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' Taj Gibson a late scratch with ankle injury vs. Mavericks

Bulls' Taj Gibson a late scratch with ankle injury vs. Mavericks

Just when you think the Bulls are back at full strength for one of the few times this season and able to hit the reset button halfway through the year, someone goes down with an injury.

Taj Gibson will miss Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks with a left ankle injury that he apparently suffered Sunday night in the Bulls’ win against Memphis.

This comes on the day Nikola Mirotic has recovered from his strep throat and apparently the flu bug that made its way through the locker room has finally run its course.

Paul Zipser, the Bulls’ rookie second-round pick, will start in Gibson’s place. Zipser has played in 12 games so far, starting in two of them.

"It's something that kind of popped up,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I don't know exactly the time. He did have a little bit of soreness in the game. Again, it's not to the point where you're saying this is something that holds him out a while.”

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Gibson did have ankle surgery on his left ankle in June 2015, but he’s been an iron man this year, starting every game to this point and averaging 12 points with 7.3 rebounds.

Hoiberg said he’s not sure if Gibson will need an MRI or if this injury is somehow related to the ankle surgery that cost Gibson several months in the 2015 offseason.

It seems Hoiberg will start off with Zipser and then use Mirotic and Bobby Portis as reserves against the Mavericks team that gave the Bulls a 25-point whipping in Dallas on Dec. 3, their second-worst loss of the year.

“Again, we hope to sit him tonight, have a couple days off to rest and get him back in the lineup in the next one,” Hoiberg said. “We felt it was best to hold him out tonight."

With no Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, opportunity available for younger Bulls

With no Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, opportunity available for younger Bulls

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Absence often creates opportunity, which means there will be a lot of opportunity for a few Bulls Tuesday night with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade out against the Washington Wizards.

The Bulls’ two leading scorers will be out, with Butler still recovering from the flu and Wade on a scheduled rest.

“Coach said I’m out tomorrow,” Wade said at his locker following the Bulls’ loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night at the United Center.

With two more sets of back-to-backs this month, Wade and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg have agreed to a plan for his usage. Sitting Wade for the second night in this first set — while also having a game Thursday night in New York for a three-game, four-night set — seems to be the prudent approach for a man who turns 35 this month.

It just so happens to coincide with Butler being all but useless against the Thunder Monday, barely able to muster up much of an athletic effort while fighting off illness. Butler didn’t make the trip to the nation’s capital but the Bulls hope he’ll join the team in New York.

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“When you see guys fighting through stuff, you really appreciate it,” Wade said. “’Be smart’, that’s my message to him. We need him to be healthy. We need him to take care of himself.”

While the Bulls are without 43 percent of their scoring, it means Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Isaiah Canaan will see opportunity against a Wizards team that used strong second halves from John Wall and Bradley Beal to beat the Bulls by 10 in Chicago.

“I’ve been telling the young guys, just be ready,” Taj Gibson said. “Next man up. Just giving them as much encouragement as you can. Jimmy played his heart out, tried his best. But we have to be better.”

As for Rajon Rondo, Hoiberg didn’t dismiss the possibility of playing him but never really dismisses the possibility of playing him — but Rondo hasn’t played in the last six games, with the Bulls going 4-2 in that stretch.

The front office has a lot invested in some of the younger players, so it wouldn’t be surprising for them to get an extended look.

“That’s the first thing when young guys look at me,” Gibson said. “We have more than enough to win. We always thugged it out. If you go in with the right mindset, first you’ll learn from it and then confidence will come.”