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2019-20 Knicks Player Review: Taj Gibson

Gibson was pretty good for a very bad team.

Orlando Magic v New York Knicks
Sometimes Gibson just hangs around.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Taj Gibson was the grizzled veteran on a team full of youngsters and newbies, and while his leadership didn’t result in much winning, the soon-to-be 35-year-old played his role effectively and has earned the right to serve as Mitchell Robinson’s backup center next season.

Gibson, who has made the playoffs eight times in 11 NBA seasons, may end up finishing his career in New York, especially if the Knicks get their man Tom Thibodeau. Gibs and Thibs, which is what they would be called if they were a Saturday morning cartoon duo, enjoyed five straight seasons of postseason basketball between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

Could a reunion result in a return to the playoffs for the Knicks? Maybe, but the fact that the franchise seems so keen on hiring Thibodeau — combined with this report naming the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets as others with interest in Thibs — elicits concerns that New York will end up missing out on their man and hiring someone like Mark Jackson instead. To be fair, the Knicks are reportedly doing their due diligence on people like Kenny Atkinson and Mike Woodson(!).

That’s another story for another day, however. Today’s story is Taj Gibson, and how he performed in his first season as a Knick.

Considering His Age And Role, Gibson Was Good

Gibson signed with the Knicks, in part, to be near his father Wilbert Gibson, who lives in Brooklyn and had a heart transplant last June. Taj totaled 11 points and 6.5 rebounds in 24 minutes per game last season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, which were coached by none other than Thibs until he was fired in early January 2019, only a few weeks before the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis (sorry not sorry, because we must remember the mistakes of the past to ensure they don’t get repeated).

Although he would ultimately be the starting center for most of the 2019-20 season, Gibson began the year on the bench. He played just under 15 minutes in the opening loss to the San Antonio Spurs, putting up 2 points (1-5 shooting) and 2 rebounds while adding 2 turnovers and 2 fouls. Not great.

David Fizdale didn’t really unleash Gibson until the Knicks were already 1-7; Taj only got on the court in six of the first eight games of the season, and in those efforts played just under 12 minutes per contest. Finally, in a 20-point loss to the Detroit Pistons, Gibson received more than 20 minutes of action off the bench, posting 6 points (3-4 from the field), 4 rebounds and 4 assists.

Two days later, against the Dallas Mavericks, Gibson was inserted into the starting lineup, and the Knicks notched the biggest win of the season to that point. To be fair, it was only the second win of the season. Still, it was big. Anyway, Gibson hit five of six shots for 12 points, plus 8 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. Here are highlights.

Going forward, Gibson was a stalwart of the rotation. Beginning with the Dallas game, he averaged 17 minutes a night as the starting center most of the time, scoring 6.5 points (59.5% from the field) and grabbing 4.5 boards per game.

For what it’s worth, Gibson’s stats per 36 minutes (13 points and 9 rebounds) line up perfectly with his career averages, which shows that, while he obviously can’t play the same amount of grinding minutes he once could, his skills have not deteriorated.

Not only was he able to hit some shots and clean some glass, Gibson displayed some of the intangibles that other Knicks lacked. For instance, Gibson was second on the Knicks in screen assists, which is the stat describing plays where one player sets a screen for a teammate that directly leads to a made field goal by that teammate. With 2.2 of those a night, he was behind only Robinson, who averaged 2.5 per game.

Gibson Is Clearly A Backup At This Point, But A Good Backup

Many, including Fizdale and then interim coach Mike Miller, have made the argument that Robinson was best suited this season in a bench role behind Gibson, which, fine. Mitch — one of only a few players who have definitively shown they should be part of the team’s future — was certainly effective off the bench, and it’s wonderful if starting out against second units helped build some confidence.

But next season, Robinson should be named starting center from the get-go, with Gibson coming off the bench. If Gibson can play 15 minutes a game and post similar overall stats while allowing Robinson to become acclimated to a starting role, the center position will be one area that the Knicks don’t have much of a problem.

Gibson played in 62 of New York’s 66 total games this season. He’s a really solid role player to have in the rotation, especially if put in the right role. At this point in his career, he’s a good glue guy.

Standout Performances From Gibson As A Knick

We’ve already gabbed about Gibson’s efficient night against the Mavs early in the year, but that wasn’t the only time he turned back the clock and looked like a spry 30-year-old.

In a 12-point loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in January, Gibson hit all eight shots he took and led the Knicks in scoring with 19 points. He also added 8 rebounds and 1 block.

He followed that up with another impressive effort two days later, amassing 14 points (5-6 shooting), 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block in about 31 minutes during a three-point victory over the Miami Heat. In some cases, Gibson’s individual highlights can be hard to come by. This is one of those cases. But rest assured, this game happened:

In early February, Gibson once again put up 19 points, this time in a win against the Orlando Magic. He hit 9 of 13 shots that night and added 5 boards.

A Handful Of Gibson Factoids

> Gibson scored 15 or more four times with the Knicks, but he’s not supposed to be one of the top scorers so that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

> Though he didn’t have any double doubles, he totaled at least 8 points and 7 rebounds nine times.

> Although the Knicks were blown out by 18 in the game, Gibson was terrific in an early season loss to his former team, the Chicago Bulls. His stat line: 17 points (8-10 from the field), 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.

> On Leap Day, Gibson once against scored 17 points against the Bulls, but this time the Knicks were victorious, winning by 10. His stat line: 17 points (5-6 shooting), 8 boards, 2 assists and 1 steal.

> Gibson loves Cap’n Crunch. Here, listen to him tell you for himself 53 seconds into this video:

Outlook For Next Season

We already discussed this, weren’t you paying attention? Gibson shouldn’t be the starter again next season, because it’s time for Mitch to become not just the starting center of the future, but the starting center of the present.

Still, Gibson is a steady force on the court who doesn’t make many mistakes and can serve as a shoulder for the younger Knicks to lean on. Hopefully he’s still here when the Knicks turn things around and are consistently competitive, because that would mean the team becomes serviceable soon.