For those unfamiliar with Nikola Mirotic, he recently signed a contract worth $17 million dollars over three years to play in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls. At 23 years old, the 6-foot-10, 220-pound Serbian-born forward has spent the majority of his amateur and professional basketball careers playing for his club team Real Madrid in Spain. Achieving swift personal and team success through the amateur ranks in Spain, and in FIBA international competitions, Mirotic’s name quickly became familiarized with scouts in America.
In 2011, Nikola Mirotic became eligible to be drafted by entering himself in the NBA Draft, but with one stipulation. NBA teams knew Mirotic was a ‘draft-and-stash’ player; Mirotic would be a waiting investment for any team willing to draft him. With no imminent likelihood of Mirotic playing in the NBA in his foreseeable future, Mirotic fell to the number 23 pick in the draft.
Through a draft night trade, Mirotic’s rights eventually became Chicago’s and while the talent Mirotic possessed looked promising in the highlight reel on draft night, there’s a certain level of uncomfort American fans take in drafting European players. An unknown viewed unworthy of a gamble – especially considering the state of the Chicago Bulls at the time when Mirotic was drafted.
That season prior to drafting Mirotic the Bulls had just come off a 62-win season, a breakthrough performance by homegrown talent Derrick Rose, winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award. The time to win was now in Chicago, a championship felt within reach for the first time since Michael Jordan left the Bulls once-and-for-all, even after a dismantling defeat by Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals – Derrick would bring the Bulls back, hungrier.
But how was Rose supposed to feel reassured by management’s efforts to get the best talent around the league’s youngest MVP ever when they drafted a guy who wouldn’t play in the NBA for maybe another three years down the road? Not to mention, the Bulls’ other draft pick in the 2011 draft was a lunch-pail type Houston native, Jimmy Butler out of Marquette. Butler was the last pick in the first round, and just how realistic was it to think a player picked that late in the draft could become an actual player some day?
Resembling nearly an identical roster, the Bulls went into the 2011-2012 strike-shortened season adamant in their pursuit to knock-off Miami in the East. As fate would have it, Rose torn his ACL in the first round of the playoffs and now jump forward a couple seasons and the Bulls are in a much different state than when they originally drafted Mirotic. He’s no longer a luxury or trade-bait; Mirotic is in Chicago to be a source of offense.
For those familiar with Mirotic, you may have followed his impressive progress over the past few seasons in the Euroleague and turned to it as a place of solitude for your eyes while the Bulls sputtered before Chicago’s very own. Mirotic blossomed, winning the Euroleague’s rising start award twice, and also an MVP in the Spanish League. He was the best player on the best team in Europe. All the while, the team that drafted him back in the states desperately needed a shot of life in an offense absent of Rose.
Offense, is what Mirotic does best. At nearly a seven-feet tall, Mirotic’s biggest weapon is his shooting ability (46% from three last season in Europe). Naturally, being that tall and also shooting with such fine touch draws comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki or Peja Stojakovic. Personally, a younger Rashard Lewis might be the more accurate description.
Whatever the case, Mirotic still falls into this false-notion that: he’s big, he can shoot, and he’s foreign – therefore, he’s merely a shooter. Not at all true. Mirotic does also feature a post-up game, along with soft hands that can catch passes in traffic, and his ball-handling is exquisite for a player his size. There’s a reason(s) why multiple scouts suggested that if Mirotic were in the 2014 draft class, he’d be a top ten pick. He’s more than a shooter, plus with his footwork that’s been ingrained in him due to being treated like a professional since age 16 and natural lateral quickness – Mirotic can guard most any power forward in the NBA today.
As emphasized as defense is in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau, as long as Mirotic is able to pick up the schemes and know where he’s supposed to be on the floor in his rotations, Thibs will play him. Thibs is well aware of his team’s deficiencies on offense and with floor spacing; things Mirotic is expected to alleviate and provide.
Mirotic will come off the bench, but his minutes should be up around 30 a game once the season gets into the swing of things. His shooting is expected to be as good as advertised, and with what we’ve already seen from rookie Doug McDermott in Summer League – a lineup of Rose-Mike Dunleavy-McDermott-Mirotic-Pau Gasol gives Chicago the type of shooting it’s never had before under Thibodeau. Add Taj Gibson and Tony Snell’s shooting into the mix, and all of a sudden there’s potential to do some really special things on offense for Chicago – when’s the last time you were able to say that about the Bulls?
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