Timberwolves Sign Taj Gibson: What It Means, What It Doesn’t

With free agency in full swing, and the Wolves serving as major players in the fun early on. That continued today, as the Wolves swooped in to sign Taj Gibson to a 2-year, $28 million deal.

This move is mostly a popular one, but did come with some rational criticism on social media. Here, we’ll dive into what this move means for the Timberwolves, and what it doesn’t.

What This Means

The Wolves add badly-needed defense and rebounding to their core of big men- The Wolves, were in the bottom 5 in defensive rating last season, and second to last in defensive rebounding. It was what often drove Thibs the craziest. Taj Gibson helps with that in several regards. He comes in with a reputation for being a defensive force inside that can guard both power forwards and centers, and is known for sharing his old/new coach’s fire for basketball as a whole.

Gibson also carried a defensive rebounding percentage of 19.1, a good number considering he was playing alongside ballhawks like Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Russell Westbrook. All that will be a huge help for this team going forward.

This team still needs shooters, badly- This team needs to add shooters. With the departure of Zach LaVine, the startine lineup’s best three point shooter is its center. Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, and Jeff Teague are all serviceable three point shooters, but none of them are flame throwers. Gorgui Dieng takes a corner three once every 4 or 5 games. Taj Gibson isn’t a three point shooter at all.

We’ll get to why this isn’t the end of the world, but it does put more pressure of the rest of the starters, as well as guys like Nemanja Bjelica, to step up and hit more effectively from deep. As it stands right now, the Wolves will likely be towards the bottom of the three point shooting ladder for yet another year. But, in fairness, that strategy put them towards the top in offensive rating a year ago. This was mostly a defense, rebounding, hustle and character signing (though he has historically been a 50 percent shooter on 8-10 shots per game, as well). It was a good signing, but it does not help in a regard that badly needs help.

Thibs looks like he wants to keep his options open in a couple years-Gibson has been signed for 2 years now. Teague has been signed for three years, with an option on that third year. Jimmy Butler is on a (very nice) three year deal. This looks like his way of setting the Wolves up for some playoff games in the early stages of Wiggins and Towns, before they get paid. And, they’re going to get PAID.

Maybe after a couple years, retooling around KAT and Wiggins with different pieces will make the most sense. Maybe not. The short contracts help the Wolves keep their options open for when the time comes.

What This Doesn’t Mean

The Timberwolves Are Done Making Moves– It is clear that the Wolves still are in dire need of wing help, specifically wings that can shoot from the perimeter. It’ll likely require Tom Thibodeau (who knows that Wiggins and Butler are now the only wings on the roster, with Shabazz Muhammad’s rights being renounced have now reportedly happened) to ship out Cole Aldrich’s remaining 2 year, (approximately) $15 million out, which will almost definitely require a sweetener.

That may end up being the lottery-protected first rounder that came from the Ricky Rubio trade, which would be a hard pill to swallow. At any rate, a pair of wing shooters are absolutely necessary for the Wolves going forward.

Thibs is desperate to “get the band back together”- Acquiring a top 15 NBA player is a good move, regardless of what team the GM used to coach. Yes, it’s fantastic that Jimmy Butler was guided early in his career by Thibs, and it’ll likely help ease the transition, but that move was smart no matter what team made it.

You can definitely argue that Taj Gibson is here in large part because he is a “Thibs guy”, but the move is not without logic. If the Wolves suddenly add Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, or Kirk Hinrich, come talk to me. For now, I think the “TimberBulls” nickname is lame. There, I SAID IT.

So far, three major moves have been made to shuffle this team up. This is a team that can, and maybe even should, make the playoffs next year. Gibson helps with that. It’ll be up to the subsequent moves the rest of the offseason to see just how good this team can be, and just how much they can solidify themselves as a true Western Conference threat.

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7 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    A lot of people were throwing some serious shade toward this deal. I think some of this is soreness over losing out on Millsap. But the truth of the matter is that once we paid extra to have Teague instead of Rubio, it became difficult if not impossible to fill our roster out and get Millsap. In some ways it is a steep drop from Millsap to Gibson. I don’t hate it, but I have reservations…

    Like: I’ve been saying this for a while, but Deing is a good player and cool guy, but we need a real PF. Gibson is a true PF. He’s a little challenged offensively, and NOT a stretch in any way (Deing is more of a stretch). But he is a PF, and Dieng simply is not. That alone will help us. Gibson is smart, plays defense, is more vet leadership and we really don’t need a high usage O guy anyhow. So he’s a pretty good fit in that way. We finally have a starting true PF. Not a major triumph signing, but some were acting like it was some random addition when in reality it fills an important need.

