Taj looking to expand his game like Millsap has done with Hawks

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Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg is encouraging power forward Taj Gibson to take long-range jumpers from the corners. | AP

If Taj Gibson needs a model for the modern-day power forward-turned-stretch four, he won’t have to search long.

In Atlanta, where the Bulls (21-22) play Friday, the Hawks (24-18) have witnessed the evolution of Paul Millsap into a versatile floor-stretching forward, the type all but laboratory-designed for today’s pace-and-space game.

The subject came up Thursday after practice, where Gibson could be seen hoisting shot after shot from the deep corner.

Do the Bulls see another Millsap in Gibson? Are they finally getting with the times? Or are they, as the league’s worst three-point-shooting team, simply getting desperate?

“It’s a huge part of today’s game,” coach Fred Hoiberg said, “the three-point shot and having multiple players that can stretch the floor. Those teams are hard to guard.

“I like Taj in the corners. He’s proved he can make them in practice. He has hit a couple in games. He’s been right there on a couple of others that have gone in and out. It’s something he worked on a lot in the offseason. So if he’s open in the corners, we want those shots.”

Gibson, nursing a sore left ankle that leaves his status for the Hawks game undecided, is a career 2-for-27 shooter from three-point range (including 1-for-5 this season). But a midcareer boost in range isn’t unprecedented.

Millsap, 31, entered the NBA as a strong inside player — the only three-time NCAA rebounding leader — and largely stuck to the same script early in his career, focusing on the dirty work inside and making midrange shots.

But his role changed in 2013, when Millsap was traded from the Jazz to the Hawks. With first-year coach Mike Budenholzer helping to lay the groundwork for a leaguewide, court-spacing revolution, Millsap shot nearly twice as many threes in his first season in Atlanta as he had in his career to that point. With the Hawks, he has averaged 3.3 three-pointers per game, converting 33.9 percent.

“Millsap is another guy that’s flying under the radar,” Gibson said. “He’s extremely talented. Even in Utah, when he came off the bench, he was a beast. But now he’s getting the notoriety I think he deserves. He’s a great guy on and off the court. He’s just a guy that kept building upon his game.”

Whether Gibson, 31, in his eighth season, can follow Millsap’s lead remains to be seen. He has launched four threes in his last four games, making one. It is, to borrow a Philly-inflected phrase, a process.

“I try to take two a game,” Gibson said. “But when you get out there, you never realize how far it is until you get lined up and the crowd is yelling, ‘Shoot it!’ Your teammates are behind you. It’s fun, but I look forward to trying to make some.

“It still seems a bit far when I get out there. I have to get over the shock because Coach is telling me to shoot it. It’s still a little bit of a shock to me.”

First things first, though: Gibson needs to be healthy enough to take the floor. Considering that the soreness is in the same ankle that required surgery in 2015, the Bulls are hesitant to rush Gibson back. Hoiberg said they will re-evaluate his status Friday morning.

“We’ll see,” Gibson said. “But today was a good day.”

Follow me on Twitter @JasonLangendorf.

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