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NBA Sunday: Taj Gibson, A Rare Bench Luxury
Posted By Joel Brigham On January 15, 2012 @ 9:11 am In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Taj Gibson A Rare Bench Luxury
The Chicago Bulls are leading the league in opponents’ points scored per game with 83.8 a night. Through five games at home, they’re allowing a ridiculous 66.8 ppg. Opponents are shooting only 41.8% from the field, and Chicago is first in the league in rebounding differential (+8.7), almost a full two boards per game higher than the second place team (the L.A. Lakers with a +6.8 differential).
But okay. Fine. We get it. The Bulls are a strong defensive team. That’s no surprise when you’ve got a guy like reigning Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau at the helm. Still, you need a certain brand of player to be that dominant on the defensive end of the floor, and starting power forward Carlos Boozer certainly isn’t that. Third-year forward Taj Gibson, however, most certainly is, which is why he’s playing so many fourth quarters, and Boozer is not.
Before Saturday night’s home game against Toronto, Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey said this about Gibson and fellow defensive stud reserve Omer Asik:
“Taj would start on a lot of teams,” he said. “[Thibodeau] has got two really good players there that could step in play. In Dallas last year, Taj lit us up… Both of those guys coming off the bench are very good.”
The insinuation, as it has been from opposing head coaches, television analysts, and media all season long has been that either one could start for a number of other NBA franchises, something Gibson found flattering in his typical, humble way.
“A lot of guys in this league that aren’t starting have animosity,” Gibson told HOOPSWORLD. “They think that they can play on another team and want to be traded to another team. I just put that in the back of my mind.
“We just look forward to helping this team and getting better. We’re not looking to get into the starting lineup for the hype. We’re looking forward to winning games and helping the team win.”
In fact, as Gibson explains, the whole team sort of feels the same way, which is a huge reason why Tom Thibodeau has started his NBA head coaching career with an 83-29 record. Players buying into his system and not demanding more minutes have been big reasons the Bulls’ locker room remains one of the most peaceful and professional in the entire league.
“Whenever your number is called it’s time to step up or play solid. That’s the way we look at it,” Gibson said. “You never know when injuries come, especially last year for Omer and myself when we had to step in for injured guys. It’s big for us.”
Pat Riley used to talk about the Disease of More, which said that as teams got better and better, talented role players started to feel like they were more than that. Shortly afterwards came demands for more money and more minutes. That hasn’t happened for Gibson or Asik yet, and the way Gibson talks now it’s hard to see him ever going that way.
This kid knows he’s lucky to play for the coach he plays for, and to play with the teammates he plays with. Whatever his role, he gets to go home with a win nearly every time he plays a game.
“I think about [how lucky I am] every day. There’s not a moment that I’m not thinking about how blessed I am to be on this team, in this organization and to have a coach like Tom Thibodeau,” he said. “I look at him sometimes and I ask myself, ‘Do other coaches really do what he does?’ He’s always in his office, seven days a week, early in the morning. Even on the days we have off he’s there studying film and putting in his best effort to help us win.”
You can’t discount what the Bulls bench brings to the table, though, and as long as Gibson continues to play the way he has, other teams will comment on how he could start for other clubs. He and Asik are a luxury for Chicago, together averaging 10.2 points, 10.1 points, and 2.4 blocks a night as reserves.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. Defense is the name of the game for this organization, and oddly enough, the majority of that D comes right off the bench.
O.J. Mayo’s Back On the Block
Had the Memphis Grizzlies taken their momentum from last year’s postseason and somehow managed to translate that into wins for 2011-2012, we probably wouldn’t have had much reason to expect major trades from the team. However, the Grizz are 5-6, Zach Randolph is out for the foreseeable future, and with three huge contracts already on the payroll, something probably is going to have to give.
According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal and first reported by Yahoo, that something looks like it’ll be O.J. Mayo.