    Dislike: While I don’t know all the underground info, it looks like an overpay to me. Since the brilliant move of getting Butler, Thibs has filled out the roster with 2nd or lesser choices at slight overpay, and gotten rid of a pretty unique talent to boot. He’s pretty old, even for a short deal… One thing I have really disliked over the years about the Wolves is the country club mentality. That’s always a put off to me, but it’s worse when ‘MN pro basketball hangers on’ is your club pool to choose from. It’s not like Lakers or Celtics country clubbin’. Thibs was a big break from that but it turns out he has his own country club tendencies! It’s not coincidental that his default once he pushed his chips all in on win now was ex Bulls. We all know the traps of that narrow country club tunnel vision, and the lure of it.

    On a related note, I purposely left the oft stated claim ‘He knows Thibs’ system’ out of my ‘likes’. What the eff is Thibs’ system on offense or defense? Does anyone know? Yes, I’m being a little sassy, but I’m also genuinely curious because it has seemed far from obvious so far on the MN court. And this claim is thrown around as reasoning for every personnel move he makes-‘____ does or does not fit Thibs’ system!’ So, yeah Gibson’s familiarity with how Thibs runs things will help him plug in faster, but I don’t think it should be a huge consideration. Talent should be a huge consideration…

    The Wolves are slated to be better this season. Some people have gone wild and predicted that they will be in the upper 3 teams under GS–suddenly be a highly competitive playoff team. I think this is a wild reach. Part of that is just the natural cynicism that Wolves fandom breeds in a soul. But I have intellectual reservations, too. Thibs has not yet proved to be anything near a good coach in MN in my eyes. So when you put down a list of positives going into next season, you can’t say ‘good coaching’ for sure. At times it looked like a bad science experiment last season (and seemingly to come to the conclusion that Wiggins isn’t a #1 option and Rubio isn’t suddenly going to the exact mold Thibs was looking for in a PG… couldn’t see that coming!). The guy eats drinks and sleeps basketball, wakes up and eats more of it. So maybe he’ll be a great coach once he gets his team arranged. But when he had to work with what he had… well, he failed that test pretty hard.

    Aside from coaching ability specifically (teaching, calling timeouts at the correct times etc.) I worry about Thibs’ stubbornness and narrow mindedness. I always am skeptical of coaches who can only do well with ‘my players’ who succeed in ‘my system’. As a coach you should be able to bend your system to available personnel and what is working in the league currently. Note how well Pop uses what he’s given, how flexible he is at times. Granted, the organization sends him some pretty useful stuff. But he doesn’t reject players because they don’t fit into a narrow system. He finds a way to use them, and if they aren’t good enough they get shipped out. This inflexibility and demanding everything and everybody fit your system is particularly dangerous when that system is potentially completely outmoded. Another reason it is dangerous is because you start favoring your system guys over pure talent. Given all of this we could easily disappoint in some way next season. If we don’t, I’ll be the first to congratulate Thibs. I want to have a competitive team badly (although I miss Rubio already and he seems to have been traded just because he doesn’t fit Thibs’ exact, ideal style of PG).

    Also, looks like we are letting Shabazz go. Probably have to in order to free enough space to get a few more warm bodies. And I like Shabazz, will miss his chuckle inducing, intense style. But he’s a guy with very narrow abilities (which don’t really include D at all). I feel like it is sort of a fresh start we both need. To some extent I feel this way about Rubio. He deserves some trust for once. Bazz deserves a fresh look from an open mind.

    • finchy74 says:

      Good points, pyrrol.

      Definite drop between Milsap and Gibson but 30 mil a year for Milsap literally gives me indigestion. Agreed that Gibson is an excellent fit for this roster.

      Excellent point on Thibs’ “system”. To his credit, he clearly did things differently in the last 2/3 of the season to adjust for the talent he had. At least in Chicago, his focus defensively was to force offenses to flow to the outside and away from the middle of the floor. Not the best system any longer given the changes that have taken place the last few years with teams focusing on the 3 point shot. He certainly forced his guys to challenge the perimeter, but at the risk of over simplifying, his primary focus was keeping the other team out of the paint. I saw nothing revolutionary or even evolutionary. What I did see was a team that worked as hard on the defensive side of the court as the offensive side, and that’s rare in this league.

      Offensively, what I saw with the Bulls was a focus on motion, with multiple ball handlers and.. I almost hate to say it.. no, check that, I legit hate to say it: Some triangle concepts.

