The open competition between Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic was closed on Tuesday.
About three weeks too late.
According to coach Fred Hoiberg, Gibson will start at the No. 4 spot when the Bulls open the season hosting Boston on Thursday, while Mirotic will once again be considered a key reserve, adding outside shooting with the second group.
“We feel like he has played excellent basketball throughout the preseason,’’ Hoiberg said of Gibson. “He’s been good in practices. We’ve talked to our guys about that. Niko has had a couple good practices in a row now. You try to get him in a good rhythm coming out of the gate. But that’s the way we’re going to start.’’
And unlike last season when Joakim Noah was moved to the second group from being a starter, no drama.
“Yeah, absolutely,’’ Hoiberg said when asked if Mirotic’s selflessness made it easier. “And I’ve talked all along about the important thing is who is out there at the end of the games. We’ll try to establish an end-of-game lineup. But there will be nights where certain guys have it going or we have certain matchups or a team is playing small and we’re going to have to adjust. It’s about doing what’s best for your team and fighting for your teammates. And I think our guys will do that.’’
What Gibson brings to the starting group of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Robin Lopez and Jimmy Butler is experience and toughness. What he doesn’t bring, however, is an outside threat from beyond the three-point line.
Mirotic was in the race because of his ability to stretch the defense, but the Bulls starters will have to look elsewhere for an outside presence.
No easy task considering Rondo enters this season a career 29 percent three-point shooter, while Wade is 28 percent and Butler is 33 percent.
Rims across the league beware.
“We just have to step up, take them, shoot them with confidence like we do every day in practice,’’ Butler said about having enough outside shooters in the starting lineup. “I think we’ll be fine. As long as we’re guarding, the offense will take care of itself. We’re constantly in attack mode. There’s more than just shooting threes. You have to get in transition. There’s pick-and-roll, free-throw line. There’s a lot more to the game than just shooting threes. But yeah, I think we’ll take them and make them.’’
They didn’t in the final preseason game, as Atlanta offered up the blueprint on how to test the Bulls ability to score by packing the paint, going under screens on the outside, and daring them to hit from the outside. In the 97-81 loss, the Bulls went 4-for-22 from three-point range, while the trio of Butler, Rondo and Wade were a combined 2-for-12.
“I think they play well off each other,’’ Hoiberg said of the three “Alphas.’’ “Rondo has had some really good moments out there as well. The turnovers were much better at the end of the preseason. It’s about taking care of the ball, getting a good look, valuing the possession. If we do that, hopefully we’ll be able to take advantage of some matchups with different guys and play to our players strengths. It’s about putting them in the right positions, staggering the rotations and getting the right guys playing with the right players.’’
As far as Gibson, his job description is very basic.
“Taj is a fighter,’’ Butler said. “That’s one thing you know you’re going to get from him. He’s one of the toughest guys that we have, somebody that’s always working.’’