Tom Thibodeau doesn’t like getting into debates over individual accolades and awards, but even he can’t deny that Taj Gibson should be rewarded at season’s end.
Thibodeau made his case - again - for the Bulls’ reserve power forward as Sixth Man of the Year on Saturday night before the team’s matchup against the lowly Sixers at the United Center.
“The biggest thing for him is what he’s contributed to us winning — and I hate to lock into individual awards,” Thibodeau admitted before continuing on. “I think players are recognized when the team has success. He’s been a huge part of it, and the way he’s played all year I’m hopeful he will be recognized.”
Gibson has started eight games this season, but in the 61 games he’s hasn’t he has been a saving grace for a Bulls team that ranks 21st in bench points per game and 27th in bench field goal percentage.
He’s averaging career-bests in points (13.2), assists (1.1), minutes (28.7) and has helped offset the loss of Luol Deng, who was traded to the Cavaliers in January, on both ends of the floor. And as Thibodeau noted, that may be his best contribution, the fact that the Bulls have overcome Deng’s departure and Derrick Rose’s injury to sit fourth in the Eastern Conference at 38-31.
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The things that he does for our team are all team-oriented,” Thibodeau continued. “He plays great defense, challenges shots, guards everybody, runs the floor hard, sets great screens, does his job. Offensively gets deep post position, gets quality shots up, when the second guy comes he makes the play, he’s gotten comfortable in pick and roll situations.”
Gibson also has increased his production as the season has gone on. He has increased all his major numbers since the All-Star break, and had his best month of the year in February, averaging 16.9 points and 8.2 rebounds.
Defensively, opponents are shooting two percentage points better when Gibson is not on the court, and the Bulls’ 103.8 offensive rating is four points higher (99.8) than when he isn’t. Simply put, Gibson’s play — specifically in the fourth quarter — has led the Bulls to wins they otherwise wouldn’t have finished. Outside of Joakim Noah and DJ Augustin, there hasn’t been a more important player in Chicago than Gibson.
He will, however, face steep competition for the award, as the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili and the Suns’ Markieff Morris all have legitimate cases to win the award. Ben Gordon (2005) and Toni Kukoc (1996) are the only two Bulls to win the award since its creation in 1982.
“I think he’s had a terrific year for us,” Thibodeau finished, “and I hope he does get recognized.”