Taj Gibson is making his case for the Sixth Man Award

Jacob Eisenberg explains why Taj Gibson is playing closer to an All Star level than anyone is noticing…

question markLet’s play a quick game of “Name That Big Man”:

Since the All Star Break (nine games), Player A, an All-Star, has averaged 19.0 points on 51.6% shooting in 33 minutes per game.
Since the All Star Break (nine games), Player B, not an All-Star, has averaged 16.3 points on 51.3% shooting in 27 minutes per game.

Opponents average 6.2 FGA at the rim per game against Player A but convert only 46.3 percent of the time.*
Opponents average 5.4 FGA at the rim per game against Player B but convert only 43.8 percent of the time.

 *Roy Hibbert, one of the NBA’s best interior defenders, allows around 41 percent of opponents field goals at the rim. 

Player A’s team is 2-10 over their last 12 games including losses to Sacramento and New York.
Player B’s team is 10-2 over their last 12 games including wins over Golden State and Dallas.

Player B has a superior defensive rating to Player A. (Though, admittedly, much of this can be credited to Player B’s team.)

Now, we reveal:

Hornets

Player A is Anthony Davis, the 20-year-old sensation who some have already anointed as an elite player in the NBA.

 

Taj Gibson headshot

Player B is Taj Gibson, the Chicago Bulls’ exceptional sixth man who is only starting to receive credit for the strides he has taken this season.

Sure, it’s a small sample size, and there’s no doubt that Davis is the more dynamic player between the two. Still, the point is, over the past month, Taj Gibson has been playing closer to an All-Star level of basketball than anyone has given him credit for.

Drafted 26th overall by Chicago in 2009, Gibson has been designated as a defensive role player throughout his four year NBA career. This season, however, he’s become a featured player. He’s averaging a career high 13.4 points for a surging Bulls team that has transformed — seemingly overnight — from a borderline playoff team into a legitimate threat (they’re currently tied with Toronto for the No. 3 seed) in the Eastern Conference.

Since the start of the new year, which is about when the Bulls started turning their season around, Gibson has taken his offensive production to a new level — averaging more than 15 points per game. Taj Gibson

Gibson’s been lauded for his defensive toughness and strength for several years now. Tom Thibodeau has long preferred to close out games with Gibson at power forward in place of Carlos Boozer because of the sixth man’s versatility.

And while before there may have been some debate among Bulls fans as to whether Boozer should’ve been sitting at the end of those games in the past, Gibson’s development has ended all doubts about who should be on the court in the closing minutes.

Gibson has simply elevated his game to an unrecognizable level offensively. He now has a legitimate post game. Unlike in the past, when his most effective offense came from put-back dunks off of missed shots, Gibson now has the patience and touch to make defenders look silly with an array of Olajuwon-esque moves around the basket:

I’ll admit it: when Thibodeau said Gibson deserved to be in the Sixth Man of the Year discussion earlier in the season, I was unconvinced.

Now, with just 21 games for the Bulls remaining, I’m riding the Gibson bandwagon.

On to the rankings…

RANK Player RUNDOWN RECENT
1 Phoenix Suns MARKIEFF MORRIS, F, PHOENIX: Had another big week averaging 18 points and 5.5 rebounds in under 30 minutes per game. Most impressively, Morris dropped 24 points on 13 field goal attempts in Phoenix’s win over the Thunder last night. 1
2 SAS_Ginobili_Manu MANU GINOBILI, G, SAN ANTONIO: Over his past five games, Ginobili has averaged more than one assist for every four minutes on the court. That rate is consistent with nearly 10 assists per 36 minutes.  3
3 Taj Gibson headshot TAJ GIBSON, F, CHICAGO: Bulls are 10-2 over their last 12 games. Over that span, Gibson has averaged 17 points and 7.5 rebounds. He’s one of the few players who has become more efficient offensively with added responsibilities. 4
4 Oklahoma City Thunder REGGIE JACKSON, G, OKC: He’s fallen off a bit lately as he’s struggled to acclimate to the sixth man role again. He had nearly as many turnovers (8) as assists (11) last week. 2
5 Dallas Mavericks Media Day 2013-2014 VINCE CARTER, G-F, DALLAS: Averaging 18 points on 21-42 (50%) from deep over his last six games. He’s getting hot at the right time for a dangerous Dallas team.

DROPOUTS: Alec Burks, G, Utah (5).

FIVE TO WATCH: Mike Scott, F, Atlanta; James Johnson, F, Memphis; Jamal Crawford, G, LA Clippers; Rodney Stuckey, G, Detroit; Nick Young, G, LA Lakers.

OTHER RANKINGS: Rookie | Most Improved | MVP | Power

Jacob Eisenberg is a student at Emory University, spending the spring semester abroad in Brazil, and covers the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. Check out his website and click here to follow him on Twitter. 


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