While others are ‘sleepwalking,’ Timberwolves’ Taj Gibson is a first-quarter all-star

Nov 28, 2017 | by Jace Frederick, twincities.com

Taj Gibson finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds in Minnesota’s 119-108 win over Phoenix on Sunday, another impressive stat line in an impressive season for the veteran forward.

Ten of those points and eight of those rebounds came in the first 12 minutes, continuing a season-long trend for one of the Timberwolves’ key offseason acquisitions. Gibson is averaging 10.6 points this season, and career-bests in rebounds (8.1), assists (1.5) and steals (1.0).

He’s getting most of that work done early.

Forty-two percent of Gibson’s points (4.4) and 32 percent of his rebounds (2.6) have come in the first quarter this season. Extrapolate that over an entire game and Gibson would average 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds.

He’s a first-quarter all-star, third on the Wolves’ roster in total first-quarter points (87), just one point behind Karl-Anthony Towns. Among Wolves’ starters in first quarter, Gibson is first in field-goal percentage (52.2 percent), second in total rebounds (52), first in blocks (five) and second in free-throw attempts and makes (12-15).

The early production is no surprise to Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, who has coached Gibson for five-plus seasons.

“The one thing that you’ll find with Taj is that whether started or he was coming off the bench, it doesn’t take him a long time to get going,” Thibodeau said. “Like some guys have to work their way into the game; that was never the case from the day he came into the league from now. His motor is great. As soon as it starts, he’s ready to go.”

That makes Gibson an asset off the bench or in the starting lineup. As a reserve, Gibson can enter the game without the intensity level dropping; as a starter, he looks more ready to play than everyone else on the floor.

“I’m just naturally ready to go,” Gibson said. “The first part of the game, everybody is kind of sleepwalking. My job as a starter is to set the tone right away, try to bring an energy.”

It’s the same thing Gibson does in practice.

“You see that every day, like when he comes into the gym to practice, he’s always got a bounce to him,” Thibodeau said. “It’s great energy, and I think the team can feed off that energy.”

Apparently so. As Gibson goes early, so go the Timberwolves.

The Wolves have outscored their opponents by 14 points in first quarters this season with Gibson on the floor. In Minnesota’s 12 wins, Gibson is averaging 5.6 first-quarter points. In its eight losses, that average drops to 2.5 points.

“(I) try to just get us the lead and get us going and so forth and so on,” Gibson said, “so when the third quarter comes, we may have a good lead because we started off the right way. The majority of the time, when you start off the right way with a lead, you may win the game. So, that’s my take on it, learning from past years.”