With the NBA’s trade deadline two weeks away, the Knicks would benefit from moving Taj Gibson, the consummate professional, and make room for both their personnel’s future and shot selection.
Taj Gibson is not the issue in New York. Not even close. But the Knicks are like a sail-less ship stranded at sea—they play to survive the storm, directionless and rudderless, praying the water brings them back to shore one day.
The only problem is, with the way the roster is constructed, with a dearth of reliable ball-handling and about seven too many small-ball big men, the storm doesn’t look like it’s going to end very soon.
Gibson is a consummate professional. Drafted in the late-first round in 2009, he fought his way to NBA relevancy on Vinny Del Negro’s Chicago Bulls. He’s never been a stat-sheet stuffer, but on those Derrick Rose–led contenders, he was invaluable as a secondary defensive hub next to Joakim Noah.
He’s still, in many respects, that same player at age 34. Gibson’s usage rate, per Cleaning the Glass, is almost a career low; he demands almost no touches, content to let the offense flow elsewhere, and when he gets inside position he’s still a plus offensive rebounder.
And when Gibson can get to his favorite spot on the floor, the nail, he’s a better distributor than his reputation suggests.
But he does not belong on this team. He’d be much better utilized on a playoff contender that needs to shore up the center position, not on the Knicks where he’s fighting for minutes with Mitchell Robinson and the unabashed chucker known as Bobby Portis. At Gibson’s age, he only has a few more years left to be a part of winning culture and the Knicks appear to be more than a few years away from creating a winning culture.
Also, on offense Gibson operates in very redundant areas to two players he shares a lot of minutes with: R.J. Barrett and Julius Randle.
Take a look at those three players shot charts:
As you can see, they all thrive inside the paint. It’s been a huge obstacle toward establishing any semblance of a modern NBA offense for the Knicks: They just can’t get out of each other’s way.
Not only does Barrett or Randle (who emphatically just might not be it) have to navigate a thicket of defenders when they drive to the basket, but they also have to navigate their own teammates. Gibson isn’t a stretch four by any means, so he’s limited to dancing his way into little ticky-tack cuts to see if maybe Barrett or Randle can find him with an interior pass, or if he can catch a miss off the rim.
And when we look at their activity outside the paint, we can see that Gibson is only really a three-point shooter from the corners, and that’s exactly where Barrett has had his only real success from deep (he’s been a disastrous shooter). Randle is happy to barf up whatever three falls in his lap.
Gibson’s contract is only two years, $20 million. With the mobility he still has at his age and his defensive I.Q., he’s an enticing and attainable piece for a contender out there. I would have said Dallas, after losing Dwight Powell, should make a call, but they just traded for Willie Cauley-Stein. Boston, just as an example, could put together a package that would help the Knicks get younger and more athletic.
There aren’t that many suitors that need a traditional defensive big man like Gibson, though, especially with Dallas seemingly set. The Clippers and Lakers need another ball-handler. Denver and Utah need shooting. Milwaukee needs another reliable perimeter player for Eric Bledsoe Meltdown Insurance. Gibson’s not up-and-down fast enough to play in Houston’s system.
I’d bet the Knicks stay pat. Every indication is that they haven’t even put Marcus Morris, their most valuable trade chip, on the block. But Taj Gibson doesn’t belong on this team, dying a slow death thousands of miles at sea. He deserves better, and the Knicks should try to find him a home.