Taj Gibson for Rookie of the Year?


Feb 22

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He wasn’t even supposed to be a first round draft pick. But now in taking over the power forward position for the Bulls in their best run of the season and enabling the team to trade Tyrus Thomas, rookie Taj Gibson is even making a case for being considered for NBA Rookie of the Year.

“Look at what he’s contributed for the whole season, how he’s adapted to everything, his numbers, what he brings to our team,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said after shootaround in Washington Monday morning. “I definitely feel he should be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. He deserves it. He comes every day to work. It’s great to coach a guy like that.”

Gibson isn’t going to win Rookie of the Year.

The favorites generally are considered Tyreke Evans of Sacramento and Stephen Curry of Golden State.

But Gibson not only ranks first among rookies in rebounds and blocks, he and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan are the only rookies starting for teams with a winning record and in the top eight in their conference. And Gibson has better statistics in just about every category, including scoring, than DeRozan.

Plus, in the four games since returning from the All-Star break where he participated in the Rookie Challenge game and his team won, Gibson—with Joakim Noah ailing—is averaging 13.5 points, 12 rebounds (five offensive), 2.25 blocks and shooting 62.5 percent.

Coaches always talk about rewarding players from winning teams, which usually is the criteria for MVP and All-Star voting. Why not for Rookie of the Year?

“The numbers really don’t matter to me,” Gibson said as the Bulls prepared to face the Wizards. “I just bring effort and intensity. I’m not too flashy about scoring 40, 50 points on a losing team. That’s not helping me. Maybe in the long run personally. But as far as winning championships and being part of a dynasty, a great team. That’s the thing I like. I’m happy people would feel that way (being a Rookie of the Year contender). I leave that to the guys who have their hopes up for it. I’m the type of guy that I’m in things for the moment. I just worry about keeping my minutes, working hard and getting better. I’m just focused on helping the team win games and getting better.

“The rookie award is a tremendous honor,” Gibson agreed. “Even if I were in that category. The first thing in my mind is being in the playoffs. Most of the rookies you see doing real well are not on playoff teams. The positive for me is we’re in a playoff run.”

It’s been an impressive run of late with four straight coming out of the All-Star break to move to 29-26. Noah went through shootaround and Del Negro said Noah had no ill effects from his limited playing time in Saturday’s win over the 76ers and Noah will get five or six minutes each half Monday night.

“Noah will play his minutes in the first half, five or six and see how he feels and then get him out there for the same minutes, monitor his minutes and try to get him back his conditioning,” said Del Negro. “See how his foot reacts and if he feels good we’ll continue to build his minutes up. He said it was fine. We’ll get him out there and see how he feels. He didn’t have any problems the last time.”

But it’s a wary process back with plantar fasciitis because it could recur and force Noah to start all over, so the Bulls are being careful.

Brad Miller has been terrific in filling in. But Gibson has, surprisingly, been that constant, starting 43 of 55 games and tying his career high with 20 points Saturday after setting a career high in rebounds with 16 Wednesday.

Gibson is, arguably, one of the best draft picks of the year given he went No. 26 in the first round and has been a major contributor to a playoff team.

The favorites now, Evans and Curry, are with teams at the bottom of the standings. So is Jonny Flynn. Brandon Jennings is second among rookie in scoring at 16.7 per game and first in assists at 6.1, and his Milwaukee Bucks are just below .500 and just out of the playoff eight in the East. So he should merit strong consideration as well.

Because it’s much easier to score points on a losing teams. Gibson’s plays matter exponentially given the circumstances for the Bulls. And Gibson has delivered.

“I don’t look so much at where he was picked,” says Del Negro. “He’s a four year player, so he is a little advanced as far as a maturity standpoint. In the summer league, I saw his intensity defensively, his length. He had problems early on with foul trouble. He had some illegal defense calls because he was trying to help so much. He has a great work ethic, is a great kid. He just keeps coming at you. He’s like the energizer bunny. He keeps coming.

“Even if he isn’t playing particularly well, he keeps on working and when you have that type of attitude eventually good things happen,” said Del Negro. “You are not going to play well every night, but his energy is contagious and his effort is contagious. Look at what he’s contributed for the whole season, how he’s adapted to everything, his numbers, what he brings to our team.

“He’s a little bit light weight wise (6-9 and about 225), but he’s incredibly long,” noted Del Negro. “He’s got long arms and he gets around the rim with length and has that lefty hook. Playing those four years of college was such a huge benefit from a mental and physical maturity standpoint (he’s 24). So many guys in the draft come out after their first or second year. Some are ready, but usually they are not. It puts a lot of pressure on the organization and coach and team and this isn’t the most patient league. Everybody wants things done immediately, but it takes time.”

Gibson also is unusually humble and wide eyed. He loves to sit around and hear veterans tell NBA stories and just laughs and takes it all in with an infectious innocence. But he doesn’t take anything on the court. Give Tim Floyd that. He did a terrific job with Gibson at USC.

I asked Gibson about his goals for the season and he just shrugs.

“I wanted to earn minutes, earn respect from my teammates, get better all around as a player and earn respect around the NBA,” he said. “The positive note is we’re in a playoff run, I’m getting minutes and our coach has confidence in me. I’m happy the coach and front office has confidence in me given all the trades that have gone on.

“I want to be one of those guys when a coach or GM looks at me he says, ‘He’s going to bring it every night. He’s going to give you heart, intensity, rebounding, scoring if you need to every night. No letdowns,’” said Gibson. “That’s the player I want to be known as.”

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