During CSN Chicago's NBA season preview this summer, we looked at how Taj Gibson, once known primarily a lethal threat from 15+ feet out, was working his way toward becoming an elite inside scorer. In each of his first four seasons he showed improvement in the painted area, while his jump shooting had decreased in efficiency, he also was attempting fewer outside shots in each of the last three seasons.
And this season that trend has certainly continued. Though the Bulls' offense has been a nightmare due to injuries and lineup inconsistencies -- Chicago ranks 29th in points per game, field goal percentage and offensive efficiency -- Gibson has put together one of his best offensive seasons. Through 25 games, Gibson is averaging a career-best 11.6 points on 48 percent shooting.
And like we documented in August, Gibson's successes have come due to his commitment to work inside and move away from his jumper. The numbers tell the story:
In 2013-14, Gibson has attempted 207 of his 246 shots inside 16 feet, or 84 percent of his total attempts, per NBA.com. That number is up from a year ago, when 260 of his 441 attempts came "inside," just 59 percent. And while he's attempting more shots at the rim, he's also making them at a greater clip. This season Gibson has made 63.2 percent of his shots inside 16 feet, up from his 54 percent mark a year ago. Gibson made 156 shots inside 8 feet last season in 65 games; through 25 games he has already tallied 86 makes from the same range.
Diving further into these numbers through the use of Sport VU tracking, Gibson is quickly becoming one of the better interior scorers in the NBA. He's averaging 4.7 points per game on made baskets that start within 12 feet of the basket. These "close points" can be anything from a step-back jumper, a floater, an offensive rebound put-back or a dunk in transition; the ball just needs to be in the player's hand within 12 feet when he first touches it.
Those 4.7 points may not seem like much, but it ranks 14th in the NBA, and Gibson is the only regular non-starter in the top-20. Only Denver's JJ Hickson (ranked 21st with 4.2 points per game on "close shots") averages fewer minutes per game than Gibson in the top-25. Chicago's sixth man is racking up points inside at a pace on par with some of the best big men in the league (the likes of Dwight Howard, Kevin Love and Marc Gasol rank above him) while playing fewer minutes and coming off the bench.
Gibson has even improved his long-range jumpers from 30 percent to 38 percent this season, but the biggest takeaway from the first 25 games this season is that the 28-year-old Gibson is making a concerted effort to finish in the painted area. With Joakim Noah missing time, he's been called upon to play more (he's averaging a career-high 27 minutes per game) and he's making good on it, helping a Bulls offense that needs every bit it can get.
In a season full of injury and disappointment, Gibson has been a true bright spot inside for the Bulls.