- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Taj Gibson's offensive awakening started over the summer.
To understand why the Chicago Bulls veteran has ramped up his scoring prowess to the tune of an extra four points a contest this season, it's important to realize the hard work that went into Gibson's game over the last six months. It's also crucial to understand his mindset.
The proud 28-year-old forward was disappointed with the way he played at times last year and admitted that he felt extra pressure to live up to the contract extension that he had signed on opening night a year ago. That's why the extra work he put in this summer, combined with a piece of advice he received from his head coach, Tom Thibodeau, proved to be a turning point in a basketball career that has taken another step over the first month and a half of the new year.
"The main thing coach Thibs told me was you got to sacrifice a lot to get what you want," Gibson said. "How bad do you want it? And I told him I wanted it bad. And he said show me, and I've just been taking it from there."
Gibson is playing the best basketball of his career this season. He's averaging 12.4 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. He knew he could become a better player than he showed last season, and he put in the work to make it happen.
"It was basically in the summer when I felt like I got stronger in the weight room," Gibson said. "I just kept working out with [assistant coach] Mike [Wilhelm]. I came in, Thibs just told me he wanted me to have a great training camp, be real physical [in] training camp. It was great. Preseason was even better. I got a lot of confidence in my jump shot. The main thing is having confidence.
"You're in this NBA for a reason. That's what Mike's just telling me every day. And just keep pushing. Don't worry about anything. Whatever minutes you get just play like your last, and I've just been patient. Every day staying late, coming in early, staying late. Just following what Derrick [Rose] does, because I worked out with him a lot this summer."
The irony is that Gibson's offensive development has become more important given that his good friend Rose went down with another season-ending knee injury.
Aside from Rose, Gibson's most important training partner has become Wilhelm. The pair has developed a tight bond throughout many hours in the gym and Wilhelm, who is in his ninth season with the Bulls, has become an even more integral part of Gibson's life.
"Mike Wilhelm," Bulls center Joakim Noah said, when asked why Gibson has become a better offensive player this season. "I think Mike Wilhelm's doing a great job with Taj. They're working really hard together every day; they have a great routine going on.
"Taj has been really focused since the beginning of the year. You could tell he put in a lot of work in the offseason. He's stronger, he looks more comfortable in the post, and I'm happy for him because he's well deserving."
Gibson is appreciative of all the help and support he has received from Wilhelm -- support that extends far beyond the basketball court.
"He's like a father figure," Gibson said. "We really have great chemistry. He's been around the league for a long time, has so many different stories. He calls me at night, calls me in the morning, gives me scriptures to read. He really pushes me every morning. We work out before games, we work out early in the morning, we stay late at night. We just do a lot of different stuff.
"Our routine is just crazy; every day we just do different things. We watch film on a lot of the great players. He's helped me elevate my game."
Gibson's defensive acumen hasn't changed as his offensive game has grown. He is still a solid defender as a player that Thibodeau leans on all over the floor. That was evidenced by his ability to play the small forward position, in place of the injured Luol Deng, on Saturday against the Detroit Pistons.
Still, it's the progress on the offensive end that has been impressive for his teammates and coaches to watch up to this point.
"Two years ago … towards the end of that season I thought he got real comfortable in the post," Thibodeau said. "And then last year for whatever reason he got off to a slow start, then he started playing really well, then he hurt his knee.
"I thought this summer he did a great job of getting himself ready, he had a great training camp. You could see that he's gotten to another level and I think his work has really helped him; his preparation is much better. He had a great training camp, great preseason, and he's gotten off to a very good start."
10dMatt Walks, ESPN.com