Tom Thibodeau doesn't usually like propping up the standout members of the Chicago Bulls when it comes to the league's award races. He instead prefers focusing on team basketball and eschewing the allure of those individual honors.
But he's breaking his own rule for Taj Gibson and the Sixth Man of the Year race, which should say something about the candidacy of the backup big man:
Gibson has come off the bench 61 times for the Bulls heading into their Saturday night contest against the Philadelphia 76ers. When doing so, he's averaged a solid 12.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, numbers that don't fully encapsulate the extent of his value.
After all, the power forward is a huge contributor on both ends of the floor.
"The things that he does for our team are all team-oriented," Thibodeau told CSNChicago.com's Mark Strotman. "He plays great defense, challenges shots, guards everybody, runs the floor hard, sets great screens, does his job. Offensively gets deep post position, gets quality shots up, when the second guy comes he makes the play, he’s gotten comfortable in pick and roll situations."
And you don't just have to take Thibs' word for it, as the numbers speak for themselves too. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Bulls are scoring four more points per 100 possessions and allowing 0.4 fewer over the same stretch when he's on the court.
Is it any wonder that Thibodeau was quite blunt when talking to Strotman? He went as far as saying, "I think he’s had a terrific year for us, and I hope he does get recognized."
Unfortunately for Gibson, there are quite a few players with legitimate shots at Sixth Man of the Year. Additionally, as Steve Perrin explained for ClipsNation.com, "It's difficult to imagine a 13.3 ppg scorer winning out over a 19 ppg scorer given the history of the award."
When I last wrote about the NBA's award odds, I had Jamal Crawford, Reggie Jackson and Manu Ginobili as the leading candidates but also mentioned Gibson and Markieff Morris as players "making strong cases to stand on the Sixth Man of the Year podium."
There's a laundry list of contenders, and we have yet to find any preponderance of evidence pointing toward just one individual as the expected winner.
Despite Thibodeau's endorsement, Gibson still has his work cut out for him. You know, as if the Bulls needed any more motivation.