Ask any Bulls fan who Nikola Mirotic is and they know. He’s our coveted draft pick stashed away in Europe playing for Real Madrid and absolutely demolishing the second best professional basketball league in the world. We’ve all heard the stats: 14.5 points in 23 minutes per game, 61% from the field, 59.4% from 3pt, 86% from the free-throw line, 5 rebounds, 1 steal. He’s lighting it up overseas and creating anticipation for Bulls fans and hoping for him to finally join the squad next year. Is Mirotic worth the hype? Can he be a meaningful NBA player or will he be an Adam Morrison-like bust?
The simple answer: The hype is real. You’re going to love Mirotic.
He’s been compared to Dirk Nowitzki and the comparisons are valid. Their styles are so similar. They don’t have blazing speed or insane handles. They simply use their intelligence to get their points and be effective. Dirk’s made a career out of it and so can Mirotic. Will from the Bulls Zone podcast has compared Mirotic to Toni Kukoc. That might be a fair comparison. But think about this: If Kukoc had come into today’s perimeter oriented NBA, how good would he have been? Kukoc was underrated in a lot of ways – a crafty player with a lethal jumpshot, surprisingly athletic – and Mirotic has those exact same qualities. Mirotic is a very smart player. The video below shows Mirotic setting a timely screen to cause the defense to collapse on the ballhandler and leaves a wide open layup at the rim:
That’s not a flashy play, but it’s a very smart play. Those things don’t show up in the flashy shooting percentages or the box scores for every game. As fans, we typically envision Mirotic as this stretch four who will be raining threes, but like Dirk, Mirotic as shown a propensity for solid post play. Here are two videos. The first, Mirotic utilizes a nice spin to get to the rim, but misses the layup. In the second, Mirotic loses the ball, recovers nicely, and finishes with a smooth leaner:
Also, Mirotic is able to use his smarts to defend effectively. He averages a steal a game in only 23 minutes. Here’s an example where he plays the passing lane, recovers, and solidly defends his man on the ensuing possession:
Of all his talents, I’m most concerned about Mirotic’s defense transitioning to the NBA level. The athletes in the NBA are much quicker and more athletic. Will he be able to even be an average defender in the NBA? The knock on Dirk was always his defense, but he eventually graduated to not being a liability. I think Mirotic will have the same approach.
Finally, we’ve actually seen Mirotic in preseason action against real NBA competition. Real Madrid played two exhibition games in 2012 against the Raptors and Grizzlies. Mirotic scored 14 points on 5/11 shooting, 2/5 from 3pt, with 7 rebounds, and 1 steal in 29 minutes against the Grizzlies – one of the tougher defensive teams in the NBA that year. By the way, Memphis played their starters regular minutes that night – only Mike Conley was under 30 minutes for them. Against Toronto, scored 17 points on only 5/13 shooting, 1/6 from 3pt, but went 6/6 from the FT line, grabbed 12 rebounds, and had 3 blocks in 37 minutes before he fouled out. Both games he showed solid production and showed that he can hang with NBA caliber talent.
We’ve seen enough evidence from Mirotic to suggest that he will be a valuable piece for the Chicago Bulls moving forward. The Bulls are in desperate need of offense and Mirotic will provide it. He’s a perfect match for Derrick Rose and imagining the screen and rolls they could run for 48 minutes is insane. You don’t find players like Mirotic every day and hopefully we will see him in a Bulls jersey next season if everything goes to plan.