Bulls Are Considering Trading Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah


Multiple reports recently indicate that the Chicago Bulls front office would consider trading Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson if a desirable deal presents itself this summer.

However, the Chicago Bulls would be foolish to part ways with two players that mean so much to this franchise.

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Chicago Tribune writer K.C. Johnson, along with many others, have reported that the Bulls hiring Fred Hoiberg to fill their head coaching vacancy is an inevitability at this point.

With the insertion of a new coach and a drastically different system of basketball, the Bulls will look for players that fit this new system. Defensive-oriented big men like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson don’t fit the fast-paced, quick-shot offensive system that Hoiberg is likely to impose, hence why both players are being considered in trade talks.

Senior basketball writer Chris Sheridan recently tweeted that the Chicago Bulls are exploring trade options that would send the two veteran players elsewhere this summer.

The link in the above tweet is to an article written by Joe Kotoch, a senior NBA writer that works for Sheridan at his website, Sheridan Hoops.com. In his 2015 NBA mock draft, Kotoch writes the following:

"It sounds as though there will be a flurry of deals before and during draft night as teams look to shed salary for free agency this summer. The Bulls are being active in exploring deals focusing on Taj Gibson and/or Joakim Noah."

Gibson has been the subject of trade talks throughout his tenure in Chicago. As recently as May 18, Sports World Report revealed that the Bulls are looking to trade him in order to “free up space for [Jimmy] Butler’s contract along with giving the Bulls other assets to work with.”

Although there isn’t an overwhelming number of sources reporting that both players could potentially be on the trading block this summer, Sheridan’s and Kotoch’s report nonetheless carries weight because both men are NBA insiders that have a history of uncovering big news stories first. For example, Sheridan is largely credited with getting the ‘LeBron James to Cleveland’ scoop last summer before anybody else.

The Bulls front office would end up regretting their decision if they do opt to part ways with Gibson and/or Noah this summer.

The case for Taj Gibson

Although widely regarded as a defense-first, high energy player, Gibson transformed his offensive game over his career in Chicago. Contrary to popular belief, Gibson’s scoring production didn’t regress this season.

May 8, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) is defended by Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) during the first half in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs. at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

According to Basketball Reference, Gibson averaged 10.3 points per game this season which is the second-highest average of his career, and he shot 50.2 percent from the floor, which was a career high.

Gibson didn’t average a career high in points scored per game because his shot attempts per game were down this season; a result of the excess of offensively gifted talent on this team this past season.

Advanced statistics further prove that Gibson is still an effective scorer. He notched career highs in true shooting percentage (54.5 percent) and offensive win shares (2.7) this season.

When evaluating Gibson’s offensive effectiveness, it is important to keep in mind that he is a bench player. He consistently puts up ten points per game on a very efficient 54.5 percent from the field while playing fantastic defense and helping the team with his hustle, energy and leadership.

Gibson is competent offensively. But, does he fit in the drastically different offensive system that is going to be imposed by new head coach Fred Hoiberg? College basketball expert Randy Sherman thinks so.

"Often, Iowa State doesn’t have a player on the low block at all. Hoiberg calls the short corner area two to three feet off the baseline and behind the defense the post player’s “room.” The purpose of the ball screen is to get a player in the paint attacking the defense. With post players “in their room” behind the defense, post defenders have to decide to either help up or sink back. I would say true back to the basket post players would be devalued in Hoiberg’s system and springy and rangy baseline athletes would become prioritized. Here are a couple of examples of a player staying in his room. Watch the player standing by the ref in the first play and the same guy in the second play. Tell me you can’t see Taj Gibson in that role."

The case for Joakim Noah

There isn’t a single player on this roster that epitomizes what this organization is all about more so than Joakim Noah. Of course, last season there was drastic deviation from the heart, hustle and muscle approach that defined the Bulls throughout the Tom Thibodeau era.

However, if there is one player that is capable of leading a counterrevolution back to these defining principles it would be Noah.

May 12, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) reacts in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

As I wrote in a recent column, Noah’s ineffectiveness last season largely can be attributed to the lingering effects of offseason arthroscopic knee surgery. His stats in “hustle categories”, such as offensive rebounding and blocks were dramatically reduced because his knee injury limited his activity on both sides of the ball. In addition, the knee limited his jumping ability, making it hard for him to finish around the basket and over tall defenders.

Whether or not Noah can fit in Hoiberg’s fast-paced offensive system is up for debate. However, he retains value on this team for one important reason: he is the leader that holds these players together.

With the addition of a new head coach, having Noah and the rest of the core group of players intact will be essential for smoothing out the inevitable transition process.

In January 2014, the Bulls faced a crossroads when the front office made the unpopular decision to trade Luol Deng. Under the leadership of Joakim Noah, the injury-plagued Bulls accumulated a 48-34 record and a 4th seed in the East. Considering the circumstances, this feat was miraculous, as the Bulls lost their two leading scorers in Luol Deng and Derrick Rose to a trade and an injury respectively.

Noah’s ability to hold this group of players together despite unfavorable extenuating circumstances makes him a must-have for next season.

Selling out offensively at the expense of the defense isn’t a good approach

If the Bulls front office ultimately decides to part ways with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, it would be a clear indication that they are trying to sell out offensively at the expense of their defense. History shows that this isn’t a good approach.

According to Sporting Charts, from 2002-2012, nine out of the ten NBA Champions were in the top ten in defensive efficiency during the regular season. Eight of the ten were in the top five in this category. The three most recent finals have yielded similar results. During their title run in 2012-13, the Miami Heat won their second straight title after finishing seventh in the league in defensive efficiency during the regular season. The following season, the San Antonio Spurs were ranked fourth in defensive efficiency during the regular season, and used their stellar defense to propel themselves to a title.

This season, the Golden State Warriors recently made the Finals after finishing number one in the defensive efficiency category during the regular season. Contrary to the trend that is being discussed, the Cavaliers were ranked 20th in defensive efficiency.

The key is balance. However, defensive efficiency may be more important than offensive efficiency at least as of late. From 2002-2012, only six out of the ten NBA champions were top ten in offensive efficiency (compare this to defensive efficiency, where nine out of ten teams were top 10 in this category).

The last two NBA champions have been defined by balance in both categories. San Antonio was ranked forth defensively and sixth offensively when they won the championship last season. Miami was seventh defensively and first offensively two years prior.

The culture cemented within this core group of players is a good one and shouldn’t be abolished by new head coach Fred Hoiberg. In order to ensure that this doesn’t happen, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson must remain on this team. Their value transcends merely on-court production. Much of their value resides in their intangible leadership skills that will continue to hold this team together and keep the championship window open for a few more seasons.

Next: Hoiberg on his way to Chicago?

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