Bulls fans will witness passing of torch

435452.jpg

Bulls fans will witness passing of torch

Monday, April 4, 2011
Posted: 4:45 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

When the Bulls host Phoenix Tuesday night, the game will mean more than just a chance to move closer to wrapping up the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The sellout crowd at the United Center will get a chance to watch two-time league MVP Steve Nash pass the point guard torch to Derrick Rose, who looks like a lock to win his first Most Valuable Player award this season.

Where does Nash rank on your list of all-time point guards? And, how long will it take for Rose to join the ranks of Nash, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Oscar Robertson on the list of all-time greats at the position? Please post your comments in the section below.

READ: Season winds down, Bulls playoff picture heats up

Nash has been an amazing story, arriving in Phoenix as an undersized, virtually unknown 1st round draft pick out of Santa Clara. Nash played behind Kevin Johnson when he came into the league, and the Suns eventually traded him to Dallas, where he teamed with Dirk Nowitzki to turn the Mavericks into a Western Conference contender. Then, Mavs owner Mark Cuban decided not to offer Nash a long-term contract when he hit free agency, figuring his skills would start to decline in his 30s. Instead, Nash returned to Phoenix, and won back-to-back MVP awards, directing the leagues most prolific offense.

Now at age 37, Nash is close to the end of the line, and Rose has replaced him as the leagues best point guard. Sure, there were other presumed successors to Nashs crown like Chris Paul and Deron Williams, but Paul broke down physically and Williams star lost a lot of its luster from his involvement with Jerry Sloans departure in Utah and subsequent trade to New Jersey. Now, its Rose, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo rising to the top of the point guard class, and plenty of talented young guys right behind them like John Wall, Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry.

Back to Nash, its amazing how big a role he played in the Suns success. Nash has missed 32 games since he rejoined Phoenix in 2004-05. The Suns are 10-22 (.313) over that span in games without Nash, compared to 359-177 (.670) in games Nash has played. Thats what being an MVP is all about.

Rose is clearly irreplaceable with the Bulls. Despite the fact either Joakim Noah or Carlos Boozer has been out with injuries for most of the season, Rose has carried the Bulls to the best record in the East and 2nd best record overall in the league. Hes the only player in the NBA to rank in the top 10 in both scoring and assists, something Nash never did during his MVP seasons in Phoenix. And, Derricks work ethic and desire to win have rubbed off on his teammates, taking them to new heights.

READ: Bulls' Rodman, Winter, Gilmore in Hall of Fame

Nash missed the Suns game against San Antonio Sunday because of the flu, but head coach Alvin Gentry says Nash should be able to go against the Bulls. And, lets hope thats the case, because its only fitting that Rose would wrap up his first MVP season with another vintage performance against Nash. During Derricks brief three-year career, hes led the Bulls to four wins over Phoenix in five tries, averaging 26.8 points and 6.4 assists, compared to Nashs 13 points and 9.6 assists. Who knows, maybe Nash will decide he cant play against the Bulls Tuesday, not because of the flu, but because of a severe case of Rose-itis.

So, when youre enjoying the Bulls-Suns game Tuesday night, think about the amazing rise of Derrick Rose. Hes gone from Rookie of the Year to All-Star reserve to the presumed league MVP in the span of three years, and remember the best is still to come. Derrick is only 22!

So, where do Nash and Rose rank among the list of best point guards of all-time? Please post your comments in the section below.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

15494063_10154553009606858_998332033_n.jpg
USA TODAY

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

The 2011 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Miami Heat featured three future Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Derrick Rose had been named the youngest league MVP in league history weeks earlier. Luol Deng was blossoming and would earn All-Star nods in each of the following two seasons. $82 million man Carlos Boozer had averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first season with the Bulls. The series was loaded with star power.

But buried deep in that series was a matchup of unsung reserves that influenced the series far greater than their numbers in the box score indicated. Udonis Haslem averaged just 4.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes in the series – the Heat won in five games – but his impact was felt nonetheless, in part because of the physicality he brought against an energetic second-year forward named Taj Gibson.

“When we played them in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson had an incredible impact on that series, and (Haslem) was just coming back from an injury,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before Saturday’s tilt between the Bulls and Heat. “And we thought that was probably the missing component in that series early on, was having a player like UD to match up against (Gibson). And that really helped us close that series.”

Five years later Haslem is on the final leg of his NBA career. He’s only appeared sparingly in seven games for the Heat in this his 14th NBA season. But the two-time NBA champion has had a lasting impact on the Heat organization – so much so that they allowed him to miss Friday’s game to attend his son’s state-title football game in Florida – and has etched himself in Heat lore, despite never averaging more than 12 points or nine rebounds in a season.

