Chicago Bulls Profile: Nikola Mirotic


The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of preseason play and the start of the regular season is less than 20 days away. Chicago is bringing back the same core roster, but one guy that everyone will have their eyes on is Nikola Mirotic. He made huge strides at the end of last season and almost stole the rookie of the year award away from Minnesota swingman Andrew Wiggins.

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He adopted the nickname “Threekola” and has quickly become a fan favorite. It may be his play or it may be his amazing beard, but either way, Bulls fans love him and expectations are through the roof this season.

International Play

Nikola Mirotic played with one of the best international teams (Real Madrid) before joining the Bulls. He was selected as the 23rd overall pick (via Houston) in the 2011 NBA Draft and the Bulls have been watching him closely since they traded for his rights.

Real Madrid plays in three leagues every year: the Euroleague, ACB and Spanish Cup. Mirotic was one of their best players during all three leagues and averaged at least 20 minutes per game in almost every league (19.5 minutes per game during the 2011-12 ACB league). There was a lot of hype about Mirotic and for good reason. He racked up a numerous amount of awards while overseas, including the EuroLeague Rising Star Award two years in a row.

However, the reason Chicago pushed so hard for Mirotic to come over last offseason was because of the strides he made during the 2013-14 season overseas. Mirotic started 73 of 77 games that year for Real Madrid and became a great all-around player.

Despite not being overly impressive during his rookie season behind the arc, Nikola Mirotic was a stud while at Real Madrid, shooting 40.9 percent during the 2013-14 year. He was also able to add 12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists and a steal per game. Mirotic did a little of everything for Real Madrid; just like he does for the Bulls.

His most impressive stint though was during Real Madrid’s three games in the Spanish Cup. Mirotic dominated the Spanish Cup as he added 16.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, while also contributing more than a steal and block per game as well.

When Mirotic came over to the NBA last season, there was a lot of hype surrounding the young stretch four. There was a lot of hope he could one day become a Dirk Nowitzki-type player. It seemed like a lot of pressure and hope on a young player who never played in the U.S, but when looking at his numbers and seeing all the accolades he took home, there was good reason for the hype.

2014-15 Season: 82 G, 3 GS, 20.2 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.2 APG

Mirotic’s numbers can be deceiving, but it took him a little while to adjust to the NBA game, but once his role expanded later in the year, he took off. He was one of the only Bulls players to play in all 82 games, yet surprisingly, he only made three starts. He didn’t average more than 20 minutes per game or 10 points per game until March. However, when March came around and he got his chance, he was able to showcase his skills.

During the 15 games in March, Mirotic became one of the stars on the Bulls. He averaged 30.8 minutes per game; a big jump from the 14.3 minutes per game he saw in February. He made the most of his opportunity as he was able to average 20.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He showed off his ability to shoot the three, but also was able put the ball on the floor.

Offensively, he is already one of the most versatile big men in the league. His role is a stretch four, but he wasn’t as good of a shooter as most people think. He was only able to shoot 31.6 percent from three-point range and missed a lot of open shots. That percentage went down in the playoffs to 23.3 percent.

Being a rookie and not a guard makes it understandable that he didn’t shoot an unbelievably high percentage from behind the arc. But, Mirotic can knock down the three enough to force defenders to respect his shot, which allows him to drive past them. Defenders respect his offensive ability can also open up the floor for guys like Derrick Rose or Jimmy Butler to drive the lane.

Nikola Mirotic is a special player with a lot of skills that most big men don’t have. There was questions about whether he would be worth the wait, but he answered that question loud and clear last season. He has a ton of potential and will only get better, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Expectations for 2015-16

The expectations are high once again for the young power forward. He’s already off to a strong start through the first couple games of preseason. Chicago is hoping that he can take the next step this season and show that he could be the starting power forward of the future once Pau Gasol leaves. He showed a lot of versatile play on offense and that should continue.

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  • Mirotic is an offensive-minded player and should fit into Fred Hoiberg‘s system well. He can run the floor as well as any big man in the league and can finish away or near the rim. He has the ability to have an even bigger role this season; similar to what he had at the end of last season.

    Despite not getting a lot of playing time early in the season, Mirotic still had a positive plus/minus every month, except in November. He finished with a plus/minus of +5.5. He affects the game in a positive way when he’s on the court and should have his strengths be highlighted this season.

    Mirotic will probably never average around 10 points per game for the rest of his career, but Chicago should not expect him to get 20 points per game. Realistically, Mirotic should be able to average around 15 points per game, along with adding six to seven rebounds a game.

    Nikola Mirotic is quickly becoming one of the most popular players in Chicago. I’ve even bought a Mirotic jersey. However, don’t expect him to make an All-Star appearance for a couple of seasons. He’s has a ton of potential, but right now, he is still coming off the bench and should share the sixth man role with Taj Gibson.

    What to Watch For

    Mirotic isn’t scared to shoot the ball, but he needs to become more consistent. It’s nice that Stacey King gave him a nickname that represents his three-point ability, but it doesn’t matter unless he starts to prove it.

    He only shot 40.5 percent from the field during the regular season and just 30.3 percent during the playoffs. Getting his field goal percentage between 45 and 50 percent this year would be a huge improvement, but something that he is capable of, as he showed while playing for Real Madrid. It will be interesting to see if his minutes start to dip off a little if his shot doesn’t improve.

    It was obvious that his jump shot struggled from more than a couple of feet away. From less than three feet away Mirotic was able to shoot 64.8 percent but it took a huge drop when he shot from 3-10 feet away (19.1 percent). It raised to 34.3 percent from 10-16 feet away, but that’s still low.

    Despite it being preseason, Mirotic has shot 13-26 (50.0 percent) through the Bulls first two games. His three-point shot is still trying to find its mark though, as he has gone just 3-11 (27.3 percent) so far this preseason. It’s been a little different for Mirotic so far since Gasol and Rose are still out, but it still gives us a good idea of how his shot is coming along.

    There’s no denying Mirotic’s talent and potential. If significant minutes are taken away from him, it would be a weird and unpopular strategy by the Bulls. However, with a healthy Taj Gibson, a possibly revitalized Joakim Noah and the addition of Bobby Portis, there may be less minutes to go around than last season. Mirotic will still be a big part of the Bulls this season, but if his jump shot doesn’t improve, then he could start losing a couple of minutes.

    Next: Should the Bulls start Gasol and Noah together again?

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