By Mike McGraw
When Taj Gibson drained his first shot attempt, an 18-foot jumper, on Saturday night against Philadelphia, it was sort of a déjà vu moment. Didn't he used to do that all the time?
There hasn't been a lot of shooting or scoring from Gibson this season. His 7.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and .440 field-goal percentage are all career-lows.
So the natural question is, what happened to the guy who earned that four-year, $32 million contract extension he signed after the season opener?
"The coaching staff, they told me my shot, everything looks good," he said after the 93-88 win over the Sixers. "It's all about just stepping in and knocking it down. It's all about just getting my mind right. It seems like sometimes I'm rushing, sometimes I'm thinking too much."
This has always been a natural storyline: If a guy gets a big raise and hits a slump, it might be that he's putting too much pressure on himself to live up to the new salary.
"Of course I think about that," he said. "Then I can't put too much pressure on myself. I have to go out there and do my job. There's already added pressure just wearing a Bulls jersey. You can't think about all the other stuff that's going to pull you down. You have to go out there and just play and have fun."
Gibson did look more like his old self on Saturday. His 11 points included a couple of his trademark monster slams, which always get the home crowd fired up.
Another play late in the game -- when he stepped forward to help on one of the Philadelphia guards, who then fired a pass to Thaddeus Young under the basket -- showed one of the main reasons Gibson has been such a pleasant surprise since being drafted with the 26th pick of the 2009 draft.
In the time it took Young to catch the ball and go up for the layup, Gibson journeyed from the foul line to contest the shot. He nearly blocked it, but was called for the foul and Young missed one of the free throws.
If anyone wonders why Gibson almost always plays in the fourth quarter ahead of Carlos Boozer, that play could be Exhibit A. No layups, as they say.
"I think the rebounding and his defense were big for us," coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. "When he and Jimmy (Butler) went in at the end of the first quarter, I thought they gave us a big lift defensively."
Gibson said when he struggles with his shot, he thinks back to lessons taught by former teammate Kyle Korver, who was traded to Atlanta during the summer. Korver always seemed to have a feel for how much time he needed to spend in the gym to get his shot right.
"I just take away from every player I've been around," Gibson said. "I used to be around Kyle all the time. He helped me with my foul shooting a lot. Helped me with my repetitions of shooting the ball.
Not sure if Korver taught him this one. But as Gibson delivered 11 points and 8 rebounds against the Sixers, he thinks he's discovered the secret to a better performance.
"I really got away from just having fun," he said. "I was thinking too much. But the last couple games, just having fun, getting back to the old ways of playing."
The Bulls will be fine with that. Might even throw him a party to help with the fun part.