clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

I'm Worried About Taj Gibson (and other thoughts from Bulls games post-Cleveland)

Hey, welcome to Second Chance Points. On a weekly basis, I'll be attempting to give you a film study of the Chicago Bulls, and an assortment of other notable things that happen during Bulls basketball broadcasts. I will try my darndest to supplement my opinions with picture and video because I'm just old-fashioned that way.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

I already broke down Opening Night, so I'll be getting some of the stuff that's happened since.

Wednesday October 28th: Bulls 115, Nets 100

Our man Alex Sonty did a hell of a job recapping this one, as his main takeaway echos mine: the offensive spacing. The Bulls shot extremely well on this night, capitalizing on a plethora of open looks. However, the Bulls canning 14 3-pointers and the Nets playing Brook Lopez, Andrea Bargnani and Shane Larkin major minutes might coincide with one another. I actually didn't feel the need to stockpile any footage on this one because the Bulls simply executed on the Nets being bad. Essentially, the spacing was where it needed to be, and that's worth mentioning here because it's something that hasn't carried over as the games have rolled on.

Friday October 30th: Bulls 94, Pistons 98 (OT)

For only being game No. 3, I came away with one really big concern: Taj Gibson. Now, before I list my reasons for concern, I'll acknowledge a few things. First and foremost, Taj probably isn't in game shape yet. He wasn't cleared for conditioning at the start of training camp, and then once he was, it's not like Fred Hoiberg's training camp was a grueling endurance test. It's highly likely that Taj is just now starting to work his way back into game shape, and that's totally fine by me due to offseason ankle surgery disallowing him to prepare for the season as he normally would.

However, I can't figure out if Taj isn't playing with his signature spark because of the surgery hindering his conditioning, or if Taj doesn't have the spark right now because this surgery might've caused him to lose some burst. Taj's ankles took a beating last year, and even beyond last season it's always seemed like Taj has battled through some sort of injury. I can't figure out if those past injuries combined with this latest surgery are starting to take their toll, or if Taj just needs some more time to get his basketball legs underneath him.

Nevertheless, this really alarms me:

It's not even the fact he misses the bunny, although that just makes it super pronounced. I mean, I was flabbergasted enough that Taj didn't tip-slam this in the first place, but why not gather and go straight-up for an uncontested dunk? Aron Baynes isn't getting over to meet Taj at the rim. Normal Taj would undoubtedly go right through Baynes even if he was foolish enough to contest. I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill here, but this play really stuck with me. It's been fairly easy to notice how poorly Taj has played to start this year, as evidenced by his head-turning -10.8 net rating. But plays like this could be a subtle, unsettling forewarning of a decline to come.

And truthfully, I wouldn't dedicate so much focus to a singular clip if I wasn't seeing little hints and signs of Taj not being the same Taj through the first five games. Mostly, it's his lack of lift, and he's not sliding his feet as used to. Leaping ability and foot speed have always been such key components of Taj's game, and without them, his game is drastically different. I'm certainly not ready to conclude anything, but this isn't an unimportant development, either.

In less somber but equally as unfortunate news if you're a Bulls fan: Andre Drummond is an absolute problem. His presence bends defenses like few non-shooting bigs in this league can. Drummond definitely doesn't need a jumper considering he's the around 100 lbs lighter than The Big Show. But I'll take it a step further in saying that I don't even think he needs post moves to see success and average close to 20 points a game in Stan Van Gundy's offense.

This play below starts by having both of Detroit's bigs positioned to set a high ball-screen, and the end result is just death:

The ball-handler, Reggie Jackson, elects to dribble right thus sending Drummond on a rim-roll and allowing Ersan Ilyasova to chill wide-open at the 3-point line because the Bulls need to commit more than two players towards stopping a Drummond rim-roll. Nikola Mirotic is presented a no-win scenario: help on Drummond and his man Ilyasova gets a clean look from deep, or get in front of Drummond to prevent the alley-oop. Jackson, as long as he's somewhat careful with the ball, has two incredible scoring options on the play via the pass. He ends up tossing Drummond the oop for an easy flush over a helpless Pau Gasol, a preoccupied Derrick Rose and an indecisive Nikola Mirotic. Yeah, good luck stopping this.

But what's hilarious is that once Drummond leaves the game Jackson will revert to settling for shots like these and the Pistons become totally beatable again:

Sunday November 1st: Bulls 92, Magic 87

I don't know if I've ever given Jimmy Butler the proper credit he deserves for these crazy passes with the insane hangtime. He does this like once a game along the baseline, and it seems to garner an open 3-pointer about 95 percent of the time:

Jimmy's about the best thing going on the team right now, which would make sense considering he's the best player on the team.

Aaron Brooks, however, is not the best player on the team. I've about had it with Brooks and we're a week into the season. And frankly, I don't even blame Brooks for any of this as much as I blame the organization allowing Aaron Brooks to be the No. 1 scoring option for the bench unit. Aaron Brooks has been given the keys to the car for the second-straight season even though he drove that thing directly into Lake Michigan during the playoffs last season.

For funzies, I looked up the Taj Gibson and Aaron Brooks two-man lineup net rating, and it's a -16.3 with a 82.4 offensive efficiency rating, per Small sample size? Sure. But how much better is this offense on the second unit realistically supposed to improve? So long as Brooks is running the show, it'll be a bumpy ride. Which can lead to killer plays like such:

As you can see, a bad shot becomes a devastatingly bad shot once nobody stops the ball in transition (which has been a sneaky bad area for the Bulls thus far). And I know I've harped on him enough, but Taj doesn't make any sort of effort to step in front or cut off Aaron Gordon's unimpeded coast-to-coast bucket. Don't get me wrong, Gordon's a special athlete and this is a special play, but Noah's the only one who even attempted to bust his ass on the play for the Bulls.

Of course, the one thing Taj has been notoriously bad at throughout his career -- making non-quick decisions passing the ball out of the post -- he does well on the play I'm about to show you below. To his credit, Taj raced down the floor to an exact spot and Derrick Rose quickly found him. And although this shot doesn't fall for Pau, it's a perfect example as to why post touches can be effective and as to how Pau can be utilized.

Tuesday November 3rd: Bulls 105, Charlotte 130

Obviously, this was a miserable game. The Bulls couldn't defend to save their lives; the Hornets made everything in sight, including the difficult ones. Kind of the perfect storm. While Charlotte running a 48-minute layup line was definitely nothing to bat an eye at, the overall meaning of this game won't concern me unless it becomes paternalistic. Though, I'll leave you with one thought that does strikes me as a long-term issue with no immediate fix: