Warrick Already a Huge Upgrade over Thomas

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Warrick Already a Huge Upgrade over Thomas

Monday, Feb. 22, 2010
6:20 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

I know it's only been two games since Hakim Warrick joined the Bulls after the trade with Milwaukee, but he's already become an important part of the rotation with his ability to run the floor and finish near the basket. Warrick also understands defensive rotations, and he's where he's supposed to be on both ends of the floor, a task that always seemed too much for Tyrus Thomas to comprehend. I'm not saying Warrick is more talented than Thomas, because he's not. Basically, they are very similar players. Both stand 6'9", both have good leaping ability and both do their best offensive work close to the basket. Tyrus has done a good job in his first two games with the Bobcats. He's averaging five blocks a game and double figure rebounds. I'm sure Michael Jordan and Larry Brown feel like they stole a young player with worlds of potential from the Bulls. But what happens when Tyrus inevitably gets into a shouting match with Brown, or decides he doesn't feel like hustling in a particular game? Don't be surprised if his honeymoon period in Charlotte ends in the near future.

As for Warrick, I always liked his potential coming out of Syracuse. He played four seasons for the Orange, and that experience in a top college program obviously helped his fundamentals and maturity. Warrick is a career 50-percent shooter, and he was a starter for a good chunk of his four years in Memphis. The arrival of Zach Randolph forced him to look for a new home in free agency and he signed on with Milwaukee just before the start of training camp. Warrick started some games for the Bucks, but Scott Skiles never could settle on a consistent rotation because of injuries and the addition of several new players to the roster. Here in Chicago, Warrick should get 25 to 30 minutes every night as the first forward off the bench, and his role in the offense should grow once he learns all the plays and the tendencies of his new teammates. We've heard a lot of talk about expiring contracts, and Warrick's 3 million dollar deal does run out at the end of the season. But after the Bulls make a play for one of the elite free agents, let's hope they've got money left to bring back a valuable reserve like Warrick.

MILLER TURNING BACK THE CLOCK

Have you noticed how well the Bulls' half-court offense functions with Brad Miller and Kirk Hinrich in the lineup together? Early in the season, it looked like Miller was nearing the end of his career. He was moving slower than usual, wasn't hitting that perimeter jumper and was making too many careless turnovers. But ever since Vinny Del Negro made the lineup change on December 26th to put Hinrich in the starting lineup, Miller has been one of the team's most consistent players. He's using that pump fake move to get past opposing centers,and drive to the basket for easy hoops. And, he's also hitting the 15 to 18 foot jumper more consistently. Miller's feeling so frisky he's even added the three-point shot to his offensive arsenal. And, how about that celebration dance coming back down after a made three? My partner, Kendall Gill, calls that move the "Funky Ostrich." The truth is, the Bulls wouldn't be over .500 right now without the contributions of Miller. He's taken on additional minutes because of Joakim Noah's foot injury, and the extra playing time has made him more effective. Watching Miller and Hinrich run the high screen and roll is a joy for those of us who enjoy the finer points of the game. Neither player is going to beat their defender 1-on-1, but their ability to pass and cut and find the soft spots in the opposing team's coverage should be made into an instructional tape for young players.

By the way, Noah says his foot is finally feeling better after missing most of the last three weeks to rest a bad case of plantar fasciitis. The Bulls need to be careful not to rush him back into playing heavy minutes, and with the way Miller is playing, they can gradually increase Noah's playing time as they look forward to the playoffs in mid-April.

GIBSON ONE OF THE STEALS OF THE 2009 DRAFT

Another reason the Bulls can afford to be patient with Noah is the play of rookie power forward Taj Gibson. Gibson was supposed to watch and learn this season after he was drafted 26th overall last June. Matter of fact, he was the second forward the Bulls took on draft night after they selected James Johnson with the 16th pick. Johnson was the guy who was supposed to crack the rotation, while Gibson was looked at as more of a developmental player. The reality has been exactly the opposite. While Johnson has struggled to find out where his talents translate at the NBA level, Gibson showed he could contribute as an inside defender and consistent rebounder from Day 1 of training camp. And, with his confidence growing throughout the season, he's showing us an expanded offensive game, including left-handed finishes in the paint and crossover dribble moves. It's safe to say NBA scouts missed out in evaluating the 6'9" forward out of USC, but not here. Beyond the Arc projected Gibson as a good pick for the Bulls well ahead of the draft. Tim Floyd didn't have much success as a Bulls' coach, but let's give him some credit for getting Taj ready to play in the pros. Gibson credits Floyd for a lot of his development and that's good enough for me.

The Bulls were criticized by a number of the "so-called" NBA experts for passing twice on Pittsburgh big man DeJuan Blair in last June's draft, and Blair is having a solid rookie season for the Spurs. But Gibson is a better all-around player, and given Blair's issues with his knees, it sure looks like the Bulls got the right guy. General Manager Gar Forman says a number of teams asked the Bulls about Gibson in trade talks leading up to the deadline, which is a good indication of how he's viewed by other coaches and front office executives. Gibson's development might lead the Bulls to focus on the shooting guard position when the free agent signing period opens in July. But even if Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer winds up in a Bulls' uniform, Gibson is the kind of unselfish player who can have a lot of value coming off the bench in the future. NBA people are talking about Derrick Rose, Noah, and Luol Deng as the kind of foundation pieces that should help the Bulls attract free agents this summer. With the way Gibson has developed into a quality NBA starting power forward, it might be time to add his name to the list as well.

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

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

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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.”

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