It’s not unlike the career path Gibson has taken in his eight seasons in Chicago. The now-31-year-old Gibson has spent the majority of his career playing behind the likes of Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. And while he’s been an integral part of the Bulls’ rotation since joining the team in 2009, his role has never matched his ability or production. It’s why Haslem said he sees so much of himself in Gibson, an unselfish, care-free teammate, yet also someone who is willing to work every day despite the lack of accolades.

“Taj plays hard, man. He’s a guy that gets all the dirty work done. The banging down in the paint, he knocks down that 15-footer, (he) rebounds,” Haslem told CSNChicago.com. “A lot of similarities to myself when I was a little younger. Like you said, unsung. Doesn’t look for any attention, doesn’t look for any glory. Just goes out there, is professional, and does his job every night.”

And in his eighth NBA season, Gibson has done his job every night incredibly well. Through 23 games he’s posted career-best numbers in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals, and isn’t far off in points and blocks per game. His 16.9 PER would be a career-high.

He’s done all this with little real estate in the spotlight. Jimmy Butler has cemented himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, and free-agent acquisitions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have earned headlines.

But Gibson has been as reliable and consistent a frontcourt player as the Bulls have – he’s one of three players to have appeared in all 23 games this season – and he’s playing some of his best basketball while the Bulls are mired in a mini-slump.

“He’s a rock for us on this team,” Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s going to go out and do his job. He’s never going to complain about his role. He’s going to put on his hard hat and make the little plays that may not show up in the box score, but help you win.”

Including Gibson’s 13-point, seven-rebound effort in Saturday’s win over the Heat, he’s averaging 12.6 points on 58 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in the Bulls’ last 11 games. He’s corralled 16 offensive rebounds in that span – including two on Saturday that he put back for layups – and is the main reason the Bulls entered as the league’s top offensive rebounding team in the league (and second in total rebound percentage). The Bulls are also nearly six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Gibson on the floor.

Gibson’s and Haslem’s career numbers are eerily similar – Gibson has averaged 9.3 points on 49 percent shooting and 6.4 rebounds, compared to Haslem’s 7.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds, with this year excluded. And both players accomplished their numbers while acting as the third scoring option, at best, on their respective teams. Wade, who spent 13 seasons with Haslem, also sees similarities in the two forward’s games and personalities.

“Taj does his job. He doesn’t try to do too much. Some nights he’s featured a lot. Some nights he’s not. He’s out there to do his job, wants to win,” he said. “(Haslem and Gibson) are very similar. He has that mentality where he’s a workhorse and he’s going to do whatever it takes.”

Added Spoelstra: “Incredible amount of similar qualities. In my mind both those guys are winning players and have all the intangibles and toughness. Doing the little things, the dirty work, both those guys embody all those qualities. We’ve always respected Gibson because of that.”

Gibson is third on the Bulls in field goal attempts per game, the first time in his career he’s been higher than fifth in that category. The Bulls are using him more than ever before, and it’s paying off. He's in the final year of his four-year contract with the Bulls, and is looking at a significant pay raise in free agency this coming summer. Whether his future is in Chicago or elsewhere, don’t expect him to change his persona or mentality anytime soon. Much like Haslem did for years in Miami, Gibson has defined being a consummate professional, teammate and player.

“When you’re on championship teams, competing for a championship, trying to go deep in the playoffs, trying to do special things, guys are doing to have to sacrifice their game. Everybody can’t play big minutes; everybody can’t take the shots,” he said after the Bulls’ win over the Cavs on Thursday. “I’m one of the guys that sacrificed my game for the good of the team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to go out and do (it).

“If a coach wants me to set 100 screens and not take a shot, I’m gonna do that because I’m about helping the team. And that’s what I’ve been doing all these years. As long as I’m out there enjoying myself, having fun and playing with great teammates, I’m blessed.”

Morning Update: Bulls take down Heat for second time this season

morning_update_pic.jpg
USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls take down Heat for second time this season

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks square off with Stars tonight on CSN

Complete Bears-Lions coverage on CSN

Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade lift Bulls to win over pesky Heat

Brent Seabrook could return, but Jonathan Toews will miss ninth straight when Blackhawks play Stars

Three Bears necessities to lay a broom on the Lions

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

Bill Dineen, father of Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen, passes away

Tracy Abrams pours in career-high 31 points as Illini cruise past Central Michigan

Cincinnati hires Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell as new head coach