After a solid rookie season, in which he started 70 of the Bulls’ 82 games, Taj Gibson settled into a role on the bench for Chicago in his sophomore season and hasn’t left that position in the last three years. Gibson became a valuable asset for the team as he headlined strong bench units that blitzed teams defensively and managed to get by offensively. After remaining stagnant for much of the last three seasons, Gibson has made some improvements offensively and is averaging over ten points a game for the first time in his career.
Gibson’s offensive development has been a pleasant surprise and one of the constants for a team mired in a turbulent season that has featured new lineups because of both injuries and trades. After averaging between 7.1 and 9 points per game in his first four seasons, Gibson is averaging 12.5 points per game this season. Not surprisingly, Gibson is taking more shots each game this season, which can be typical of a player scoring points at a career pace per game. Though this is helpful, it does not give us an accurate representation of the improvements Gibson has made. To truly understand why Gibson has been more successful, we need to take a closer look at two things: Gibson’s shooting and assisted basket profiles.
One of the reasons for Gibson’s success this season on the offense end is his improved midrange shooting and shot selection. For a helpful comparison, let’s take a look at Gibson’s shooting accuracy both last season and this season. Last season, Gibson made 32 of his 90 shots from what we’ll term the “short midrange” for a shooting percentage of 35.6%. For the most part, he shot these at a level below league average excluding “short midrange” shots in the middle of the floor, which he shot over 50%.
Now, if we take a look at Gibson this season, Gibson has made 47 of his 122 shots from this “short midrange” area for a shooting percentage of 38.5%. A few things should stick out. The first is obviously the amount of shots that Gibson has taken from this area in the last two seasons. Gibson has already taken 32 more shots from this area in just 47 games (stats taken before Phoenix game on February 4) compared to the 65 games it took for him to amass 90 shots from that area last season. The second thing that you should see is a shooting percentage three percentage points higher. Gibson is not just taking more shots, but he’s also making the shots he’s taking from those spots on the floor at a higher percentage.
If we move out a bit further and take a look at Gibson’s shooting percentages from what we’ll call the “deep midrange”, we’ll also see a few interesting trends. Last season, Gibson made 26 of the 87 shots he took from these areas for a shooting percentage of 29.9% This season, Gibson has also increased his accuracy on these “deep midrange” shots as he is shooting these shots at a 34.5% clip, making 29 of his 84 attempts.
When taking a look at Gibson’s shooting in this area last season, we will see a bit of a hot spot near the right elbow extended where he shot a league 40% last season. Gibson has removed a majority of the jumpers from that extended elbow area this season and started taking some more shots on both baselines. He has been particularly effective from the left baseline where he is shooting above league average at 50%.
Taking an even closer look at Gibson’s shot distribution paints a more vivid picture of his offensive profile. In our first graphic, we looked at Gibson’s shooting percentages in each area of the court, while this second graphic takes a look at the percentage of shots Gibson takes in each of those same areas.
Last season, Gibson took 19.7% of his shots from the “deep midrange” where as we covered earlier he shot under 30% last season. Gibson has removed some of those “deep midrange” shots this season, especially those from the extended right elbow, and has started to take a more of his shots from the closer “short midrange”. In just one season, Gibson has transformed his midrange shooting profile and now takes a larger percentage of his shots from an easier location on the floor. Gibson’s midrange game isn’t the only thing that has seen an improvement this season.
One of the things many have commented about on Twitter this season is the improvement in Gibson’s ability to score one-on-one in the post and the numbers bear this out. When reviewing Gibson’s midrange profile, it became apparent that he had improved as a midrange shooter, but those numbers didn’t help explain the situation in which those shots were taken. Reviewing Gibson’s assisted basket profile will help make that picture a bit clearer.
The first thing that sticks out in the above graphic is that Gibson is shooting better in many situations. The most obvious spot in which Gibson’s shooting percentage has not improved is within five feet of the basket. Though this may be a bit disheartening at first, it is important to take a look at the percentage of made baskets assisted. Within five feet of the basket, only 64.1% of Gibson’s baskets have been assisted this season while last season that percentage was at 72.4%. This would suggest that Gibson has been more willing to challenge his defender one-on-one in the post, which is exactly what many have posited on Twitter and this website.
As we move further from the basket, these numbers become even more impressive as even fewer of Gibson’s made baskets have been assisted. Last season, Gibson shot just 24% from five to ten feet away from the basketball and 66.7% of his made baskets were assisted. Now, Gibson is shooting 44.1% while only 43.3% of his made baskets have been assisted. Gibson has not just become a better shooter, but a better shooter while being defended, which is quite the offensive development.
Now, if we take a look at Gibson’s shooting from ten to fifteen feet away from the basketball, we’ll see a decrease in shooting percentage, but once again that decrease is accompanied by a significant decrease in the percentage of assisted baskets. Now, obviously it would be great to see Gibson shooting a better percentage in all situations, but the fact that Gibson is able to put up passable shooting percentages while having a lesser amount of assisted baskets suggests that Gibson has become more comfortable in situations when he is forced to become a playmaker offensively.
A look at these numbers show that Gibson has indeed improved offensively this season, which might explain the career-high scoring nights and swirling trade rumors. Gibson has been able to improve in two areas that can turn a solid bench player into a starter on most teams in the league. Not only has Gibson become a better midrange shooter through improved shot selection and accuracy, but also improved his playmaking ability scoring on more unassisted baskets this season than ever before and thus become a much bigger threat offensively.