Gibson contributes while Johnson waits for his time


Jan 2

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By Adam Fluck

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that a rookie has landed in the Bulls’ starting lineup 18 of the team’s 30 games this season given that the team acquired two in the first round of last summer’s NBA Draft. But it is a little surprising that the rookie getting all those minutes is Taj Gibson, selected 26th overall, and not James Johnson, taken with the 16th pick.

Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro talked about both rookies during pregame on Saturday night, crediting Gibson’s extra experience as a key to his success and acknowledging a desire to work Johnson into games more consistently.

When power forward Tyrus Thomas went down early in the season with a broken left forearm, it was Gibson who stepped into his starting role —one that he has not yet relinquished in spite of Thomas’ return.

Gibson leads all rookies in rebounds per game with 6.1 and is second in blocks per game with 0.97. He also is second amongst rookies with three double-doubles. He’s averaged 8.4 points in 24.2 minutes per game and displayed remarkable poise and savvy for a rookie, which Del Negro credits largely to his age.

“Those two extra years Taj has on James from a development standpoint are huge,” Del Negro said when comparing the two. “Not just James, but any player. Taj is a little bit older than 24 in terms of the way he plays. Taj’s game is more in a box where you know what you’re going to get on a consistent basis, where James’ game is a little looser and that’s just the way he plays right now. But it’s not from lack of effort or practice habits. James has great work ethic and Taj has been a great surprise. I shouldn’t say surprise, I just didn’t know I was going to play him as much as I have and he’s earned every minute of it.”

As for Johnson, the talent is there, but he’s been unable to secure a spot in Del Negro’s regular rotation. The rookie small forward has posted 3.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in just 10.4 minutes per game. However, said the coach, his time will come.

“He’s 6-8, he’s strong, he’s fast and he’s athletic,” said Del Negro. “He can handle the ball and does a lot of things. I’ve got to find ways to get him in there and get him some consistent minutes, but also understand that he is a rookie and he’ll work through some mistakes. He’s a good kid with good intentions and it’s a matter of the growing pains of going through the mistakes and learning from them.”

Audio—Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro on Chicago’s pair of rookies, facing the Orlando Magic and his philosophy on fouling at the end of games (01.02.10):

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