With Taj Gibson expecting to return from his most recent ankle injury tonight vs the Raptors, Nikola Mirotic will be finding his way back to an 8-12 minute shift in a Bulls uniform.
It’s a problem the Bulls have had since the emergence of the young Mirotic. His ability to be a stretch four has proven to be a major weapon against opposing defenses. There is a big difference in Mirotic with Taj healthy, and when he’s not healthy. A huge factor for Thibs, when deciding who gets playing time, is how they play when given the opportunity. Niko’s stats do the talking for him.
Mirotic with Taj out-
Mirotic with Taj in-
Overall for the season, Mirotic averages, 8.1 ppg, 5.3 rebounds, and 18.7 minutes per game. Nowhere near the production level he has shown when given 25+ minutes a game. With his offensive explosions in those 10 games without Taj, the Chicago Bulls fan base has begun to rumble. Everyone is in favor of getting Niko more minutes. The question is, how? Here are four options on how to get Mirotic more time on the court.
Option One: Give Guys the night off-
It’s understandable that the front court is crowded and there are only so many minutes to go around in a given game. Jo, Pau, and Taj, clearly have earned the time from Thibs, and it is well deserved. Coming into the season, Pau Gasol said he was on a 35 minutes limit. A limit he has only seen 8 times in the 23 games he’s played in. With Pau looking depleted, Jo coming off knee surgery this offseason, and Taj dealing with his injured ankle, it may be wise for Tom to start to look at Mirotic to give these guys nights off.
Wishful thinking, I know.
There is no doubt that giving these guys nights off could make a viable case for their long-term health this season. However, Thibs has made it clear that, “if you’re healthy, you play”. A motto that he has used over and over again. If a talented Mirotic, an aging Pau, two bum ankles, and a recovering knee, doesn’t change his way of thinking, nothing will.
Option Two: Play him at Small Forward-
The idea of playing Niko at the SF position died the minute a reporter asked the question. Thibs doesn’t have faith in the rookies ability to guard that position, and in the end, that all that matters. Forget the idea of playing zone for a few defensive sets to hide the “hole” on the defensive side. Forget what Niko could do to his guy on the offensive side of things in the post. If Niko can’t guard a wing one-on-one, then that thought is just that. A thought.
It’s almost guaranteed that Mirotic could do no worse on the defensive side of the ball vs small forwards than what Doug McDermott did during his time at the SF position. He has already shown great strides and improvements early this season defensively.
Option Three: Trade Taj-
I know, I know. The heart and soul. Hard hat and lunch pail, and all those cool things we fans like to rave about. But at the end of the day it comes down to one thing. Winning a title. Taj Gibson is an aging vet in the NBA that holds a ton of value for 25-29 other teams in the NBA. Finding a trade partner for a team on the hunt for a starting PF caliber defensive stopper, who has developed a mean post game and a smooth mid-range jumper, can’t be too hard to find. Can it?
With Chicago needing a ton of help with their SF position when it comes to depth. Having a guy come in that can back up both Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler that can actually be effective would be a huge bonus for this teams make-up. A potential trade that could push this team over the hump and to a place where no Bulls fan has been since 1998.
Per 36 minutes, Taj Gibson is actually getting outplayed by Mirotic. Niko averages, 15.7 ppg and 10.2 rpg. While Taj is at 14.8 ppg and 8.5 rpg.
Option Four: Stay as is-
There is always the Bulls way, you know, the safe route. Also known as, stay the course. The Bulls most likely will keep this lineup, this rotation, and these minutes the way they are for the remainder of the season. Although a lot could be done early, to fix holes, and soft spots, this team is known to be a very by the book team when it comes to mid-season moves. So there is always this option, the most likely of all the options.
Tom will play who he plays, Niko will fill in for who ever gets hurt, or sick, or fatigued. Once at full strength, the potential Rookie of the Year, will use this as a learning experience and understand the next man up mentality. Also understanding that once he puts in the work, the effort, and the grittiness that is expected of him, that soon enough minutes will come plentiful.