Shooting Star

Daniel Gibson is a case study of a quick rise to fame in the NBA. Hardly anybody knew or cared about Daniel Gibson before game 6 on the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. After the game, he was praised and heralded as the future point guard of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the perfect player to complement LeBron’s style, waiting beyond the 3-point line to hit the killing three. What unfolded didn’t exactly live up to the illustrious expectations that were bestowed upon him.

The beginnings of his career were nothing remarkable, some spot starting every once in awhile. He was an adept beyond the arc, leading all rookies in three point shooting percentage. To quantify this contribution, it is important to remember that the Cavs had the worst backcourt scoring in the league the previous season. He came in deep down in the rotation at guard, having to overcome Eric Snow, Damon Jones, and Larry Hughes to receive any playing time.

Now, that list of names doesn’t seem insurmountable now, and it wasn’t then either. Snow was the opposite of an offensive threat, struggling to average near four points per contest. Damon Jones was a more arrogant and flashier dressing version of Gibson, only shooting threes, missing them, and then claiming to be the best in the league. Larry Hughes never found the flow next to LeBron, much to the chagrin of Cleveland fans and management. As has been discussed, Hughes was too similar to LeBron in style in order for their games for both to flourish against opponents.

His sudden rise to fame was, as stated above, the Detroit game where he scored 31 points, in some respects more critical than LeBron’s performance in that game. He scored 19 of those points in the fourth quarter, and as it turned out, in the closing game of the series. A sense of euphoria poured over the fans of the Cavaliers, the search for a true point guard seemed finished and Larry Hughes could move over to his natural shooting guard position. Everything was falling in place for Cleveland. Even after the clearly dominant San Antonio Spurs swept them out of the Finals, Gibson didn’t concern fans.

Some fans just assumed that because Gibson was capable of going off for 25 or 30 points in any given night, that he would become a superb scorer that could average high numbers. They chose to ignore the fact that besides that game, Gibson averaged only eight points during the playoffs and just less than five points during limited time in the regular season. Granted, some players seem to find their place in the league after a breakout performance, and this seemed to be more a sign of things to come rather than a flash in a pan. He factored heavily in the Cavaliers’ plans of the future, not just as a super shooting role player, but also as a starting point guard who could run the offense. Never mind the fact that he had yet to show an eye for passing or any semblance of decent defense.

Gibson would be given his chance to show his worth and abilities the following season as he started 26 games (only playing in 58 games). In nearly thirty minutes of playing time each game, Gibson averaged a respectable 10.4 PPG and averaging a near great 44% from three-point range. He garnered an almost cult hero status around Cleveland, “Shoot Boobie Shoot” shirts began appearing outside of the Q and inside in the stands. Whenever discussions aroused about the Cavaliers, the prospects of Gibson were always held in high regard, only beaten out by the Chosen One. It was and is similar to the view of Chris Anderson in Denver or fellow Cavalier Anderson Varejao. In the playoffs, where Gibson made his name, he suffered a separated shoulder in game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics (the eventual champs).

Gibson claims that he is still haunted by the Cavaliers’ game 7 defeat against Boston, professing, “I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights just wondering where I could have helped the team.” Gibson figured prominently in the Cavaliers’ season and most expected a growth from Daniel in the form of developing his all around game (passing, defense, etc.) and resulting in him being on the court for more than 18 minutes a game. That is, until, the Cavaliers stole Mo Williams from the Milwaukee Bucks where they gave up the immortal Damon Jones and the veteran rap star Joe Smith.

In addition to Mo Williams coming in, the Cavaliers had acquired the services of Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West to solidify their guard position in the previous regular season, already in addition to Sasha Pavlovic who was a starter on the Finals team in the 06-07 season.. Now Gibson, whose sole mission on the court is to hit multiple three-point shots, had to contend with three other guards who can do the exact same thing. Mo Williams was the main problem, playing the same position (point guard), and doing everything that Gibson does on the court, only better. He is able to wait outside for LeBron to drive into the lane and kick it out at the appropriate time and hit the open shot. He has a better handle on the ball, a better sense of the court and all those on it, and light-years ahead of Boobie in terms of driving the ball to the basket. 

I don’t expect Gibson to have a slew of games where he comes off of the bench and lights it up for 25 points. What I am surprised about is that he hardly ever comes off the bench and changes the game with a rapid-fire four or five three-point shots in a span of two minutes. He is more than capable, given his shooting percentage, to drop in some threes at any given moment, yet he doesn’t. The reasons are numerous (injuries, inconsistent playing time, not able to play defense), yet I still expect him to break out and become the go-to guy off of the bench.

However, because the Cavaliers have claimed that they are about defense, Gibson struggles to get on the court for long stretches of time. His defense might as well be non-existent, then we could bypass all of the hype surrounding his supposed improvement every offseason where people close to the situation gossip about how he committed to working out and rounding off his game. The same goes for him driving the lane, where he should be far more capable than he is. He has some quickness, as is apparent from his frame and his inane ability to find the open spot on the floor, which should enable him to cut through the defense like a Rajon Rondo or a Tony Parker.

Which leads directly into his lack of passing acumen. In order to be a modern NBA point guard and be considered successful, a player is usually judged on their combination of abilities to score and run the offense. He doesn’t even try to pass the ball while assuming the point, which is why Cleveland coach Mike Brown doesn’t allow him to be point for critical points in the game. Gibson, if not for his dearth of size, would be an ideal shooting guard. There again, his questionable defense ails any attempt by him to earn himself a solid role on the team. Currently, Gibson comes off of the bench whenever Delonte West runs out of breath, and/or he falls from a great distance and breaks his arm.

Daniel Gibson could be so much more to the Cavaliers if he actually improved as much as people say he has. If he could improve his mid-range jump shot (he shoots the same from mid-range as he does beyond the arc), his defense, and his passing intentions, he would see a lot more of the court. That being said, Daniel Gibson is one of my favorite players to watch when his is on. He is one of the only players that telegraph a good shot. When he feels that the ball is going to go in the basket, he kicks his legs out in some symbolic gesture of unbridled childhood ecstasy and merriment. You forget, for that brief second of flight time, that other than his ability to drain that shot, he is capable of little else on the court.

Gibson, all things considered, is a role player. There is nothing blasphemous about that sentiment, nor is he not deserving of praise.  This is Gibson’s fourth year in the league, not particularly significant in the grand scheme of things, but not without importance. The Cavaliers are in a win a championship now mode of thinking, and Gibson needs to step up his game if he wants to be a critical part of that experience. He doesn’t necessarily need to improve every aspect of his game; he already is significant merely because of his shooting ability. However, he does need to improve his defense to help Cleveland and himself in a macro sense. The more he improves his game, the more time he sees and the better the whole team becomes. I expect, not big things, but better things from Gibson this year. Something in the range of 10-12 PPG and more emphasis put on defense; at least I hope he does that for his sake.

 

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