So as we all know, Taj has been beasting it this year, at least until the egg he laid last night. I'm confident that that game was a fluke- obviously, we'll see.
As with all things NBA at this point in the season, it's very early to be drawing any conclusions. But assuming that Gibson makes a successful transition to the bench in early December when Boozer returns and gives a spark to a 2nd unit that is woefully in need of a centerpiece, does he have a chance to win the Sixth Man award?
The only requirement for the award is that you come off of the bench in more games than you start, so assuming Boozer stays healthy and in the starting line-up, Gibson's brief starting stint this season will not be a problem. The bigger concern for Gibson's candidacy would seem to be his position.
The 76ers' Bobby Jones won the first-ever Sixth Man of the Year award in 1983, but the Celtics of the mid-1980's were the pioneers of using a great player off of the bench against their opponents' second string, leading to three straight awards for Kevin McHale (twice) and Bill Walton. More recently, however, the trend has been towards high-scoring swimgmen. You have to go back to Cliff Robinson's selection in 92-93 to find an honest-to-god center win the award. And since Antawn Jamison's selection as a member of the Mavericks in 2003-04, none of the winners (other than Mike Miller on a rebounding-starved Grizzlies team) have averaged more than 5 rebounds or assists, winning the award solely on their hot scoring off the bench.
The 6 winners of the award since Jamison have averaged 18 PPG, a number Gibson has no hope of reaching once he goes to the bench and his minutes and touches are reduced. That swingmen have dominated the award is hardly surprising: PPG is, for better or for worse (and usually for worse), the launching point of every conversation about a player's value. Last season's voting was a perfect example: Jamal Crawford, an explosive shooting guard who doesn't add much value other than his scoring, beat out Anderson Varejao, who is regarded as one of the best defenders in the league. Though both Varejao and Crawford usually finished out games for their teams (taking over for Shaquille O'Neil and Marvin Williams, respectively), we saw a whole lot more end-game highlights from Crawford than from Varejao, which certainly helps shape the award debate.
Going around the league, you see that there's not necessarily a great benefit to having a swingman as your sixth man. Last year's Finals team, the Lakers and the Celtics, featured Lamar Odom and Rasheed Walace as their first men off the bench. Overall, 14 of the 30 teams had a big man as their leader in bench minutes, including half of the 16 playoff teams, which would seem to indicate that having a swingman as a 6th man doesn't boost your playoff chances
What might all this mean for Taj? It seems that no matter how valuable he is, he may have something of a glass ceiling to break through (or bend under, as the case may be). One advantage he'll have is how dreadful our bench has been this season: Kyle Korver is our best bench scorer, and he's much better suited to being a spot-up shooter and 4th option than having a 2nd unit revolve around him. Boozer's addition might end up having a bigger impact on the Bulls' bench than their starting line-up, given Gibson's excellent Boozer impersonation so far this season.
More broadly than that, however, Taj Gibson winning this award would be good for the NBA. Scoring, especially dunks and three-pointers, will always be sexy, but every postseason we see that height, and particularly height off the bench, wins (just ask Dwight Howard, planted all alone in the paint these last few years). If the Bulls become the break-out team that we want them to be, Gibson will be a huge part of it, figuratively and literally. Maybe the press will be able to see beyond the eye-popping scoring numbers and recognize that contribution.