Because of the aforementioned three huge contracts on the team’s payroll (Randolph, Rudy Gay, and Marc Gasol), there’s little chance the team does much in terms of a lucrative extension for Mayo, so getting assets for him now, while the team is struggling, might not be a bad idea.
Reports indicate New Jersey is the team making inquiries at the moment, possibly offering up Anthony Morrow in exchange for Mayo. Morrow makes $4 million this year and next and would then come off the books, while Mayo is on the hook for $5.6 this season, with a $7.4 million qualifying offer looming for 2012-2013, to say nothing of the sort of extension he’ll eventually command. From a financial standpoint, and without losing much in production via Morrow, the trade makes sense for Memphis.
New Jersey, who can certainly afford to take on the extra money, would get the player with the more promising future, and any way they can spice up that future to keep Deron Williams where he is and to lure Dwight Howard when the time comes, they’ve got to look at it.
The other package New Jersey is reportedly offering centers around point guard Jordan Farmar, a draft pick, and cash. Neither offer is close to consummation, but the simple fact that conversations of this nature are even happening says Mayo is back on the block. Assuming they were so ready to move him for Josh McRoberts straight up last year, if they can get more than that now, it makes sense that they’d pull the trigger.
Why Toronto Loves Amir Johnson
Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America. NBA fans forget that because, frankly, the majority of the Raptors’ existence in Canada has been rife with lottery picks and sub-.500 seasons. Despite that fact, Raptors fans are some of the most devoted in the league, and they’ve been extremely supportive of a player many casual fans seem to have forgotten: Amir Johnson.
Since coming to the team in the summer of 2009, Johnson has been a pretty average player, but that hasn’t stopped Toronto faithful from believing in the kid. Lucky for them, 2011-2012 looks like his best year yet as a pro ball player. That, at least, is what his coach thinks.
“He’s been great for us,” Toronto head coach Dwayne Casey said. “His energy, his screening, his leadership has been huge, and he does a good job on the boards.”
Johnson is averaging a career-high 8.1 rpg so far this season, and he’s started every game. He’s got seven double-digit rebounding nights already this year, and even though his scoring has dropped a little, Casey admits that isn’t something that they necessarily look for him to, anyway.
“We don’t really depend on him a lot for big time scoring,” he said. “Some nights he’ll get some big, good numbers, but we really don’t depend on him offensively. He does what he’s supposed to, screening, moving the basketball, rebounding, and he’s one of our best interior defenders that we have.”
That, according to Johnson, sounds just about right.
“I’m supposed to come in everyday and guard their best big,” Johnson told HOOPSWORLD. “I’m going against some of the top 5’s in the NBA, so I’ve got to have my mind on set and be ready to battle every big I play.”
It’s his defense, rebounding, and athleticism that have driven so many Raptors faithful into his corner. Even through struggles, they continue to insist he’s a player with a future, and don’t think for a minute that he’s been oblivious to that support.
“The fans have been awesome,” he said. “The fans are actually what drives us, what drives this team, and they’ve been a big support. Even if we win or lose they still back us up. Even though Toronto’s like a big hockey city, they really love their (basketball) team, and the fans have been great.”
However, once again this year the Raptors look like they’re going to struggle. But part of that is a new—and very good—head coach in Casey that didn’t get a full training camp with a very young team. Losing all that training camp, even with a returning head coach, would’ve been a challenge, and the team with the #5 pick in last year’s draft didn’t even get their lottery pick, talented Euro Jonas Valanciunas, to help improve upon the team’s dearth of talent. They won’t see him until next season.
In short, it’s hard to win games with all that stacked against you.
“That all matters,” Johnson said, “but we’re going to pick it up eventually. It’s really no excuses for us, but we’ve just got to groove together. We’re going to get it, man. We’re going to dig ourselves out of this hole. It’s early in the season, so we’ve just got to keep on playing. There’s no time to look down on ourselves. We’ve just got to move on to the next one.”
Whatever happens to Johnson and the Raps, we know one thing is certain—undying support for both will be unwavering. In a down season, there’s not much more you can ask for than that.
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