookie season.

“Coming in, decision-making. The league is ball screen-heavy so decisions off ball screens. At Carolina, coaches kind of wanted me to really just go one speed and that’s fast all the time,” White said. “I think coming into the league, I can use my change of speed and change of pace better. I’ve been trying to work on that a lot. Those two things are really key for me.”

Finding talent was key for the Bulls after a 22-win season. But they’re also thrilled with the personalities and workers they found in both White and second-round pick Daniel Gafford.

“We drafted these guys because of their ability to be coached and be teachable,” Boylen said. “Everything we got back on their background was teachable, coachable, want to get better, care for their teammates. Those are the kind of guys we targeted.”