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Early in the season, Taj Gibson has been worth every penny for Wolves

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson reacts to a play against the Phoenix Suns in the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix on Nov. 11, 2017. Jennifer Stewart / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson looks over to his bench in the first half against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix on Nov. 11, 2017. Jennifer Stewart / USA TODAY Sports2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS — There were mixed reactions when the Timberwolves signed Taj Gibson to a two-year, $28 million deal in free agency. Everyone knew Gibson was a solid player with a knowledge of Tom Thibodeau's system, but was he worth that kind of money to a team with so many other needs?

So far, yes.

When Gibson is on the floor, the Wolves are outscoring opponents by five points per 100 possessions, the best mark on the team. When he's not on the court, opponents are outscoring Minnesota by a whopping 13 points per possession.

In short, the Wolves need Gibson.

Gibson has always been known as a defensive weapon. His quick feet allow him to guard every opposing player. His quick reactions allow him to get to just about every ball. Thibodeau, who coached Gibson for five seasons in Chicago, said he knew he'd be a major defensive asset for the Wolves.

"He's a monster," teammate Andrew Wiggins said.

But just as important has been his play on offense. Gibson is averaging 10.2 points on 55 percent shooting, the best mark of his career. His offensive box plus/minus — the estimate of points he's adding to the Wolves on the offensive end per 100 possessions — is 1.1. He's never finished a season positive in that category.

Gibson said most of the things he tries to do on the offensive end don't show up in the stat sheet, such as setting screens to get teammates open, staying active and looking for opportunities to crash the offensive glass.

"He's just a pro's pro," Thibodeau said. "He sets great screens, he goes hard to the basket, puts great pressure on the rim, goes to the offensive boards hard, can play back to the basket. ... It's just the activity level that he brings."

But as much as Gibson's job is to get others open, he often finds himself in space with good looks — a product of being the fifth offensive option on the court. Opposing defenses are paying more attention to Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns.

With so much attention paid to those four, it's easy for opponents to lose Gibson and it's his job to take advantage. A high number of Timberwolves' early possessions end with Gibson hitting open mid-range jump shots. Of the forward's 10.2 points a game, 4.3 are coming in the first quarter, and 3.3 of his 7.8 shots a game are taken in the first 12 minutes.

Gibson has provided an easy outlet for the offense as it feels out an opponent.

"Taj is smart and knows where he wants to get the ball on the floor," Butler said. "He works incredibly hard, he's always studying film, so you know when Taj is in one of his spots, you get him the ball, he'll get you a bucket and you'll get an assist."

And some nights, Gibson has been more aggressive than others. For instance, he's averaging 13.5 points in two games against Oklahoma City, when the defensively-limited Carmelo Anthony was often assigned to stopping him in the post.

"Every game is going to dictate something new," Gibson said. "OKC, I felt like I had an advantage I was able to (use) at different times. You just roll with the punches. I can't just dwell on this game or that game. Every game is going to be a new task. Just doing my job. Everybody has a role on this team and I'm just doing my job."

On offense, defense and in the locker room.

"He just has a workmanlike attitude every single day," Jamal Crawford said. "When he's saying something, it comes from a safe place. It's not with an agenda, it's for the betterment of the team. I'll go to war with him any day of the week."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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