Without Derrick Rose, the 2012-13 Bulls were a resemblance of the Scott Skiles-era teams that fought hard on every position – particularly on defense – and were known for winning ugly games.
You would figure that Taj Gibson’s game would be suited for such play, but the forward, now entering his fifth season struggled through injuries and also placed even more pressure on himself after Thibodeau placed him in a leadership position of the second unit and Gibson placed even more pressure on himself to perform after he came to terms on a four-year $38 extension that begins this season. His play suffered some as he appeared too cautious on trying not to make mistakes, which took away from the “Hard Hat, Lunch Pail” play that he became known for during his first three seasons in Chicago.
“You can say pressure because a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to be in that position,” Gibson said. “I’m happy I’m over with that. I can just play basketball. Like Thibs told me, ‘don’t worry about that, just play ball, worry about your teammates and just get better every day.’"
After a summer of refining his game adding muscle to his frame and working on his shot with assistant coach Mike Whilhelm, the fruits of his labor were on display in the Bulls preseason-opening win over the Pacers in which Gibson led all scorers with 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He also pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds and finished with a game-high three blocked shots.
His presence on the floor in the fourth quarter helped erase a 64-58 deficit coming into the period with a lineup that consistent of rookies Tony Snell, Erik Murphy, new-comer Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague, who spit minutes. His movements in the post were more fluid, his mid-range stroke more confident. His new frame is sure to be put to the test this season as coach Tom Thibodeau will undoubtedly use him in a lot of situation backing up Joakim Noah.
“One thing I felt about (performance against Indiana), I was just felt like I was real patient,” he said. “I felt stronger, I was offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding and letting the game come to me. I didn’t really rush the game. My teammates got me good open shots and it was just up to me to step up and knock them down.”
“My confidence level is good because I put the work in. I’m there (the gym) early in the morning and late at night. I’m just getting a lot of reps and it’s even better knowing that Thibs is really on my case. He really wants me to have a good training camp. He came to LA to watch me and Derrick (in the summer). He’s watching film and I’m getting feedback from him and the coaching staff. I’m just moving forward; doing whatever it takes to help the team win, get back to rebounding. I felt like my rebounding could have been better last year. I’m just trying to stay injury-free after experiencing (last season). I want to have an injury free year and play better.”
So far, so good.