      The big problem in analyzing his system is that the league changed a LOT while he was away and due to the Wolve’s youth and Thibs making some compromises, I don’t think we really know what his system is now. What this does look like to me, especially with the Rubio trade, is that system is prioritized over talent, and that concerns me greatly. Going out on a limb further, I’d say he’s going to follow the trends of the current NBA instead of trying to create new ones. To me the truly elite coaches in any sport are the ones that buck the trends to create new ones. With these personnel moves, I see a conformist rather than a maverick. Or maybe I’m still just irrationally pissed off about the Rubio trade. I dunno.

      Agreed that top three is an absurd reach. Too many new pieces, not enough depth. They’re a team that will have sky high expectations from the fan base, and I suspect strongly that the 1st half of the season will disappoint them. Hopefully as those pieces come together in the 2nd half, they’ll become at least the sum of their now somewhat substantial parts.

      I share your concerns about Thibs. I wasn’t terribly excited when we got him because he never felt like quite the right fit here. There are some specifics I could articulate, but in all honesty, part of my reaction was based purely on my gut. He just didn’t feel like the right guy for this team. I still feel that way.

  2. Two weeks ago Rubio Wiggins Lavine Dieng Towns Bazz Bjelica Dunn Tyus all part of flips vision for the wolves and part of the hard rebuilding process that took place over 3 to 4 years were on this team. Now Thibs is tossing away Flips legacy for kicks.

    Would things really have been so bad had we drafted Lauri Markenan (sp) as a stretch four and gone after a PJ Tucker or a James Johnson or Otto Porter to continue with the youth rebuilding movement.

    It just feels like we traded our hope for win now and by win now I mean lose in the first round of the playoffs.

    I’m trying to look at the positives in that Wiggins and Towns will probably learn how to win and how to play defence before we upgrade their team mates again by the time they are in their primes at 26 however I can’t help but feel that family vibe that the wolves had going on is gone. And once the Thunder lost that when they traded Harden, we see the end result. It’s no longer a band of Brothers with Zach Wiggs and Towns it’s now and business and the wolves better hope that when the time comes to re-up those guys don’t see better business opportunities elsewhere.

  3. gjk says:

    These deals have mostly shown a commitment to playing a less stylistically appealing way for the sake of being more successful. Butler and Gibson have missed the playoffs once each in their careers, though, and Teague has never missed it. With an 82-game schedule, having those players as major minutes guys will matter. It also makes me wonder if they see Bjelica as a 3/4 who could become the main backup for Wiggins and Butler; he looked effective from the 3 in limited minutes last season, and if he’s healthy, it’s not too big of a stretch to see him playing 3 and 4. There are things to miss about the departing guys for sure, but my guess is the end of the bench will include some young, scrappy, hungry guys who would also provide some endearing qualities.

    Any planning for the future was going to require figuring out what to do in 2-3 years, anyway, with Rubio up for a new contract and decisions needed for Muhammad and Dunn. They can’t expect to effectively support Towns/Wiggins/(hopefully) Butler with just veteran free agents every offseason. After a while, using the mid-level exception will get too expensive. Their ability to compete and ability to keep Towns after his rookie deal was always going to depend upon their ability to draft well and find hidden gems. Thibs usually has been able to get the most out of cheaper veterans, but that won’t be enough to consistently contend. Additionally, their future upward mobility has always been about Towns and Wiggins and their ability to get maximum value from the $ paid to everyone else on the roster. LaVine was upgraded, and Muhammad and Dunn were replaceable rotation parts who probably don’t deserve minutes on a playoff team. Depending on what happens with Hayward in Utah, the only teams that are *clearly* better than them are the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, and Thunder.

    As for Gibson, there’s a myopic focus that’s leading to criticisms of him being a “system guy” who is only being brought in for toughness and leadership and is a bad fit because he can only play small-ball center in today’s NBA. I don’t really like this move much because I think PF is the position where teams need a flexible rotation for matching up. With that said, the criticisms are overblown. Gibson would play at least 20 mpg for any NBA team because he plays great team defense. That’s not just a system thing, and even if the hope is that Towns and Wiggins can figure that out on their own, Gibson can accelerate the team’s improvement (Butler will, too, but some of those gains are given back because of the downgrade defensively at PG). Team defense is what usually separates playoff teams from lottery teams and title contenders from pretenders, and the extent of the Wolves’ problem inside shouldn’t be overlooked. Inside those criticisms was the idea that Gibson and Dieng are redundant, which ignores that Gibson’s never allowed higher than 53.6% FG% at the rim, while Dieng has been allowing over 60% and only Bjelica was under 60% for their bigs. Gibson still works as a PF in the modern NBA; as for having a PF who can’t make 3s, multiple West teams made the playoffs with at least 1 perimeter player who was terrible from 3 (Clips w/Mbah a Moute, Thunder w/Roberson, Grizz w/Allen, Blazers w/Turner), and only the Warriors and Rockets had true 3 point threats at 4 positions. Defenses aren’t going to consistently be able to make them pay for having Gibson as their 5th option, and he can guard the stretch 4s not named LeBron or Durant.

