Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau coached Taj Gibson for five seasons in Chicago, so he knew he signed a selfless player who does all the little things.
He didn’t know that he was getting a “stretch” power forward, though.
One of the Wolves’ biggest needs could be filled by a nine-year veteran who spent his summer working on the corner three-point shot.
The Timberwolves defeated Golden State 111-95 Thursday in their first of two games in China. Gibson scored 13 points. Jimmy Butler had 16 points and four assists, and Karl-Anthony Towns also scored 16 for the Wolves.
Gibson went 2-for-2 from there in the Wolves’ preseason-opening 108-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday in Anaheim, Calif. By doing so, he suggested he might be able to give his new team more versatility than what he supplies defensively as a starter beside young star Karl-Anthony Towns.
“He worked on it all summer,” Thibodeau said. “He always had a pretty good corner jump shot from 17 feet. He has stretched it out. As long as he works on it and he’s comfortable shooting it, I’m good with it.”
The NBA game has become one dependent upon the pick-and-roll and wing players who play power forward on television both because they stretch opposing defenses with their perimeter shooting and because they are mobile enough to defend opponents who do the same.
Now maybe the Wolves have one more big man who can do so.
“It adds a lot,” Thibodeau said. “I think the corner three is big.”
That’s why Gibson, 32, went back into the gym to expand his game. Thibodeau wants big men Towns, Nemanja Bjelica, Gorgui Dieng and now Gibson all to shoot the three if it’s open. He and Dieng practiced threes together after most practices during training camp in San Diego last week.
“My coach feels I can shoot them, so I’ll keep shooting them,” Gibson said. “The style in the NBA has changed a lot since six years ago. Now we have to adjust and just be prepared.”
Gibson attempted 22 three-point shots in his first seven NBA seasons, then took 13 and made three last season.
“They wanted me to shoot them in Chicago last year, but I just didn’t feel comfortable,” Gibson said. “When you shoot 16-footers your whole career, it feels like a mile away when you finally start shooting threes. It’s even harder than shooting from 16 feet, I’ll tell you that. Even when you’re tired, you have to use your whole body to get your shot up.”
The Wolves didn’t add a real three-point threat in the offseason after they traded Zach LaVine to Chicago in the deal for three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler. Instead, Thibodeau is hopeful his team can keep up with the NBA’s three-point arms race by committee, with every player improving his shot.
That includes some of his biggest players.
Gibson and Towns combined to go 5-for-5 in Saturday’s game before the Wolves flew to China for two preseason games against NBA champion Golden State. Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad went 0-for-4 and Butler didn’t take a three-point shot in the 12 minutes he played.
Gibson’s second three came after Towns declined a layup or dunk and found Gibson wide open in the corner. Gibson said he was happy to make it and get Towns an assist for making the extra pass.
“He’s not hesitating, which is good,” Thibodeau said about Gibson. “All our bigs are letting it go, so that’s good. I know our wings will get there as well.”
The next chance for players both big and bigger was Thursday’s game against the Warriors, which started at 1 a.m. Twin Cities time.
“I think it’s good for us, to see where we are,” Thibodeau said. “You’re going against a team that’s really good. They play for 48 minutes. It’s a good test. I think it helps us get ready for our first game [Oct. 18 at San Antonio], which will be a great test for us as well.”
Until then, Gibson will keep working on that corner three, knowing what now is possible after he shot hundreds this summer with personal skills development coach Chris Johnson.
“It’s all about confidence,” Gibson said. “This year, my trainer wanted me to shoot them in preseason so I’d get more comfortable. It started in practice. I started to make my way out there and my teammates started looking for me and telling me to shoot it. That’s the main thing that helps me: My teammates give me confidence. I feel great.”