• The next part of our player spotlight series leads to the Wolves’ power-forward and Tom Thibodeau favorite Taj Gibson.

    As part of the overhaul last offseason, with the Wolves transitioning from a young, up-and-coming team to a veteran-laden group, Thibs brought in one of his most trusted role players from his Bull-era to smooth the process. Gibson was a valuable piece off the bench for much of his time in Chicago as a reliable defender, good locker room presence and a certain toughness off the bench.

    The Wolves already had Gorgui Dieng who started ever game last season next to Karl-Anthony Towns, but Thibs desired a veteran that knew his system and the the stakes at hand for a potential playoff team.

    Dieng performed admirably next to Towns on both sides of the ball. He tackled the toughest defensive assignment on a nightly basis and offensively was efficient, even as a mild floor-spacer. Add in Justin Patton as the team’s lottery pick, Nemanja Bjelica as the stretch big off the bench and Cole Aldrich on an expensive contract, when Gibson was brought in many felt the move was redundant.

    Certainly Gibson was still highly valued and his skills still useful, but it seemed like the money could have been better used elsewhere (like on the wing, for instance).

    Quite conversely, Gibson stepped right in and had a career-best season; he was one of the more valuable Wolves on the entire roster. Dieng completely lost his mojo, Bjelica was able to play some at the wing, Patton was injured and Aldrich was abandoned. The Wolves needed Gibson more than anyone realized, and by the end of the season finished as their third or fourth best player, depending what you value most.

    2017/18 Stats: 82 G | 82 GS | 33.2 MP | 12.2 PTS | 7.1 REB | 1.2 AST | 0.8 STL | 0.7 BLK | 1.1 TOV | 57.7 FG% | 20.0 3P% | 76.8 FT% | 58.1 eFG% | 14.7 USG% 112 ORate | 107 DRate

    For much of his career, Gibson has been more of a defensive specialist and a negative on offense. His career scoring average of 9.7 points per game isn’t anything special and he’s basically relied on put-backs, post moves and a shaky-at-best jump shot that he would occasionally fall in love with.

    Before the season started, the big question for the Wolves was where would the spacing come from? Towns was already the team’s best shooter from distance, but he was also the best guy in the post. Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague were all better suited for the interior game as well, and aren’t what one would consider traditional floor-spacers.

    That’s what made Gibson’s fit even more questionable. If he was suddenly asked to shoot more jump shots, would his already inefficient offense get worse, and would his slipping defense make up for it?

    The Wolves were able to make it work, though. Gibson, Teague and Towns left the middle of the floor open for Wiggins and Butler, while the trio just stuck to their strengths. Specifically, Gibson would set up on the block and, if called upon, take the majority of his shots from there.

    Gibson just, more-or-less, cut the long range two out of his game and ended up shooting a career-high percentage from the interior. It led to his second-highest point per game total of his career, despite becoming more one-dimensional. He simplified his offense and it paid off major dividends.

    There were times Gibson would still have to stretch the floor, but it was not often a play the Wolves would look for, especially with so many talented offensive players. Gibson just became so reliable around the rim that he was able to post his most efficient season of his career, as you can see from his shot chart courtesy of NBA.com/stats.

    Offensively Gibson was a major surprise. His efficiency was a major reason the Wolves ranked fourth in the NBA in offense. Despite his questionable fit there, his knowledge of Thibs’ system and rapport with Butler made the adjustment faster and more effectively than anticipated.

    Defensively he fit right in, even if there were some issues for him. On a team that lacked many impact defensive players, Gibson was a welcome addition. Like the worry of spacing on offense, there was also a question of whether Gibson was fit to guard modern NBA power forwards who tend to space the floor and play off the dribble more.

    When the Wolves faced off with the likes of Ryan Anderson, Tobias Harris and Dario Saric, Gibson struggled to stay home on the 3-point shooters and would get torched from beyond the arc.

