To say the Taj Gibson/Doug McDermott trade to Oklahoma City wasn’t well received would be an understatement. Many fans were upset and understandably so: Taj Gibson was one of the most popular Bulls and the last man standing on the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals team. Fans revered him for his poster dunks (like on Wade and Kris Humphries) and for bringing his hard-hat and lunch pail to work every day – the Chicago way. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you know I have a complicated relationship with Taj Gibson. He blocked me on Twitter after I tweeted him to shut up and stop whining to the refs every play, I’ve created YouTube videos on The Bulls Charge about his lack of passing out of the post and tweeted my fair share of frustrations, but to say I didn’t appreciate Taj Gibson would be untrue. He was a terrific defensive player and part of the identity of the Thibodeau Bulls. But that was part of the problem: He was a holdover of an era where big men with his skillset were vital to championship teams, but in reality, he’s probably more of a center in today’s NBA. The Bulls brought in Fred Hoiberg to play with “pace and space” and be “younger and more athletic.” Keeping Taj Gibson alongside Robin Lopez, who’s been exceptional this season, would prevent the Bulls from ever realizing that potential. Trading Taj Gibson has opened up doors for this Chicago Bulls offense.
Here’s an overhead image of the Bulls on an inbounds play from their game against Toronto on January 7th. Notice how Gibson and Lopez are both waiting in the lane:
Open in the corner is Michael Carter-Williams, who is shooting 22.2% from that corner on a mere nine attempts this season and there’s no space in the lane. What would happen if Jimmy Butler drives into that lane? Here’s a different possession from that same game where Butler drove into the lane:
Notice, all five Raptors defenders have crashed the lane leaving Grant and Carter-Williams, again shooting a putrid 22.2% from that corner, open. This is the type of offense the Bulls have had all season long. But with the Taj Gibson trade, the Bulls are now playing Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic regular minutes and this has opened things up for the Bulls. Here’s a screenshot of a possession against Phoenix last Friday night:
On this possession, Jimmy Butler drives into the lane and notice that three men are open: Valentine, Mirotic, and Rondo. Here’s another screenshot of a Butler drive. Notice where Valentine and Mirotic are again:
The entire defense is focused on Butler’s drive, leaving Mirotic (40.5% on the season from that corner) and Denzel Valentine (60% from three since the Taj Gibson trade) wide open.On this particular possession, Butler does kick it to Valentine and notice Jared Dudley stuck in limbo and unsure if he should leave Mirotic to challenge Valentine:
Here’s the video of that sequence:
On another possession, Jimmy Butler has the ball up top and drives into the lane. Look at how open Bobby Portis is as the entire Suns defense is worried about Butler driving:
Here’s another possession where Butler is posting up, Lopez is attacking the middle, and Rondo is looking to drive. The Suns are forced to leave Jerian Grant, who’s shooting 46.7% from three in the month of February, and Bobby Portis, shooting 55.6% from that corner on the season, open:
Here’s another possession where Rondo drives and notice that Portis gets open for three, but Jerian Grant is also open at the top of the key:
This is the new normal for the Chicago Bulls. It’s only been two games, but the results have been positive. The spacing and the personnel the Bulls are currently playing are more fitting for “Hoiball.” Since the Taj Gibson trade:
- Nikola Mirotic is averaging 17 points and is shooting 6 for 12 (50%) from three
- Bobby Portis is averaging 8 points, 5 rebounds, and shooting 2 for 4 (50%) from three
- Denzel Valentine is averaging 13 points per game and is shooting 9 for 15 (60%) from three
I know the Taj Gibson trade was difficult for Bulls fans, but as I said on the B2 Hoops Facebook Page, the Bulls had to make this trade to get better and if they want to play with pace and space, Portis and Mirotic need to be on the court. As for McDermott, he was a terrific shooter, but he was also streaky and very poor on defense. I’m excited that Valentine is getting playing time and an opportunity to develop. Like I said on Twitter, I think that Valentine has potential to be that “Danny Green” or “Robert Horry” type that hits a huge three in Game 7 of the NBA Finals as Mike Breen yells, “Valentine…PUTS IT IN.” He’s not a superstar by any means, but he’s a piece to the complicated puzzle the Bulls are putting together. In today’s NBA you need guys like Denzel Valentine to remain competitive. I think this was a good trade by Gar Forman and John Paxson and I’m hoping we begin to see the vision the Bulls had when they hired Fred Hoiberg begin to take shape.
Brandon Pence is the co-founder of B2 Hoops and the founder/editor emeritus of “The Bulls Charge.” Follow him on Twitter here.