MINNEAPOLIS — Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau coached Taj Gibson for five seasons when both were in Chicago, so he knew he signed last summer a selfless player who does all the little things.
He didn’t know he’s getting a “stretch” power forward, though.
One of the Wolves’ biggest needs could be filled by a nine-year veteran who spent his summer adding the corner 3-point shot to his game.
Gibson went 2-for-2 from there in the Wolves’ preseason-opening 108-99 victory over the Los Angeles Saturday in Anaheim, Calif. By doing so, Gibson 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 play and wing players who play power forward both because they stretch opposing defenses with their perimeter shooting and they’re mobile enough to defend opponents who do the same.
Now maybe the Wolves have one more big man who can do so, too.
“It adds a lot,” Thibodeau said. “I think the corner 3 is big.”
That’s why Gibson, 32, went back into the gym last summer expand his game for a team on which 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 3s 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 long-range shots total in his first seven NBA seasons, then took 13 and made three in Chicago 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 3s. It’s even harder than shooting from 16 feet, I’ll tell you that. Even when you’re tried, you have to use your whole body to get your shot up.”
The Wolves didn’t add a real 3-point threat in the offseason after they traded Zach LaVine away to Chicago in the deal that brought back three-time All Star Jimmy Butler. Instead, Thibodeau is hopeful his team can keep up with the NBA’s 3-point arms race by committee, with every player improving upon that 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 this week against NBA champion Golden State there. Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad went 0-for-4 and Butler didn’t take a 3 in just the first 12 minutes he played against the Lakers.
Gibson made both his attempts on Saturday, including the second one that 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’s shooting. “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 is today’s game against the Warriors, which started just after midnight 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 3-point shot from the corners, knowing what now is possible after he shot hundreds last 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.”