Should the Celtics Trade for Taj Gibson?

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Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls were a gritty, defensive-minded squad, who consistently ranked among the top-5 teams in defensive efficiency. Now that Thibodeau has been fired – replaced by former-Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg – look for the Bulls to make dramatic changes throughout the offseason: ranging anywhere from play style, to player personnel.

Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State team had an offensive maturity distinguished by its creativity and lightning-fast pace. His style is a major departure from Thibodeau’s, whose was slow, grinding, and largely-reliant on his point guards’ improvisations.

The culture Thibodeau fashioned glorified selflessness, backbreaking effort and maintaining an us-versus-them mentality.  For some, playing under Thibodeau was a chore, due to his stubborn nature and over-allocation of minutes to starters.  However, others embraced the culture and contributed in making the Bulls one of the most feared Eastern Conference teams during his tenure.

Nobody exemplified the Thibodeau ethos better than Taj Gibson; a hard-working power forward who proudly shouldered the blue collar work. Thibodeau relied on Gibson frequently for defensive stops, and even played him the entirety of the 2013-2014 season’s fourth quarters (much to the dismay of Carlos Boozer).

Although Gibson found himself a home in Thibodeau’s system, his style of play strongly favors traditional, slower-paced offenses instead of faster-paced offenses reliant on small-ball.

Fred Hoiberg’s offense will more closely resemble Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less” system, which has recently become the paradigm in professional offenses (Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors team largely emulated this style with a little bit of the triangle offense thrown-in). For Hoiberg, he’ll struggle to find a use for Taj Gibson, who’ll likely struggle finding minutes in Hoiberg’s small ball lineups, as he’ll opt to use Mirotic or Dunleavy at the four instead. Gibson will therefore find himself playing back-up minutes at the five for Joakim Noah (or Pau Gasol), and likely see a major drop in minutes.

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  • This makes Gibson expendable. Because of his affordable contract ($17,450,000 over two years) and defensive prowess, the 29-year-old is extremely movable.

    While the Bulls aren’t trying to “tank” next year, they understand they’re a few assets away from becoming contenders. Thus, next season will likely serve as a transitional season (assuming they don’t sign any big free agents this summer), which will give the front office time to prognosticate Derrick Rose’s future while allowing the younger core to develop alongside their new coach.

    Realistically, the Celtics could send Chicago a Nets first-rounder in exchange for Gibson (we also need to send them a player to match salaries…hmmm… how about you, Gerald?). If Derrick Rose’s knees are as dead as Oden’s, a Nets first-round pick could realistically net them a capable starting point guard (remember the Nets’ future looks bleaker than The Road) to replace DRose.

    But why would the Celtics compromise their future for a back-up power forward when we already have Olynyk and Sullinger?

    To put it simply, we’d get better defensively. A lot better.

    During the 2013-2014 NBA season, the Bulls ranked number two in defensive efficiency. Although Boozer started for that squad, it was Noah and Gibson who were responsible for that team’s defensive success (not to mention Jimmy Butler). While Noah and Gibson are excellent post defenders, what made them such a formidable tandem was their surprisingly quick lateral movements for big men, which made them outstanding perimeter defenders. Both big men could therefore switch defenders if they needed to without creating any glaring mismatches.

    If the Celtics were to acquire Gibson, Brad Stevens should strongly consider using Gibson at center. Yes, he would be an undersized center at just 6’9″ (without shoes), but if you factor in his wingspan of 7’4″, he essentially has more length than Joakim Noah (7’1″ wingspan). Although Gibson’s a bit lanky at only 225 lbs, he still weighs more than PF/Cs Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel.

    Because Gibson’s had to contend with crowded front court rotations throughout his career, he’s never had the chance to play meaningful minutes at center. Gibson has also never played as a starter (besides his rookie season), and if he was to come to the Celtics he’d likely start. While Gibson’s stats are impressive for a 6th man, his per-36 stats are even more impressive:

    Per-36 minute stats:

    2013-2014: 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds (3.1 offensive!), 1.7 blocks

    2014-2015: 13.6 points, 8.4 rebounds (3.4 offensive), 1.6 blocks

    The drop-off in efficiency can be explained by the Bulls’ acquisition of Pau Gasol, which disrupted the consistency of previous seasons. Front courts comprised of Gasol and Gibson would run predominantly through Gasol, who, unlike Noah, looked for his own shots first, thus, decreased Gibson’s offensive input.

    In addition, Gibson’s defensive stats, prior to Gasol’s arrival, were at an elite level.

    2013-2014 Defensive stats:

          Block %      Defensive Win Shares    Steal %     

    Taj Gibson:                3.7                      4.4                                      1.0

    Dwight Howard:      4.0                      4.3                                      1.2

    Anthony Davis:        6.7                       3.2                                      2.1

    Considering Gibson was capable of playing starter-caliber minutes on the best defensive team over the past 5 years, he’ll certainly be an improvement over our current rim protector, Tyler Zeller.

    While Zeller is a talented post scorer, he only posted 1.1 blocks per-36 this season. Although Zeller’s taller than Gibson, Isaiah Thomas could provide better rim protection.

    On an affordable $8.5 million salary, Gibson’s easily tradeable if it doesn’t work out. While Ainge will offer nothing more than a single first round pick, he should strongly consider giving Gibson a chance if Brad Stevens believes he can work Gibson into playing center.