As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

Taj Gibson began working on his 3-point shot as early as this past offseason. That work in the gym from beyond the arc continued into training camp, the preseason and eventually the regular season.

The eight-year veteran didn't attempt his first 3-pointer until the 21st game of the season, and that came in the final minute as the Bulls trailed by nine against the Pistons. Gibson's 27-foot heave from the left wing was off, and he proceeded to play the next 17 games without attempting another.

But recently Gibson had a conversation with head coach Fred Hoiberg, who knew the 31-year-old power forward had been putting in additional time to work on his corner 3-pointers. Hoiberg told Gibson he believed in his corner 3-pointer and that he'd allow the Bulls' forward to shoot them in games.

On Jan. 10, Gibson took a pass from Rajon Rondo midway through the first quarter and hoisted a 3-pointer from the left corner. He connected, marking just the second made 3-pointer of his career, and his first since the 2010-11 season.

Between triples Gibson, always a reliable midrange shooter, attempted and missed 22 3-pointers. But with the added practice time and confidence, and a blessing from his head coach, Gibson believes the 3-pointer can become an asset, going as far to say he’d like to shoot two triples per game.

There is, however, one aspect of the shot still standing in his way.

"When you get out there you never really realize how far it is until you're lined up and the crowd is like, 'Shoot it!'" Gibson said after Thursday's practice at the Advocate Center. "Your teammates are behind you, but it's fun. Hopefully (I) look forward to trying to make some in the future."

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Gibson attempted two more triples in Saturday's win over the Hornets and another in Sunday's win over the Grizzlies. All three were off-target, but just seeing Gibson step into the attempts and fire with confidence was a sight for sore eyes on a Bulls team lacking from outside.

Through the season's first half the Bulls rank last in both 3-point field goal percentage (31.7 percent) and 3-pointers made (6.4 per game). Their 276 total made 3-pointers as a team are less than two pairs of teammates (Houston’s Eric Gordon and James Harden, 301; Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, 283).

The Bulls' expected top 3-point shooters – Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Denzel Valentine – have combined to go 114-for-350, or 32.5 percent. Starters Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade haven’t fared much better, albeit on fewer attempts, while Chicago's trio of point guards have made 29 percent of their 144 3-point attempts. Simply put, there's ample opportunity to see what Gibson can do from deep without messing up the team's current perimeter shooting.

"It's something that he worked on a lot in the offseason. So yeah if he's open in the corner we want those shots," Hoiberg said. "It’s obviously a huge part of today's game. The 3-point shot, to have multiple players that can stretch the floor out there, those teams are really hard to guard."

Gibson's not the only Bulls big man experimenting. Robin Lopez said he, too, has been working on his outside shot in practice. Gibson joked that Hoiberg hasn't yet given Lopez permission to fire away from deep, while Hoiberg cracked that Lopez might be jealous of the 5.2 3-pointers his twin brother, Brook, is attempting this season in Brooklyn.

Lopez, like Gibson, has always had a dependable midrange shot. Per NBA.com, his 44.4 field goal percentage on midrange shots is fifth among centers this season.

"That’s something I've been working on more this season. I don't know if it's game-ready yet. That's more of a confidence issue," said Lopez, who added he's been working with assistant coach Pete Myers on the shot. "I think the way the NBA is going, I don't see why not. If Brook can do it, I definitely can."

Lopez is 0-for-5 from distance in his nine-year career, including 0-for-1 with the Bulls this season. But the defensive-minded center knows the ever-changing NBA game now includes teams wanting to get as many perimeter shooters on the floor at once. If he and/or Gibson can eventually be part of that, he knows the difference it could make.

"I think it's wonderful for the game. I think there's a real premium on skill at all positions on the court. I think that's going to continue. You're going to have more skilled and more talented big men," he said. "There's always a new breed of big men right around the corner."

Bulls' continued inconsistencies 'an issue of focus'

Bulls' continued inconsistencies 'an issue of focus'

Forty-three games into the season and the Bulls are still struggling with focusing on a consistent basis, specifically against lower-tiered teams.