    Outside of that aspect of his game, Gibson was the best post defender on the team. He would occasionally take on the best big, relieving KAT of those duties, and find success. The team’s defensive rating fell to 111 when he stepped off the floor and his presence was always noticeably absent. Gibson is far from the defender he was in Chicago, but it says a lot about his teammates that he still was the best defender down low.

    Gibson is basically the quintessential ‘glue guy,’ the player who quietly chips in across the board that you can’t live without but may not realize the impact. With Gibson you don’t have to worry about a lack of effort, or some drama between teammates. He may not be perfect, but his contributions outweigh the downfalls.

    Even though Thibs is continuously criticized (fairy) for simply bringing his old Bulls’ gang back together, Gibson was a piece that pleasantly surprised in the end and deserves to be held over the ‘Timber-Bulls’ skepticism.

    Moving Forward

    Gibson signed a two-year, $28 million contract last summer with an even $14 million cap hit both seasons. At 33 years old next season, Gibson has proven that he’s still a valuable commodity in the right scenarios. He was certainly one of the furthest things wrong with the Wolves last season and it would be tough to find an upgrade that is worthwhile, given the cost.

    As a close compadre to Thibodeau, it’s highly unlikely that Gibson’s expiring salary is used in some sort of trade, but the fact still remains that the Wolves are in a tight spot financially and Gibson is one of their few friendly contracts on the books.

    It would be a tough pill to swallow to see Gibson shipped off in some greater trade, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Dieng, Patton and Bjelica, but it might end up being a necessary one.

    There’s also some concern about his regression. Having a breakthrough offensively at age 32 might rise some red flags in regards to it’s longevity. With his defense noticeably slipping over the years, if his offense reverts back to being below average the Wolves may be looking at mid-season upgrades.

    In the end the Wolves will likely do everything they can to unload Dieng before they consider their options with Gibson. Taj can still be a fine backup in this league if his offense slips up next season, and if Dieng gets wiped off the books the Wolves will have some flexibility to add a cheaper big in free agency, perhaps a guy like Ed Davis, Luc Mbah a Moute or Dewayne Dedmon.

    The Wolves were much better with Taj Gibson this past season, and they would be wise to keep see his contract through.

Fantasy News

  • Andre Iguodala
    SF, Miami Heat

    Andre Iguodala returned to South Florida after living in California since the NBA season was suspended.

    Iguodala returning to the market where his team is could mean that he believes team workouts will begin soon. However, there is no official timetable on when team workouts will begin and Jimmy Butler has yet to return to Miami.

    Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter

  • Zach LaVine
    SG, Chicago Bulls

    K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls were cleared by the Governor of Illinois and are in talks with city officials to open practice facilities on Friday for voluntary workouts that would follow the NBA guidelines.

    The NBA's guidelines currently state that a maximum of four players are allowed in the facility at any given time and there can only be one player per hoop. The Bulls are currently eight games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls may not play again this season given how far behind they are in the standings and the recent reports of proposals to not continue the regular season.

    Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter

  • Luka Doncic
    PG-SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that the Mavs plan to open their practice facility on Thursday.

    This news would make the Mavs the 23rd team to have their facilities open for "voluntary and socially distanced player workouts". Continue to monitor the wire as we should learn more about the potential of the league resuming in early June.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    On Tuesday afternoon, AmicoHoops reported (via Twitter) that an unidentified NBA GM told them the league has seriously discussed resuming the current NBA season on Wednesday, July 22.

    Nothing has been officially announced, by any means, and this is the first we've heard of specific target date(s) from anyone. It's looking like the continuation of the season will occur in Orlando at Walt Disney World at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, which has accommodations for at least some of what the NBA has planned for a resuming activity. As we have relayed numerous times recently, the next week or two seem to be a likely window for some decisions from Adam Silver and Co. at the NBA league office to start to come down. Stay tuned, hoops fans.

