What a great story Nikola Mirotic became last season. After waiting for years, Chicago Bulls fans finally got the stretch forward we were promised. Chicago was so excited to see the agile big man knock down 3’s that even he welcomed it by changing his Twitter handle to @threekola, making Stacey King blush. Mirotic had a hot and cold relationship with the 3pt line, relying on it too often at times while at others pump faking his way out of open looks and making me yell “Shoot it!” at my TV screen. Nevertheless, Niko Suave held his own all season long and made a run at Rookie of the Year by providing productive minutes and playmaking, including a peak month in March that helped propel da Bulls into the playoffs when dealing with injuries. His peak level performance in March reached a higher level than eventual Rookie of the Year and #1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, making a strong argument for his importance on a competitive team while Wiggins got more reps at Minnesota. Wiggins will become elite one day, and Niko might as well, but there was a “looter in a riot” feel to Wiggins numbers last season, good stats on a bad team. It will be interesting to watch their careers play out since Mirotic was considered the best player not in the NBA and most considered him a lottery pick if he would have come to the NBA in 2011. Instead, the Bulls stole him at #23 with a draft day trade, and he plays like he will become an elite player in the coming years. He has shown playmaking skills off the dribble, great rebounding instincts, the potential for a greater defensive presence as a shotblocker, and displays some European grit as well. He’s an emotional player who can get the United Center going but at times can be wreckless with fouls. He should improve on his 3pt percentage as he develops, a must especially with his Threekola moniker.
Fred Hoiberg is planning on starting Mirotic at the power forward spot, a status I expect him to keep for years to come, while sending Joakim Noah off the bench. Mirotic is agile and long enough to provide productive minutes at the small forward spot in the “jumbo” lineup, which Fred Hoiberg has suggested he will use at times. Although not quite Toni Kukoc, he can play similarly to Peja Stojakovich at the 3 spot versus certain matchups. Quickly becoming a fan favorite, expect Mirotic to become a more dependable player at both forward spots, as well as maintaining one of the better beards in the league.
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