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The Extra Pass: Three players who are ready to start

Feb 12, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Taj Gibson AP

Let’s take a look at three players who were in action Tuesday night who deserve starting jobs sooner rather than later.

Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder

Reggie Jackson has understandably received plenty of praise in Russell Westbrook‘s absence, but don’t sleep on Lamb’s emergence as a reliable scorer. With Thabo Sefolosha struggling to find his shot and Kevin Martin out of the picture, Lamb has stepped into a bigger role (22 minutes a night) and has provided OKC with a real spot-up shooting threat on the perimeter. Unlike Sefolosha, Lamb has the ability to score off the bounce and his much quicker release allows him to more effectively spread the floor.

Are the offensive upgrades enough reason to insert Lamb in the starting lineup over Sefolosha, who has familiarity and stronger defensive instincts on his side? Thunder head coach Scott Brooks catches a lot of flak, but he’s been more open to toying with different lineups and letting hot players stay on the floor. There’s still a lot of loyalty to guys like Kendrick Perkins, but not nearly as much as in years past. With that in mind, Lamb playing more than Sefolosha might not be so out of the question.

Sefolosha is on an expiring contract, so don’t be surprised if the Thunder start to work in Lamb as much as possible, even with Westbrook’s eventual return. He’s just a much more dynamic offensive player than Sefolosha is.

James Johnson, Memphis Grizzlies

It’s pretty incredible that a player who wasn’t on an NBA roster to start the season could swing the Memphis Grizzlies’ season, but here we are.

Johnson has been incredible in his 22 games with Memphis, averaging roughly 14 points, 7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2 steals and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. Andrei Kirilenko is the only wing player to ever actually average those numbers over a full season, so you know Johnson is in good company.

Those numbers alone should warrant more than 22 minutes a night, especially when you consider who is blocking Johnson’s path to more playing time. At age 33, Tayshaun Prince is a shell of his former self on the defensive end, and his true shooting percentage of 41.7 is unpalatable for a team already starved for space.

Prince has had a storied career and deserves a lot of respect, but rookie head coach Dave Joerger might have to make the tough call and cut his playing time considerably in order to get Johnson some more burn. If the Grizzlies sneak into the playoffs and go against the likes of Kevin Durant or Nicolas Batum in the first round, Johnson’s 6-foot-9 frame and playmaking ability on both ends will be desperately needed. Prince just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls

You can understand why Gibson comes off the bench for Tom Thibodeau. Protecting Carlos Boozer‘s ego by keeping him as a starter makes sense, and Gibson’s defensive versatility allows him to play either the 4 or 5, which makes him perfectly suited to be a third big man.

Here’s the issue, though. Even if Gibson is the one finishing games in the fourth quarter, it’s still a shame to see him play less than 30 minutes a night on average. When you see Gibson’s chemistry with Joakim Noah and his vastly superior defense, you have to wonder if Chicago would be much better off playing Gibson as much as he can handle and giving whatever is left over to Boozer.

If the Bulls are going to amnesty Boozer this offseason anyway, it might be less of a priority to treat Boozer with kid gloves. Gibson is the superior player and he’s part of Chicago’s future where Boozer probably isn’t. Once he returns to the lineup, there’s no reason why Boozer should be playing more than Gibson going forward.

  1. unxpexted1 - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    Taj Gibson not starting is a crying shame. That guy is a player. Not a star but a guy that could be crucial on a champion squad. He has improved his jumper, and has pretty solid post moves. I’ve wanted him on the Lakers for years. I remember when the Bulls played the Pacers 3 years ago and I saw him and Paul George coming off the bench and wondered why both of those guys didn’t start.

    Jeremy Lamb shouldnt be a starter on this thunder squad but in due time i think he should be somewhere

  2. pbtunpaidwriter - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    Great list, I agree with Johnson and Gibson while Lamb should still be relied on as a bench scorer. Sefolosha is an elite defender and complements KD perfectly, while being able to knock down open 3s. Lamb fits in well with second unit as a scorer and his defense isn’t quite there yet.

    Johnson is an amzing talent and its crazy how he was in the D-League. He has true guard skills – handle, vision, driving ability along with big man skills.

    Gibson is an ideal 2 way player and his offense is really catching up to his defense. He probably won’t get it, but he should get around $12 million/year or more based on what all these other guys are getting these days.

  3. fballlvr22 - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    Sucks for Taj. Bulls are going to dump Boozer and sign Mirotic money that starters get paid (even though Taj just got paid). He’s such a great competitor and brings it every night.

  4. cfos00 - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:48 PM

    The numbers are there to back Taj starting too. The defense with him and Noah playing together is much, much, much better than with Boozer on the court, and Boozer doesn’t provide anywhere near the offense needed to offset it. There really isn’t a good reason for Boozer to be back next year.

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