Jan 22, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) and power forward Taj Gibson celebrate in the third quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls: Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson Evolve Without Derrick Rose

Joakim Noah (13) and power forward Taj Gibson (22) have helped the Bulls remain in the playoff race this season. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The past two-plus seasons have been cruel to the Chicago Bulls and their fans to say the least. With Derrick Rose recovering from another serious injury and the trade of Luol Deng, it would have been easy to think that Chicago would fall out of the playoff picture.

However, for the second straight year, a couple of players have stepped up and helped the Bulls stay in playoff contention during Rose’s absence. Those players are Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.

Noah is having another impressive season with averages of 12.0 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest, and he has become the team’s top decision-maker.

Similar to Rose, the offense generally runs through Noah, who can often be found at the top of the key setting screens or rolling to the basket and his pinpoint passes have created many scoring opportunities for his teammates.

And according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, head coach Tom Thibodeau offered the following assessment of his center:

He’s a leader. The thing about Jo is he can beat you a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s the defense and rebounding. Sometimes it’s the passing. Sometimes it’s his scoring. His screening has gotten significantly better. His rolling has gotten significantly better. He’s significantly better at making quicker decisions. And that’s how we want him to play.

Noah’s stellar play on the court is just one of the many reasons why the Bulls big man has become the team’s emotional and vocal leader, and why he earned an All-Star selection for the second straight season.

Now, let’s take a look at Gibson.

During the 2012-13 campaign, Gibson’s averages included 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest, but a knee injury late in the season limited his effectiveness as the team headed toward the postseason.

While Gibson has always been a solid defensive player, his ability to score could be best described as modest, and his outside shot was inconsistent.

This season, though, Gibson is averaging career-highs in points (13.5), assists (1.2), blocks (1.3) and minutes (29.1), while shooting a respectable 49 percent from the floor — including 41 percent on shots between 16 and 24 feet, per Mark Strotman of CSN Chicago.

While Gibson has been a spark off the Bulls bench, he has also averaged 19.3 points and 9.8 rebounds in eight starts this season — which has enabled him to become the second best player on the team.

According to Seth Gruen of the Chicago Sun-Times, Thibodeau offered the following statement with regards to how Gibson has improved within the team’s offense:

His back to the basket, he can get a quality shot. He’s guarded single coverage, he’s going to get a good shot. And I think he’s really improved at reading the double team. [We’ve] gotten a lot of open threes off the double team. He’s running the floor; he’s getting deep post-ups; he’s also gotten comfortable facing up with the 17-footer in the pick-and-roll. So he’s scoring a lot of different ways. But with his back to the basket, he’s shown very good patience.

So not only has Gibson increased his scoring output this season, he has also shown the ability to play down in the low post, something that fans rarely saw during his first four seasons in the Windy City.

Unfortunately, for the Bulls, in spite of the grit and determination they play with night after night, they will not be one of the two teams competing for the title when June rolls around.

However, thanks to the improved play of their big men, the Bulls have a formidable front-court, which will be a huge asset for the rest of this season and when Rose returns to the court in 2014-15.

Tags: Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose Joakim Noah Taj Gibson Tom Thibodeau

comments powered by Disqus