By Cody Westerlund-
(CBS) CHICAGO – To a man – or to the 20-some of them crowded around his locker after a 100-85 win against the Hawks at the United Center on Tuesday – Bulls forward Taj Gibson will tell you he doesn’t much care whether he starts or comes off the bench. It’s all part of being a pro in his mind.
“I look at doing whatever it takes to help my team win games,” Gibson said.
It’s with this same laid-back, play-the-card-I’m-dealt demeanor that Gibson attacked the Atlanta defense Tuesday. In his own words, he had found it “tough in the post lately,” his 6-foot-9, 225-pound frame absorbing more of a beating with the increased minutes of past three games in the absence of injured starter Carlos Boozer.
So in that sense, it was a welcome sight to see a Hawks squad that early on “wasn’t very aggressive on defense,” as Bulls point guard D.J. Augustin said. Atlanta’s game plan, it seemed, was to allow Chicago space for the mid-range game.
Given that the Bulls are one of the NBA’s worst jump-shooting teams, it was a logical approach – right up until Gibson turned conventional wisdom upside down.
A 38 percent shooter from between 10 and 19 feet this season according to NBA.com, Gibson proceeded to go 8-of-12 on such mid-range jump shots Tuesday. The latest in his season-long progression resulted in 24 points (two off his career-high) as part of a performance that was the catalyst in sparking a Bulls offense that had at times been stagnant on a 3-3 road trip.
“When he’s playing aggressive and making shots, it makes it easy for everyone else,” Augustin said.
If the Bulls are to make any waves this season, this is the Gibson they’re going to need. The way Joakim Noah is playing (a triple-double of 19 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists on Tuesday), grabbing the third seed in the Eastern and making a run to the conference semifinals are certainly realistic goals if the All-Star center gets more offensive help.
And therein lies Gibson’s importance. On a team that has to work so hard for buckets – Chicago’s offensive rating is third-worst in the NBA, according to basketball-reference.com – a Taj Gibson who’s making jump shots provides the offensive versatility the Bulls need. He added 12 rebounds and five assists Tuesday.
“Taj has been very, very good,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s got a good mix of his post game, offensive rebounding, face-up, pick-and-roll. He’s scoring in a lot of different ways, and I think he’s doing a great job of reading defenses.”
In his pregame interview, Thibodeau was asked how to fix the offense. He initially gave a one-word response: “score.”
It was typical Thibodeau, but he had a point. For all the Bulls’ offensive problems at times, sometimes the solution is this simple: make shots.
For Thibodeau knows as well as anyone, his elite defense will keep the Bulls in any game. It’s going to take an ascension into being average offensively to make any noise, though, and Gibson is one who holds that key.
“Thibs has told me on film to take the looks, and we work on the jump shots a lot,” Gibson said.
“That game’s going to tell you to shoot the ball … I’m just having fun doing what my teammates need me to do. I don’t really look at the scoring.”
Cody Westerlund is sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.