For years Tom Thibodeau told Taj Gibson that he wanted to get the 6-foot-11 forward more touches on offense, allowing him to use a much-improved postgame and jump shot to his and the Bulls’ advantage.
And though it didn’t truly happen until the 2013-14 season, Gibson is glad he was patient, and the Bulls are glad Gibson continued to work on his skill set.
Gibson’s career-best season continued Tuesday as he scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Bulls’ 100-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks. He also added five assists and a blocked shot in a team-high 46 minutes.
“I worked on my post game, my jump shot, just things you have to work on in the NBA. But the main thing was confidence. You can work our 100 hours a day, but without confidence it’s nothing,” Gibson said. “I’ve got a great group of guys that believe in me. I’ve got a great coach that believes in me and I’m just taking it in stride.”
Gibson received his third straight start in place of Carlos Boozer, who was unable to play with a sore left calf. And while the talk last week was bout Gibson finishing games better than Boozer, the USC product’s play early in games may have Thibodeau re-thinking the starting lineup when Boozer eventually returns.
Gibson scored six of the Bulls’ first 11 points and added three rebounds and two assists in a first quarter that saw the Bulls lead by as many as 16 points. It was similar to his performance in Los Angeles on Sunday, when he scored 12 of the Bulls’ first 23 points.
“When I start it’s like my mindset is to start the game off the right way, try to help us with the lead, get a nice rhythm going and try to contain the lead,” he said. “Whatever role, I’m capable of doing both. The main thing is I’m having fun, smiling, all the stuff’s behind me from last year and I’m just taking it in stride.”
Added Thibodeau: “Taj has been very, very good. He’s got a good mix of a post game: duck in, offensive rebounding, the face-up, the pick and roll. So he’s scoring a bunch of different ways and I think he’s doing a great job reading defenses. So he knows what he’s trying to get to.”
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For as good as Gibson has been offensively – he’s now averaging 22.6 points in his three starts for Boozer – his defense was, once again, superb. This time it occurred against All-Star reserve Paul Millsap, who entered Tuesday’s game coming off back-to-back 20-point, 10-rebound performances.
But against Gibson he could only muster 15 points and two rebounds in 33 ineffective minutes. It was yet another highlight reel for Gibson to use when voters begin considering Defensive Player of the Year and the NBA All-Defense teams.
It’s been a work in process for Gibson, who came into the NBA at 24 years old yet still needed to refine his game. Thibodeau has said on multiple occasions that Gibson is the team’s best practice player and hardest worker, and it’s something Noah, the Bulls’ leader, reiterated when talking about his frontcourt mate’s work ethic.
“Taj is playing great basketball. The way he plays, he’s been huge for us. He’s a load down in the post, and he’s hungry,” Noah said. “Just every day working, and he’s just lifting weights every day and you can see the focus he comes with every day and the intensity he comes with every day.
“We wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for Taj.”