    Source: AmicoHoops on Twitter

  • Damian Lillard
    PG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Damian Lillard announced on Tuesday evening that, in the event of a continuation of the NBA season, he would not be participating if the Blazers are scheduled to play 'meaningless games' with no shot at making the playoffs.

    "If we come back and they're just like, 'We're adding a few games to finish the regular season,' and they're throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don't have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I'm going to be with my team because I'm a part of the team. But I'm not going to be participating," Lillard told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday morning. It's hard to blame him, as it is quite easy to see the potential situation from his point of view. There have been countless scenarios tossed around by the league office during the pandemic period, but nothing is set in stone so far. Lillard, for his part, is only interested in returning to action if there exists a legitimate shot for his Blazers to reach the NBA Finals. Fair enough.

    Source: Yahoo! Sports

  • Joel Embiid
    C, Philadelphia Sixers

    The Sixers, who have their practice facility located in nearby Camden, NJ, will allow voluntary player workouts at the facility beginning on Wednesday, raising the number of NBA teams who have been able to do so to 22.

    The Celtics, Knicks, Bulls, Pistons, Wizards, Mavericks, Spurs and Warriors are the final teams remaining who are unable to return to their practice facilities. The NBA seems to be inching ever so close to, at the very least, announcing a plan for a continuation of the current season. This next week or two should be very eventful on that front.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Clint Capela
    C, Atlanta Hawks

    Hawks GM Travis Schlenk indicated on Tuesday that Clint Capela (right heel, plantar fasciitis) could very well play in the event of an NBA restart.

    "Clint [Capela] says he's feeling better, and there's a possibility that we can get him back on the court," Schlenk said in a phone interview with ESPN. "Practicing and playing five games would be valuable to us." Capela has yet to see the floor for the Hawks since he was acquired at the deadline from the Rockets, and one would have to surmise that he would be under a heavy minutes restriction if the league resumes and if the Hawks deem him healthy enough to give it a go. Still two big "ifs," but this is obviously positive news for the Hawks and potentially for fantasy owners who have managed to stash Capela in an injury slot this long.

    Source: ESPN.com

  • Mohamed Bamba
    C, Orlando Magic

    Magic center Mo Bamba said on Tuesday that he's spent the quarantine period bulking up, self-proclaiming that he's put on close to 30 pounds of muscle.

    Bamba said of his time off, ""I’ve worked my tail off during this quarantine. This is going to sound weird, but I put on probably about 28 pounds since quarantine (started)." He laughed and added that only about 2.5 percent of the weight he's put on is body fat. Bamba, along with many other NBA players, "can’t wait to get back out there and work" which is a great sign for the Magic and their fans. Jonathan Isaac is becoming more and more of a potential option for the team when/if the season is resumed as the days pass, so his presence would limit Bamba's chances on the offensive end of the floor. The team has yet to decide whether or not they want to play Isaac at all the rest of the season, regardless of the rumblings about a restart from the league office. However, this bulk-up on Bamba's part is nonetheless pretty impressive and is certainly noteworthy.

    Source: NBA.com

  • Terry Rozier
    PG, Charlotte Hornets

    The Hornets are the latest team to re-open their facilities, with the Novant Health Training Center set to open up on Tuesday.

    With this, there are only eight teams left to open their practice courts back up, though nobody has been able to engage in any sort of team work yet. Individual workouts are better than no workouts, however, and the league appears to be getting its ducks in a row in terms of returning to play. There's still no firm timelines but things do appear to be heading in the right direction.

    Source: Charlotte Hornets

  • Jon Leuer
    PF, Milwaukee Bucks

    Jon Leuer has announced his retirement from basketball.

    Injuries completely destroyed Leuer's career, as he played in a combined 49 games over the previous two seasons with zero appearances in the 2019-20 campaign. Leuer's high point came with the Suns, where he averaged 8.5 points to go with 5.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks and a 38.2 mark from deep. His eight-year career comes to an end, with Leuer saying that his body simply won't let him play at a high level anymore.

    Source: Jon Leuer on Instagram