When he arrived in Minnesota, Taj Gibson was known as one of the most consistent role players around. The $14 million per year head coach and president of basketball operations handed him may have been a little steep, but his game has always translated to winning basketball.
The 33-year-old is a workhorse. He can guard both big man positions capably, switch out onto guards and contain them efficiently, make mid-range jumpers and provides a veteran voice that Minnesota desperately craved.
However, the one thing that stands out in Gibson’s game is his ability to roast defenders in the post — a dying art in today’s pace and space NBA landscape. In his debut Minnesota season, Gibson showcased every part of that consistently consistent game. In his ninth professional campaign though, his ability to command the low block took an amazing upswing.
When pundits and hoop heads discuss who the most successful post players are, Gibson’s name is rarely, if ever, brought up. Although, if you kept an eye on the Timberwolves last season, you will have no quarrels with him being inserted into that conversation.
In Thibodeau’s prehistoric offense, 15.9 percent of the bald-headed vet’s possessions came in the post. In those 144 attempts, Gibson scored 1.11 points per possession. That elite clip ranked him in the 94th percentile throughout the league, and the best of any player who attempted over 100 post-ups, per Synergy Sports.
Whether it was deep on the block, in the mid-post or above the free throw line, Gibson was a machine when he decided to go to put his hard hat on and go to work. He is effective with hook shots off either hand, he corkscrews around defenders for thunderous dunks and is unstoppable once he gets into his reverse layup motion. To put it in the words of Adrian Wojnarowski, the University of Southern California product was a Tour De Force in post action.
He may not have the pretty jumper of a LaMarcus Aldridge, or the jaw-dropping physicality of a Joel Embiid, but his timeless game relies on his hard-nosed, throwback offense. It’s often gritty, and it’s rarely pretty, but Minnesota’s 14-year playoff drought would have undoubtedly continued without the Taj Gibson we’ve grown to love.
Perhaps the most impressive part of his post and face-up game is that it often comes against the giants of the league, despite Gibson clocking in at just 6-foot-9. With Karl-Anthony Towns’ inside-out versatility, opposing coaches often stuck more agile power forwards on the All-Star, leaving Gibson to deal with the biggest, strongest defenders on the court.
He dispels his size mismatch with an endlessly crafty arsenal of moves and a lower body and core strength that should be on every training reel for up-and-coming post players. He bullies bigger bodies with his awesome technique, using up-and-unders, head fakes and crossovers to bamboozle even the toughest rim protectors.
In the example below, the Timberwolves’ glue guy seals off former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green, before using a subtle body movement to shift Green off-kilter and drop in the hook shot with a feathery touch:
With an offseason that has been filled with turmoil and dysfunction finally in the rear view mirror, the steady presence of the NBA’s only number 67 is essential. In a season where chemistry issues will likely reign supreme, Gibson is a shining beam of consistency, smiles and over-achievement.
There are certainly times where Gibson will need more of rest this season. In fact, he was among a group of just four players (LeBron James, Marc Gasol and Trevor Ariza) who played over 33 minutes per night at age 33 and older. Tom Thibodeau is known for grinding his players into dust, but the additions of 3-point sniper Anthony Tolliver and rookie Keita Bates-Diop should help give his starting forward the rest he deserves.
Even when Gibson is on the floor, most Wolves fans would rather see Karl-Anthony Towns getting touches in the post — which is understandable. However, for all his amazing talents on offense, Towns often struggles to get into reliable post position, even if he does make hard shots look incredibly easy. When Thibs’ isolation-heavy offense that relies on the likes of Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague breaks down, throwing the ball down to Gibson and letting him do his thing is often the best source of an easy bucket.
Through stops in Chicago and Oklahoma City, the underrated post genius has only missed the playoffs once. If he can continue to dominate down low as he has in the past, specifically in Minnesota, the Timberwolves still have an outside shot at keeping his impressive record trending in the right way.
With the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise seemingly crumbling to the ground, it will once again be a pleasure to watch Taj Gibson and his post game. He might even get the recognition he deserves in the process.