- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Taj Gibson scored 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked two shots during the Chicago Bulls' first preseason game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday. The fact that he accomplished all of that in just 26 minutes off the bench is even more impressive.
In many ways, Gibson is the perfect example of the depth that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has to work with this season. There are plenty of teams in this league that would love to have Gibson in their starting lineup. On the Bulls, Gibson is just another piece that Thibodeau can stick in the game when he needs a spark.
With Gibson, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Jimmy Butler filling time at the three and four spots this season, and the rest of the roster looking solid, the Bulls would appear to have an embarrassment of riches.
Gibson has proven to be extremely durable during his short professional career, having missed just two games in two seasons. If Boozer goes down again because of an injury, Gibson can slide back into the starting role he had throughout most of his rookie season. If Boozer stays healthy and finds a defensive rhythm with Joakim Noah in the post, the Bulls figure to have one of the most potent forward-center combos in the league.
That's probably the best thing the Bulls have going for them with this group. Outside of the rookie Butler, Gibson, Deng and Boozer are known quantities. Gibson is a durable, hard-nosed defender who appears to have improved his offensive game in the offseason. Recently, he showed several moves in the post that should give Bulls fans reason to smile this year.
Boozer has shown in years past that when he's healthy he can be dangerous. If Boozer stays healthy, he believes he'll be an All Star once again this season. Yes, he has major issues defensively, but he dropped at least 20 pounds over the summer and early reports have him at least trying a little harder on that end of the floor. If he stays in shape, he can average 20 points and 10 rebounds this year. If he gets hurt again, all of Chicago will turn on him completely.
Deng proved to be the Bulls' ironman last season, starting every game. He was so solid both offensively and defensively that fans seemed to forget that he struggled with injuries again the past two years. With an incredibly hectic schedule on the horizon, Deng is trying to keep a positive attitude because he knows how important he was to the Bulls' success last season. After all, it was Derrick Rose who repeatedly said that Deng was actually the Bulls' MVP a year ago.
"I think [the schedule is] a positive," Deng said recently. "A lot of people look at it in a bad way, but it's less practices for Thibs. Less practices, less running. It's definitely going to be something different, but I really think we're going to be prepared. I really think we're going to benefit from it. With the team we have, our bench is great. We'll use them well."
Speaking of that bench, Butler figures to be the guy spending a lot of time there in the beginning. The Bulls like what they have seen early out of Butler, but Thibodeau doesn't sound ready to give him a regular rotation spot just yet. The veteran coach is content to allow Butler to grow into his role throughout the year, although Thibodeau did acknowledge that if Butler earns the right to play, he will play in games. Either way, the Bulls figure to be in good shape heading into the season with this group, because there is talent everywhere you look.