Gibson emerging as the leader of revamped Bench Mob


Oct 9

When the Bulls took the court and opened the preseason against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday at the United Center, they did so with a different look.

The most significant change, of course, was that Derrick Rose remains on the sideline as he rehabs a torn ACL. With Rose out, Kirk Hinrich started at point guard in his return to Chicago. And while the rest of the starting lineup had a familiar look to it, the team’s reserves are now drastically different.

Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson remain, but C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, John Lucas III and Omer Asik have moved on. Taking their place are Nate Robinson, Marquis Teague, Marco Belinelli, Vladimir Radmanovic and Nazr Mohammed.

Taj GibsonThus, one of the tasks over this seven-game preseason is for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is to try and match the chemistry achieved by last season’s reserves, a group commonly known as the Bench Mob.

“There’s a lot more to the game than individual talent. It’s how it all blends together,” said Thibodeau this week. “The common thread we had with the old group was their work ethic, discipline, mental toughness, and playing to each other’s strengths. That will be the challenge for our new group.”

Getting everyone onto the same page will take time, but Thibodeau said he is encouraged at how they’re coming along. He also credited Gibson for being a big part of the progress that is being made.

“He’s more or less the leader,” Thibodeau said of Gibson and the team’s reserves.

For Gibson, a fourth-year pro, it’s a new role to which he’s still getting acclimated. While the last two seasons, he played with primarily younger players like himself, this season’s bench has some serious experience—Mohammed with 14 seasons, Radmanovic with 11 and Robinson with seven.

“What’s crazy is they actually listen to me,” laughed Gibson. “Especially on D, I’m real vocal now being that I play the five and four. Guys are really listening and helping me out. It’s been great.”

When pressed if he really ever doubted that the newcomers would follow his lead, Gibson acknowledged he did not.

“Everybody has been listening to me from day one,” said Gibson. “But the way I’m growing as a player, calling out plays and seeing defensive sets and offensive sets the way they’re coming at me so fast with how quick I have to respond, it’s great. Everything Thibs has been teaching me has been working.”

Taking on the additional responsibilities that come with a leadership role has come easily for Gibson, who felt it was simply his time after paying his dues in the NBA.

“This is my fourth year,” said Gibson. “I’ve been around and I know the scheme of things so it’s my job to make sure I help the guys out and learn the best way possible. It’s going to be a long season and we need everybody on this team to step up.”

Gibson credited the new group of reserves for reporting early, saying the vast majority of players have been working out together for nearly two months. He cited Mohammed, in particular, for helping him out with learning to become more aggressive on offense and more sound on defense as he plays at center with greater frequency.

Like his teammates, Gibson is confident that the Bulls will persevere until Rose returns, knowing it will require a collective effort. Until then, it’s the little things they’ll miss.

“We’re used to him saying small things like ‘let’s push’ or ‘championship’ just to encourage us every day,” said Gibson. “So not having him has a big effect, but we understand that he’s pushing through and his recovery is doing great. We see him every day. When we’re practicing and going hard, he’s on the sideline with us doing his rehab. The whole team is pulling for him and we know he’ll be back soon.”

Audio—Taj Gibson meets the media following Bulls practice at the United Center (10.08.2012):

Know when to hold ‘em

Preseason games can afford coaches an opportunity to be slightly more experimental than they might during a regular season game.

As for how much the Bulls might reveal about their game plan, Carlos Boozer expects Tom Thibodeau to keep his cards close to his vest.

“I’m sure Thibs will throw a couple things out there,” said Boozer. “He’s a poker player. He’s going to hold all of his stuff for the playoffs. But I’m sure he has some things he’s thinking about and as players, we do too.

“The biggest thing is to see our defensive schemes, people in the right spots,” Boozer said of facing Memphis. “Also, sharing the ball offensively and executing in the half court. Obviously we’re trying to get as many easy baskets as possible. So we want to push the tempo and get our philosophy down as much as we can. In each practice and each game after that goes on, get sharper and sharper as we get ready for our opening night.”

Noah returns and starts vs. Grizzlies

After missing several days to be with family following the passing of his grandmother, Joakim Noah returned for the team’s game day shootaround and started at center on Tuesday night.

“Thank you to everybody who sent their respect to my grandmother,” Noah tweeted early Monday evening. “[Really] appreciate the love. I started playing basketball because of her.”

Noah later added, “My grandmother was the captain of the Cameroun basketball national team. She did all the secretary work too. Rip Mamie.”

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