Taj Gibson opens up on Knicks return, reuniting with Tom Thibodeau

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Garrett Stepien
·3 min read
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Taj Gibson runs down court after making shot
Taj Gibson runs down court after making shot

Signed last Thursday, big man Taj Gibson makes his way back to the Knicks as a familiar face for players and head coach Tom Thibodeau. A starting center for the team's 2019-20 season and understudy of Thibodeau with the Chicago Bulls (2009-17) and Minnesota Timberwolves (2017-19), Gibson embraces a second stint in New York.

Available for Wednesday evening's 7:30 p.m. game at MSG against the Nets (6-6), Gibson put a full-circle comeback into perspective.

"I'll do what the team needs me to do," Gibson said at Wednesday morning's shootaround. "Just being around the young guys and trying to get reps up to be ready for anything thrown my way. I'm just extremely happy to be back around the guys. When you've been away for so long, that long break of not being in the bubble and the long offseason and to get back here, I'm excited to be around the guys."

The Knicks (5-6) get Gibson at a good time. New York remains in the middle of a three-game skid, but Gibson sees progress overall, led by Julius Randle's improvement.

"For Julius, he always had this kind of game," Gibson said of Randle, who averages 22.1 points and 11.2 rebounds in 37.1 minutes while starting all 11 games thus far. "It's just about putting forth the effort, putting the work in. He's been putting a lot of work in, so you can really tell. Even in practice, even (Tuesday), he came in late and I see him working his tail off. So I'm not surprised with how he's been playing because I always knew he could do that."

A fellow big man on the roster, Mitchell Robinson continues to progress as well in Gibson's eyes. Gibson weighs Robinson's development with more than just the 8.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 30.1 minutes as a third-year player.

"Just seeing how he's reacting, talking now in practice," Gibson said of Robinson. "How he's understanding the plays before the game, the morning shootaround.

"He's maturing. It's great. I got a chance to be around some of the guys yesterday and get some reps. It's been a great atmosphere. I'm enjoying it."

Gibson started 56 of 62 games as an 11th-year pro with the Knicks in 2019-20, contributing 6.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per contest. A defensive-minded player having crossed paths with Thibodeau on the Bulls (2011-15) and Timberwolves (2017-19), Gibson has a good idea of the Knicks' outlook for 2021 and beyond.

"Just by coaching," Gibson said of Thibodeau. "He's a tough-nosed kind of guy. But that's one of the main things most of the young guys already said to me when I came in. I was already saying this, preaching that, throughout last year about what I learned from him. But now they had a chance to understand and be around him. They understand what I was basically saying, understanding how hard it is to be a pro. A lot of guys can talk it, but a lot of guys really have to walk it.

"And one thing about Thibs -- he's going to really push you to be the best person, best player you're capable of being, every day, because he never leaves the gym. He's in the gym 24/7. He really wants to see you improve, and they're taking a liking to it. From the moment I came into the gym, I didn't really hear any complaints. Everybody was focused on getting better, and that's the main goal."