Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There's a myth that exists in fantasy basketball. The myth is that for a player to be worthy of our consideration, he should at least be a starter on an NBA team.
I'd still honor the NBA part of that statement (it would be good if your starting power forward didn't play in the Turkish League) but I tend to disagree with the latter. Plenty of good players come off the bench. I assume that's why we have a Sixth Man of the Year Award.
One of those sixth men is Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson. In 43 games off the bench this season, Taj has averaged 11.7 ppg, good for second-best among reserve power forwards. Overall, he's averaging the fourth-most minutes (27.2 mpg) of any bench player in the league (minimum 20 games off the bench).
But the reason Gibson is really on our radar is because he's finally starting. With Carlos Boozer out of the lineup the past three games, Gibson has averaged 22.7 ppg on 46.7 percent shooting (28-for-60). That surge has generated enough enthusiasm to warrant 88.9 percent ownership for Gibson in ESPN leagues. That's up from 70.7 percent earlier in the week.
When given the chance to start this season, Gibson has been arguably Chicago's most effective player. In eight starts, Gibson has given fantasy owners 19.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 1.8 bpg in just over 42 minutes per game.
The 42.3 minutes per game Gibson has logged in those starts isn't because Tom Thibodeau is losing his mind (though he's definitely lost his voice). It's because outside of Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls have an embarrassing lack of depth in the front court. When the ancient Nazr Mohammed is your backup center, you don't really have a backup center.
Gibson's impressive play as a starter is consistent with what we've seen from him in the past. In five starts last season, the USC alum averaged a robust 16.0 ppg on phenomenal 59.7 percent shooting. He supplemented these totals by grabbing close to 12 boards per contest along with 3.2 bpg.
The problem is that Boozer's calf injury should only keep him on the shelf for a few more days. That would inevitably push Gibson back to the bench.
We know Gibson can still be effective off the bench but does Boozer really deserve to be starting? Based on what we've been seeing, Gibson is clearly the better option at power forward.
In the past, Boozer's biggest edge over Gibson has always been his ability to score on a consistent basis. Gibson seems to be narrowing the gap by the second with his career-high 12.8 ppg. Boozer's 14.8 ppg this season is his lowest since 2002-03.
Boozer, a hulking 266-pound force of nature, can still rebound with the best of them (8.6 rpg). But so can Gibson, even if he's not quite as imposing at only 225 pounds (12 or more rebounds in two of his last three games).
This is about two players trending in opposite directions. While Boozer enjoys greater name recognition, Gibson's fantasy ceiling is much higher.
In terms of their versatility, it isn't even a contest. Gibson has averaged almost three assists per game in his eight starts. That's nearly double what Boozer is averaging (1.6 apg).
Meanwhile, Gibson is almost unparalleled when it comes to shot blocking. His 1.49 rejections per game is best on the team and fourth-highest among NBA power forwards. Boozer has never been much of a leaper, averaging just 0.4 bpg for his career.
Realistically, Gibson won't be in this position forever. The Bulls pay Boozer almost $16 million a year and they're not going to waste him on the bench. Gibson will reclaim his sixth man status, losing ten or so minutes a game and with it, a handful of points and rebounds.
But as far as backup options go, few are better than Gibson at filling the void. Given Boozer's injury history and Joakim Noah's as well, Gibson is definitely worth stashing in most formats.