LOS ANGELES — There seems to be no stopping Taj Gibson. At least he feels unstoppable.
‘‘A great player like Ed Pinckney [a Bulls assistant] once told me, ‘When you’re in a zone sometimes, you don’t even think about who’s guarding you. You just go,’ ’’ Gibson said before the Bulls practiced at UCLA on Saturday. ‘‘That’s the way I’m feeling. I really don’t care or think about who’s guarding me. I just go. I’m playing with a good amount of confidence.
A perfect fit for Tom Thibodeau’s system from the start, the 6-9 225-pound Gibson has become the defensive/effort guy the Bulls expected when they drafted him 26th overall in 2009. But since Luol Deng was traded, Gibson’s offense has been emerging minute-by-minute as his playing time — and the Bulls’ need for offense — has increased.
Since a 26-point effort against Deng and the Cavaliers on Jan. 22, Gibson has averaged 16 points while shooting 48.7 percent in his last nine games. He equalled that career-best mark with 26 points against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.
It’s not unusual for Gibson to speak confidently about his defensive role. But as the Bulls prepared to face the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, Gibson was as effusive about his offense as he’s ever been. His confidence couldn’t be higher.
‘‘Every I score I’m smiling, because I can’t believe all the things I’m doing,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘I’ve been learning a lot. I never really thought about the NBA schemes of how they play you, how they double-team you. But Thibs and the coaching staff keep me on edge. I’m just having fun. This year I’m really having a lot of fun, just trying to find ways to score — and it’s great.’’
Gibson’s overall numbers still are modest — he’s averaging 12.4 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 48.1 percent from the field. But his progress is significant enough to warrant consideration for postseason honors — the Sixth Man Award, Most Improved Player and all-defensive team.
‘‘All of the above,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He has made that case by the way he’s performed. He’s invaluable to us. And just the way he works — he’s by far our best practice player. He worked extremely hard this summer. We have a lot of confidence in him. And I still think there’s room for growth.’’
Those awards are subjective, but Thibodeau’s endorsement of Gibson for the all-defensive team should carry some weight.
‘‘In my eyes he is [deserving],’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘There’s not one aspect of his defense [that is flawed], if you look at low-post, pick-and-roll, the ability to switch, the blocked shots, the anticipation, multiple effort. He’s got great, feet. So I don’t see why not.’’
It remains to be seen if Gibson can reach an all-star level, but he’s aware he can add even more to his already well-rounded game.
‘‘I remember Derrick [Rose] said, ‘Some people just don’t know how good they are,’’’ Gibson said. ‘‘Joakim’s been on me from Day 1. He said, ‘You can handle the ball.’ But sometimes you kind of shy away because you don’t want Thibs to yell at you. You don’t want to mess up.
‘‘But I work on all those things daily. I’m in the gym from the top of the morning until late at night. You just want to do the right thing to help the team. That’s the kind of person I am.’’
NOTES: Carlos Boozer, who missed the Warriors game with a calf injury, was ‘‘very limited’’ in practice Saturday and is ‘‘day-to-day,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said.
◆ Reserve forward Toko Shengelia has left the team because of a death in the family and will not be available against the Lakers.