Taj Gibson not focused on contract talks, sees time at center at first practice

Amid ongoing contract talks, it would seem easy for the Bulls' Taj Gibson to become distracted. This is especially the case considering what happened with former teammate Omer Asik this offseason. Based on the massive offer Asik got from the Rockets, one would have to imagine that some team with substantial cap space would make a big run at Gibson if he made it to restricted free agency next summer. And knowing this, Gibson could potentially set a price that's out of the Bulls' range.

But Gibson insisted to media members on Tuesday that he wasn't thinking about any of that stuff (via ESPN Chicago):

"I'm just happy for Omer," Gibson said. "He really just let his game speak for itself. He really didn't get into, 'Oh, he wants to leave,' or anything like that. He just let his agent handle it and let things fall into (place) but right now I can't focus on that. I can only focus on what I can take care of and that's basketball and worry about the things that are going (happening) on the basketball court. I can't worry about things with my agent, what Gar's going to say about money. I can't worry about those things right now."

Gibson will likely have plenty of basketball to focus on this season, because many have prognosticated that he'll see a major uptick in minutes. With Nazr Mohammed getting rather close to the NBA grave, I know I'd much rather see Tom Thibodeau go primarily with Gibson, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah at the four and five. If Mohammed needs to take some spot minutes here and there that's fine, but I'd like to limit his minutes as much as possible.

Lo and behold, Gibson saw some time at center at Tuesday's practice. Considering his defensive prowess and the proliferation of "small ball" around the league, he could be especially effective if the Bulls go small. Hell, I'm sure he can do just fine against more traditional centers as well, although he would be giving up some size against the bigger ones.

I was curious to see just how much center Gibson has played in the past, and as expected, the sample sizes are pretty small. With Noah and Asik around the past few years, Gibson has been primarily used as a four. According to basketballvalue.com's lineup data, the most Taj played center last year was in mop-up duty, when guys like Scal and Jimmy Butler were on the court. This likely helps explain his incredible 6.6 PER against at center, according to 82games.com. There was a unit that featured Rose/Watson/Korver/Deng/Gibson that performed well on both ends of the floor, but that was in just a shade over 10 minutes of action all year.

Going back to 2010-11, we see more of the same, although there was one lineup of Watson/Brewer/Korver/Deng/Gibson that logged nearly 30 minutes. Unfortunately, they performed pretty poorly, at least on the defensive side. Something else interesting to note is that in both of these seasons, Taj was almost exclusively a four in the playoffs.

For shits and giggles I actually checked out 2009-10 as well, where I found that Gibson actually played a bit more center than the other two seasons. The numbers are pretty meh, but he was playing with bums like Tyrus Thomas, Hakim Warrick, Flip Murray and John Salmons. Taj was also just a rookie, so I'll chalk up the pedestrian numbers to those reasons.

What does all this mean? Probably not much. Gibson has established himself as a defensive stalwart at the four, and if he continues to improve, he should be able to hold his own just fine at the five. And apparently things started pretty well for him at practice, as he reportedly blocked one of Noah's new sky-hooks.

Thibodeau also actually mentioned the possibility of using Gibson at the three, but me thinks that may be a little too bold. I'll settle with continued strong defensive play in the frontcourt and hopefully an improved offensive game (which he supposedly has).

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