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Essay: Projecting Future Value, Power Forwards

Rising: Taj Gibson

The Chicago Bulls have as blatantly obvious an identity as any team in the league. What they preach to their players—code for what everyone eats, sleeps, breaths, and makes love to—is defense. Their entire makeup of key players (ironically, except for two: their MVP and big free agent splash signing whose name rhymes with Shmarlos Shmoozer) are in Chicago for a singular reason: prevent the opposing team from putting the ball in their basket. They help defend as good as anyone; when an offensive player beats his man, a wave of false achievement crashes down as he realizes just one of the many walls he needs to overcome in order to achieve his goal has been climbed. 

The Bulls close out on shooters, collapse on penetration, recover, and stifle the pick and roll. Anybody can be taught these things, but not everyone can execute them to consistent near-perfection. Whether or not it’s effective depends on if you have the right size and length. The right big men who can move their feet, the necessary trust that’s built between hundreds of hours of practice, and the wherewithal to recognize something in a game time situation and react accordingly.

Several players make this flute sing, but when everyone’s muscles are burning up and the game’s winding towards a tight finish, one guy in particular pours a little gasoline on the court, lights a match, and sets the entire playing field ablaze. That player is Taj Gibson.

With the additions of Carlos Boozer and Omar Asik, both Gibson’s minutes and numbers took a dip in his second season, but watching him, both in the playoffs and in every 20 minute per game burst of spastic energy he brought during the regular season, you could see that maybe, just maybe, Chicago’s management underestimated his development. Maybe that $80 million they signed over to Shmoozer becomes the NBA equivalent to accidentally handcuffing yourself to the water heater in a dark basement.

Two things about Gibson that you probably didn’t know from looking at him on TV: 1) He’s 26, very old for a second year player. But in Chicago, this might be to his advantage. He’s smart, capable of picking up the complicated help defense strategies Tom Thibodeau is constantly tinkering with. 2) He’s only 6’9″. When he spells Joakim Noah, or plays alongside him, Gibson looks like a seven-footer, but maybe that’s because his wingspan is a ridiculous 7’4″. (Noah’s is 7’1″, giving Gibson a longer standing reach of about two, three inches. That’s huge.) Gibson’s lateral quickness and explosive leap have him growing as one of the most feared second string front line defenders in the league. If he legitimizes himself in the post on offense, Gibson could be a certified Sixth Man of the Year candidate. And Derrick Rose might already have all the help he needs.


Honorable Mention: Darrell Arthur, LaMarcus Aldridge



Falling: Lamar Odom


Last year may not have been Lamar Odom’s best, but it was certainly his most appreciated. After accepting a full-time role off the bench three years ago, Odom’s personal production took a bit of a hit, but who cares? Because Los Angeles contended for titles each of those years Odom looked selfless as opposed to dismissed.  The reigning Sixth Man of the Year, he enters the upcoming season as a 32-year-old with a new coaching staff that should be looking to build its offense around Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and legitimate trade rumors hovering over his head like vultures. If the Lakers want to get younger, Odom’s their most moveable asset, and he’d be a welcome commodity in a young locker room looking for veteran guidance. Not saying Odom is willing or even capable of offering sage advice, but, at the least, acquiring him will most likely increase someone’s overall win total in the short term. He’ll be nowhere near as visible, and any team he’d be traded to would likely expose him for never being anything more than the fourth (fifth?) most valuable player on a championship winning team.

Odom shot a career best 53% from the floor last year. The chances of him repeating that season are less likely than us chalking it up as an aberration (his post All-Star break percentage fell back to planet Earth, below 50%). Expect his scoring to go down, and his minutes to drop below 30 a game.


Honorable Mention: Kris Humphries, Zach Randolph



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