    It’s tough to tell whether attaching a 1st rounder to Aldrich is truly worth getting a different bench piece. It would mostly bug me because this regime signed him to that deal and then decided he wasn’t good enough to play consistently. Giving up future assets to erase the mistakes they made with past assets is a surefire way to have a shallow bench and limit the team’s ceiling. This team was always going to need a lot of bench help because they had so little of it last season, several of their pieces were positionally redundant, and Muhammad was due a big raise. Now is where they earn their money bargain shopping and finding guys who Butler and Towns can make look better.

  4. finchy74 says:

    My first thought after the Gibson signing was “This is a big opportunity for Belly to step up.” He’s going to be the only stretch forward on a team that has a deficit in 3 point shooting. I like Belly and I root for him because I see a guy that can be a genuine contributor as a rotation big in this league. Many of his problems look mental to me. I hope he can step up and become a consistent presence on the court.

    Let’s not forget that Wiggins’ 3pt % took a nice jump last year and that he’s only 22. More than possible that his 3 point shooting takes another nice jump this year. Last season he shot .356 from beyond the arc. If he can increase his volume and increase that % by a couple of points, it will be of enormous benefit to the Wolves.

    As far as Gibson goes, I like this signing. Fills a glaring need and he shoot fit in well with four ball-dominant players in the starting five. It also allows Gorgui to be the first big off the bench (hopefully at Center and not PF most of the time) and tear up other team’s 2nd lines which should be a big benefit to this team.

    The short length of these contracts tells me that Thibs envisions retooling this team around KAT and Wiggins several times over the course of the next several years. No albatross contracts, good flexibility. Not happy about everything they’ve done (RUBIO), but I’m pleased that none of these contracts look to ever become problematic.

    I always assumed the 1st rounder we acquired for Rubio would be traded away at some point and if i was a betting man, i’d suspect that’ll happen sooner rather than later. The bench has to be stocked with players that can, you know, ACTUALLY PLAY. I don’t want to see another season where game 75 rolls around and Wiggins can’t lift his chin off his chest.

    Mark my words, the talk around this town within the next few years will be “Would the Wolves have gotten further into the playoffs if the starters weren’t ground down to a nub during the regular season?”

  5. Tom says:

    I have nothing against the players Thibs has brought in, it is the money spent and seemingly lack of finesse in doing it that bothers me. Many sites have said the wolves are better than they were, which is true but misses the point. Getting Jimmy Butler alone did that. Getting better than his competition in the Northwest is very important and ultimately better than Golden State should be the goal. I’m sure he was unable to accomplish that with the moves he made using most of his available cap room. Was it a good move to get Utah to take Ricky? Yes, but why not throw in Cole for Exum and use all that cap space and max yours? Exum would be an affordable bench guy that would be more beneficial than Cole.
    Is Teague a better fit for Thibs than Rubio? Yes. Is he a better shooter at the three than Darren Collison, no. Is he that much better than Rubio or Collison, that you tie up $4.5 mill of cap room early in FA? No.
    Is Taj a hard nosed, defensive grinder that will help our low post guys learn to play D from? Absolutely. Was he in such demand, that you had to give him $14 million a year? I’m not so sure. OKC could have resigned him, but they didn’t seem too interested, so why not see if you could get him for $10 mil, leaving you with $7 mill to add a shooter or two.
    The other teams in the Northwest, and playoff teams in the West haven’t fallen below this better and more expensive Wolves roster (unless Utah loses Hayward) that a playoff spot is a given. Thibs may be able to fill up his rarely used bench with the MLE and vet min contracts, but if he doesn’t make the playoffs will Wiggins sign? If not, Glen and Wolves fans have every right to wonder what Is left of the promising future we had when we handed our promising youngsters to this guy.

    • gjk says:

      Here’s the problem with playing amateur GM or armchair analyst (for any of us, not just you): We don’t know how negotiations went, nor do we know which players had mutual interest in the Wolves. “Seems like” <<<< Whatever info the team had for basing their decisions upon. With Gibson, it's just as plausible that he was content with staying in OKC and had to be paid to consider leaving. I don't think their moves fulfilled my dream offseason, but their moves were justifiable.

      Going back to the Rubio trade, why would Utah, a team looking to stay competitive even if they lose Hayward, have any interest in taking on Aldrich and giving up Exum, especially when they'd be taking on several million dollars that could've been spent to replace Hayward?

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