Sam Smith at Bulls.com recently wrote an article about the possibility of Doug McDermott shooting his way into the starting lineup. While an influx of shooting into the starting lineup is needed, I believe Sam had his eye on the wrong forward spot and the wrong rookie.
Nikola Mirotic, the 6’10” stretch power-forward, would be the perfect complement to the Chicago Bulls starting lineup in 2014.
The Bulls have an excess of talented power forwards; future hall of famer Pau Gasol was signed through free agency and Taj Gibson finished second for Sixth Man of the Year after upping his offensive production and truly becoming a two-way impact player. Yet it’s Mirotic, whom I believe is best suited for the job.
I’m not advocating for Mirotic to lead the team in minutes at the power forward spot, I simply believe that by starting Mirotic, we put all our front court players in a position that maximizes their value to the team.
Nikola Mirotic’s game is suited to perfectly compliment the playing style of Derrick Rose. Rose’s drive and kick style requires spacing and shooters. Mirotic can pull defenders away from the hoop opening up lanes for Rose and Butler to drive and space for Noah to work down low. If any defenders cheat off Mirotic he can make them pay thanks to his range and ability to hit shots from anywhere on the court.
I tell you before that I like to create for the team. I like to put the ball on the floor. I like to run the court. I like to play pick and pop to the three-point line. This is the strongest thing in my game. – Nikola Mirotic, SLAM Magazine
A starting lineup featuring both Mike Dunleavey and Nikola Mirotic will easily provide the most spacing for Derrick Rose that he’s ever experienced. Year after year our offense has suffered from a lack of spacing, we now have the opportunity to unclog the lane and let this offense shine.
“But wait, Tom Thibodeau doesn’t play rookies!”
This is the perfect opportunity to put this myth to bed for good. Thibodeau doesn’t care about your years of service, the only thing Thibodeau cares about is if you can play. While there may have been some correlation between our recent late round draft selections and playing time I believe that it is in no way a reflection of a set in stone practice. If you can play, you’ll play.
Furthermore, Mirotic isn’t your typical rookie. This isn’t some young green kid who can’t handle big stages and demanding coaches. Mirotic has been playing professional basketball in the second best league in the entire world for the past four years, and has been doing it pretty well.
Mirotic is a two-time Euroleague Rising Star Award recipient, two-time All-Euroleague 2nd team honoree, and MVP of the 2014 Spanish King’s Cup (an annual Spanish team tournament). Few players enter the NBA as accomplished as Mirotic, and at only 23 years of age, there’s still plenty of time to improve.
“Europeans can’t play defense!”
Another common misconception I’m happy to clear up. Europeans entering the NBA are often unfairly labeled as soft. These sweeping generalizations are lazy. Just like no two players from Chicago are identical, neither are Europeans. If you really want to question this you can go ask Mirotic’s fellow Montenegro countrymen Nikola Pekovic. For your own safety however, I suggest you just listen to new Cavaliers Head Coach David Blatt:
“Nikola’s game will translate extremely well because he has inside-outside capability. He has the size to take advantage of mismatches if he does play as a (power forward). He has the speed to dribble around guys. He’s a legitimate rebounder and has physical size and presence. He’s a very, very tough kid.” – David Blatt, Chicago Tribune.
On defense last season, Mirotic held opponents to 28 percent from the field and a 20 percent turnover rate when guarding in isolation situations (per HoopsHype). On effort alone I’d have to imagine Mirotic could bring more to the defensive side of the ball than previous Bull’s starting power-forward Carlos Boozer.
Once again, for me it simply comes down to maximizing the talent and value of your players. Taj Gibson just put in the best season of his career. Pau Gasol has been playing at an elite level for over a decade. If there’s a player of this bunch who would benefit most from playing alongside Rose and Noah it’s got to be Nikola Mirotic. Starting him is just the easiest way to guarantee the majority of his minutes come with Rose and Noah on the court.
After a severe lack of depth the past two seasons I’m ecstatic for the need to think of creative ways to distribute the minutes and talents of our front court players in order to maximize their value to the team.