That's according to center Robin Lopez, one of the few Bulls who did show up in their 99-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Though buzz words such as energy, effort and consistency can be cliche for a team over the course of an 82-game season, where lulls are bound to occur at one point or another, question marks regarding those traits have followed them all year.

Tuesday night marked the Bulls' 12th loss against a team with a record below .500. They are the only of the current 16 playoff teams with a losing record (9-12) against sub-.500 teams. That .428 win percentage is far worse than the .703 win percentage the remaining 15 playoff teams have against such opponents.

"I really think it's an issue of focus," said Lopez, who had 21 points and five rebounds in 36 minutes against the Mavericks. "I think against the good teams we've displayed that focus. We're a little more keen because we're afraid of losing to good teams. There are moments I think where we take certain situations for granted and we have mental lapses.

"I'm not going to go out there and question anybody's effort," he said. "I think we're all busting our asses. But focus is something a little bit different. That's something all of us can be a little bit more consistent with."

Those inconsistencies that dropped the Bulls (21-22) below .500 for the fourth time this season are more frustrating because of their continued successes against the league's elite teams. Just 43 games in, the Bulls have wins over Cleveland (twice), Toronto, San Antonio, Memphis, Utah and Boston.

"We're afraid of losing to good teams in a good way," Lopez clarified. "I think it's a good fear. You go in against the Cavs or somebody, the champs, and you have that fear in your gut. That's a natural instinct. That's a good fear to have because it drives you to stay focused and to be prepared.

"I don't think we have that fear or level of respect at times for other (lesser) opponents."

Focus may be a factor in the Bulls' recent woes against bottom feeders, but so too has production from the second unit. A year-long issue reared itself on Tuesday when the reserves lost the lead in the second quarter that allowed Dallas to take a lead into halftime. The reserves shot 8-for-23 and had almost as many personal fouls (14) as they did rebounds (16) in 90 combined minutes. Though Doug McDermott tied the game at 96-96 in the final minute, the second-quarter struggles from than unit loomed large in a game that was decided in the final seconds.

The bench has been a bit of a revolving door in the past few weeks. With both Denzel Valentine and Nikola Mirotic battling illnesses, and Taj Gibson missing Tuesday's contest with a sprained ankle - he'll play Friday in Atlanta - Hoiberg has had to adjust on the fly, and playing time has been sporadic because of it.

"We do have so many young guys on that bench, and all of them at some point over the course of the year have given us good minutes," Hoiberg said. "You've just got to try to find the right combinations to put out there. It's something that we'll continue to juggle until we find the right group and the right mix out there coming off the bench."

Still, little victories like the Bulls fighting back in the third quarter from 13 down and eventually take the lead early in the fourth quarter proved to Hoiberg that there's enough talent on the team to show it on a more consistent basis. With seven games against teams with winning records before the All-Star break, the Bulls will need to show that effort more frequently as they fight for positioning at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"Keep working on it, keep harping on what's important out there. And again, (in the) second half we did it. I told our guys they screwed up. They showed me that they can do it," Hoiberg said. "It's 48 minutes, it's consistency. And we'll keep working on it."

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

Who are the Bulls? The team that beat Cleveland and Toronto or lost to Dallas, Minnesota and Milwaukee?

That's the question Bulls fans are currently asking and the one Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill posed in the video above.

The Bulls have had impressive wins and shocking losses, but neither of those should be surprising at this point. The Bulls are, as Goodwill put it, consistently inconsistent.

The first half of the season has proven that Dwyane Wade still has some memorable moments left to give and Jimmy Butler continues to approach superstardom. On the downside, the drama surrounding Rajon Rondo has meant the 'three alphas' that were hyped up in the preseason haven't been the dynamic trio some Bulls fans had hoped.

Coach Fred Hoiberg doesn't have the shooters his system needs, but can he still rally the troops and get something out of Rondo?

Watch the video to see Goodwill's look back on the Bulls' first half and what could be ahead.