5 things analytics say about Wizards center Taj Gibson’s game

5 things analytics say about Taj Gibson's game originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Exactly how significant a role veteran Taj Gibson plays for the Wizards this season could depend largely on injuries, as he’s slated to be the third center behind Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford.

Washington signed him to be a steady presence on their bench, to set the tone for younger players and to provide experience and leadership to a team that hopes to count chemistry as a strength moving forward.

But Gibson can do more than deliver intangibles. He can still play at 37 years old. Here’s a closer look at what the Wizards can expect from Gibson on the court, using advanced numbers…

Offensive rebounding

Gibson has long been very good at grabbing offensive rebounds. Last year, he held a 9.8 offensive rebounding percentage, while only Gafford (12.1) was better among Wizards regulars. Only Gafford (155) and Montrezl Harrell (96) had more offensive boards for the Wizards than Gibson did for the Knicks last year (88).

Gibson, in fact, is 13th among active players in career offensive rebounds (2038). He’s 99th all-time and is likely to pass Wes Unseld (2085) at some point this season to finish the year ranked somewhere in the top-80 in NBA history. Gibson’s abilities could benefit the Wizards, who were 28th in offensive rebounds per game (9.0) last season and 26th in offensive rebounding percentage (20.9).

Boxing out

Gibson helps his teammates on the glass as well by being one of the best in the game at boxing out. Last season, he ranked 13th in the NBA in boxouts per game (2.6) and that is despite averaging only 18.1 minutes as a role player. If you look at boxouts per-36 minutes, he placed fifth among all players with at least 10 games played.

Gibson is particularly good at boxing out on defense, setting the stage for others to grab rebounds. He was fourth in the NBA last season in boxouts per-36 minutes (3.8) on defense. That may partly explain why he is a better offensive rebounder than he is on defense. It’s because he’s boxing out for his teammates. In that sense, he could remind Wizards fans of Robin Lopez, who was also very good at boxing out. To truly know, though, we’ll have to see his hook shot.

Uses his fouls

Boxing out is part of the dirty work back-up big men have to do to stick around in the NBA. So is using their fouls as a sort of sacrificial currency and Gibson has shown a tendency to do that quite a bit. Last season, he averaged 5.2 fouls per-36 minutes and has averaged 4.3 fouls per-36 minutes the last four seasons. For comparison, Gafford, who has had some well-publicized issues staying out of foul trouble, was at 4.2 last year.

Gibson, though, has drawn a lot more whistles during his time in the league. He’s 13th among active players for most career fouls (2256). Gibson is also fairly good at protecting the rim without fouling, as he averaged 1.5 blocks per-36 minutes last year and he held opponents to 3.8% lower from the field than their season average. Kyle Kuzma (-2.7%) was best among Wizards regulars in that category.

Key matchups

Gibson may have to use his fouls in some tough matchups when the Wizards face the league’s best big men. The good news is he may be able to provide more than that, as he’s got an impressive track record guarding some marquee names. Draymond Green recently spoke about how Gibson’s had his number, but he’s not alone. Back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic has gone 21-of-51 (41.2%) with 17 turnovers when guarded by Gibson the last five seasons. 

Karl-Anthony Towns went 0-for-5 and Nikola Vucevic went 5-for-18 against Gibson in 2020-21. In 2019-20, Gibson held Joel Embiid to 2-for-10 shooting. LaMarcus Aldridge shot a combined 13-for-40 the previous two years when defended by Gibson. Now, there are some guys who have had their way with Gibson like Giannis Antetkounmpo, Andre Drummond and JaVale McGee. But in some cases, don’t be surprised if Gibson gets the call in some difficult spots. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. may be aware of the Jokic history, given he was an assistant in Denver for some of it.

Corner threat

Gibson has not traditionally made much of an impact from 3-point range. For his career, he is only 44-for-171 from the perimeter, good for 25.7%. That said, he has made it more a part of his game in recent years. Last year, Gibson set career-highs in both threes made (15) and attempts (38). He made strides particularly from the corners where he knocked down 50% (13-for-26). He was 60% from the right corner, hitting nine of his 15 attempts.

Gibson, though, does more of his damage from 2-point range. He has twice ranked in the top-15 in the NBA in field goal percentage (in 2017-18 and 2018-19) and is 40th all-time in career FG% in the playoffs (51.9). The playoff sample size isn’t small, either. His 71 career playoff games are more than anyone on the Wizards’ roster with Bradley Beal second on that list with 45.

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