Evaluating Nikola Mirotic Heading Into Year 2


One of the best-kept secrets in the NBA this past season was the play of 24-year-old Nikola Mirotic during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls. Not only did Mirotic show he’s ready for the NBA level, he’s ready for a bigger role heading into his second season.

Believe it or not, there were some positives from the disappointing 2014-15 season for the Chicago Bulls.

Along with a rejuvanated Pau Gasol joining the Bulls frontcourt last summer, the Bulls were able to buy out the remaining part of Nikola Mirotic’s contract with Real Madrid Baloncesto and bring the former Spanish League MVP over to the NBA.

Mirotic didn’t disappoint in his rookie campaign, averaging 10.2 points per contest, along with a 55.6 true shooting percentage and 17.9 player efficiency rating.

Despite last year’s top overall pick Andrew Wiggins winning the 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year Award, Mirotic improved throughout the latter part of the season and showed he can be a valuable weapon for the Bulls in the future.

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Things are going to change in Mirotic’s sophomore season, due to the coaching change heard ’round the NBA world this summer. Tom Thibodeau was let go from his head coaching position, and Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg was brought in as a new jolt for a Bulls organization flooded with disappointment and endless rumors throughout last season.

Not only will Hoiberg’s free-flowing, fast-paced offense bring life to guys early in their careers, such as Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, but Hoiberg’s quicker offense could bring an explosion in Nikola Mirotic’s production if the 24-year-old is given an increased role from last year.

I found this play recently, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop watching it.

It took me a while, but I figured out why I couldn’t stop watching it. It was exactly what I was talking about seven weeks ago when I broke down the new-look offense for the Bulls.

Nikola Mirotic will become Fred Hoiberg’s new Georges Niang.

For those of you that didn’t watch Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams in recent years, or don’t watch college basketball, Niang was one of Hoiberg’s best and most versatile players during Hoiberg’s tenure in Ames. Niang is a 6-foot-7, 245-pound forward that could play multiple frontcourt positions, along with handling the ball fairly well for a player his size, and making plays in the lane like you just saw above.

Outside of Monte Morris, Hoiberg’s starting point guard last season, nobody on the Cyclones roster averaged more assists than Niang (3.4).

Shortly after Hoiberg was hired in Chicago, Coach Nick of BBALLBREAKDOWN produced a really great analysis video of what the Bulls offense could look like under Hoiberg.

Here’s a screenshot of Hoiberg’s basic “QUICK” set:

(Screenshot via BBALLBREAKDOWN’s YouTube channel.)

Coach Nick is on the same page as I am, as he has Niang playing the part of Mirotic in this “QUICK” set. In this set, it’s about going fast and early in the shot clock to get good opportunities at a shot.

Mirotic (Niang) will set a side screen for the guard (presumably Derrick Rose), and after the screen is taken by the guard (Rose), Mirotic cuts quickly the basket, followed by a pass from Rose after penetrating into the lane and forcing the defense to collapse.

Here’s the screen:

(Screenshot via BBALLBREAKDOWN’s YouTube channel.)

And here’s the pass:

(Screenshot via BBALLBREAKDOWN’s YouTube channel.)

Niang actually dishes to the other big in this particular set after receiving the PnR pass from the guard.

Here’s the play at full speed:

It’s just one set out of many in Hoiberg’s bag of tricks, but when you glance at how Iowa State’s offense flowed with a guy like Niang on the floor, it makes you wonder how good Nikola Mirotic can really be in his second season in Chicago.

Mirotic can be a giant x-factor (literally) for the Bulls in Hoiberg’s rookie season and beyond because of the aforementioned versatility. He’s a 6-foot-10 wing who can more than just shoot from long range when given the chance.

He’s also capable of doing this:

There’s not many in the NBA that can pull down a rebound on one end, lead the break in transition going the other way, and finish with a pretty left hand like Mirotic did in the play above this past March against Oklahoma City.

All in all, Hoiberg has to give Mirotic the chance to become an intricate part of the Bulls attack offensively this season and beyond. Like most, Mirotic has plenty wrong with his game (don’t watch his defensive film).

But, with the emphasis being on playing quicker and scoring more this upcoming season, Mirotic can really become one of the most important players on this Bulls roster.

Next: The time is now for Doug McDermott to live up to the hype