Versatile Taj Gibson quietly gets job done for Bulls

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Taj Gibson battles the Milwaukee Bucks’ John Henson for a rebound Saturday at the United Center. | Paul Beaty/AP

Lost amid all the training-room updates and minutes restrictions is the fact that Taj Gibson is proving that last season was no fluke.

“Taj is having a terrific season, and he’s doing a heck of a job for us,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said Saturday when asked about the 2013-14 Sixth Man of the Year Award finalist.

Gibson can be easy to overlook with Nikola Mirotic having a strong rookie season and Jimmy Butler enjoying a career year. He’s quietly going about his business with just about the same success he had last season as a key bench player.

Gibson’s scoring is down a bit, going from 13 points per game to 11.4, but that’s attributable to getting fewer minutes in a crowded frontcourt. His rebounding, however, has improved from 6.8 per game to seven, and his field-goal percentage has climbed from .479 to .518.

But Thibodeau is more impressed with the adjustments Gibson has made in the post, especially understanding how to move the ball when he’s double-teamed because those double teams are coming more often this season.

“He’s commanding a lot of attention when he gets the ball down in the post, so we have to knock some shots down and create some space for him,’’ Thibodeau said. “But he’s played very, very well.

“[Opposing defenses] know him pretty well. He’s not surprising anybody, but Taj is a terrific player. You can start him; you can bring him off the bench; you can finish with him. There are a lot of things you can do with him.’’

Minute man

Butler entered the game against the Bucks leading the league in minutes at 39.7 per game. Kyrie Irving (38 minutes) was next, then LeBron James (37.5). The next-closest Bull was Pau Gasol at 34.7 minutes (tied for 22nd).

Butler has had a few rough games in the last week, especially compared to his torrid play in December, but Thibodeau doesn’t see him slowing down. More important, Butler has made it clear that he doesn’t want his workload lightened.

“Guy is having a terrific season,’’ Thibodeau said. “He prepared himself for this. Jimmy doesn’t take shortcuts. He’s out there. He came to camp in great shape. Jimmy is playing both sides of the ball and never takes a possession off.’’

Getting closer

Rookie Doug McDermott has participated in practice and shootarounds the last few days, and he could return in about two weeks.

He had surgery on his right knee in mid-December.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops

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