Taj Gibson proving valuable to Knicks with surprise 3-point touch

MIAMI — Out of the All-Star break, Knicks brass wanted to see what they had in rookie center Jericho Sims because of the threat of losing Mitchell Robinson to free agency.

Sims was slotted as Robinson’s backup at center, with Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel moved aside.

But while Noel has disappeared after a foot injury, Gibson won’t fade away.

Because of Sims’ foul trouble and assorted injuries to first Obi Toppin, then Julius Randle, Gibson has become a fixture again — and is reinventing himself at age 36.

Gibson, on whom the Knicks have a team option for next season at $5 million, has become their unheralded 3-point shooting spark. He bagged two straight momentum-inspiring treys at Charlotte on Wednesday and is shooting them at a 44.4-percent rate (12-for-27).

Since Jan. 1, Gibson is 7-for-7 on right-corner 3-pointers. It’s noteworthy because the Knicks’ roster is poorly constructed, with three other centers, including Sims, who don’t even have a mid-range game.

Noel has three 3-point attempts and no makes. Neither Robinson nor Sims has taken a single 3-pointer.

Taj Gibson
NBAE via Getty Images

“My teammates love it, my teammates are more excited,” said Gibson, a Brooklyn native. “My teammates are always eager to pass me the ball to get the shot. RJ [Barrett] hit me with one last game. It’s always coming.

“I’ve just been coming to the gym every day, even on off days with the young guys, even when we’re on the road a long time,” Gibson added of his 3-point rebirth. “I’m just always trying to learn, trying to have fun with it, trying to be professional.”

On a team lacking leadership, Gibson tries to be that guy. But he has always been known for his gritty, lunch-pail game: snatching loose balls, setting good picks, making the defensive right rotation and other stuff that doesn’t show up in boxscores.

Gibson is arguably coach Tom Thibodeau’s favorite player because of his intellect. Thibodeau has coached him on three teams: the Bulls and Timberwolves before the Knicks. And he had to lobby team president Leon Rose to bring back Gibson early in the 202021 season.

“He was always a good midrange 15-to-17 foot shooter and then he’s really worked hard at getting the corner three down and he’s comfortable now,” Thibodeau said. And he’s always had a good touch. So I think it was natural. I think most bigs now they go out and shoot the corner three. Give him a lot of credit, every year he added something to his game. It didn’t happen by accident.”

Taj Gibson celebrates after hitting a three-pointer.
Taj Gibson celebrates after hitting a three-pointer.
AP

Earlier this season, Gibson admitted coaching is in his future.

“For sure, for sure, because I love being around the game,” Gibson said of coaching. “It comes easy to me. You’ve got to love watching film. I love just being around the guys. I love having the communication as far as just being on the court. And even in the workouts, I love being in the gym on off days with young guys and handling my business.”

Retirement, however, could be pushed back if the 3-ball keeps falling. Having centers who can shoot the 3 has become premium in the NBA.

Primarily, Gibson is on the Knicks as a mentor to Robinson and Sims, the live-wire big man out of Texas selected 58th in the draft last year. He has the lethal jumping ability and skill around the hoop to impact a game.

As much as Gibson recognizes Sims’ athleticism, he likes the rookie’s work ethic better.

“The main thing is he wants to learn,” Gibson said. “You don’t have to ask him to come into the gym. You don’t have to worry about him being in the gym at a certain time. You tell him to meet you in the gym the next morning or meet me late, whatever, and he’s going to be there.”

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