Nikola Mirotic to Start Over Joakim Noah for Season Opener?


According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is considering starting Nikola Mirotic with Pau Gasol for this Tuesday night’s season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The NBA season gets going in just six days with three different games, including two playoff rematches. The Golden State Warriors will raise their title banner against the team they knocked out in the first round this past postseason: the New Orleans Pelicans.

The game that many are focused on for the NBA’s opening night of the season is the playoff rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls. Since their playoff exit back in May at the hands of Cleveland, much has changed in Chicago. Not only do the Bulls have a new head coach, they’re going to have a different-looking rotation and a new starting lineup.

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Nikola Mirotic‘s stock hasn’t stopped rising since his dynamic month of March that launched him into the rookie of the year race (won by Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins) and now, the world will get a look at Mirotic’s progress first-hand next Tuesday night.

K.C. Johnson, the Bulls beat reporter for the Chicago Tribune, shared an interesting nugget on Tuesday night after the Bulls’ 103-94 victory against the Indiana Pacers.

"While Hoiberg said he hasn’t decided who will start the Oct. 27 regular-season opener against the [Cleveland] Cavaliers, sources said the first-year coach is leaning strongly toward starting Nikola Mirotic."

If that’s the case for the Bulls — and after Mirotic’s summer with Pau Gasol and Team Spain — it appears that the Bulls are heading for a starting lineup of Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol to start the year.

The elephant in the room for this situation is obviously former defensive player of the year Joakim Noah. “Whatever is best for the team,” Noah said. “It’s not about me right now, it’s about this team. We have to figure out ways to get better, and we will.”

Along with Noah’s positive outlook with the proposed “demotion”, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is confident in Noah’s ability to bounce back from a poor 2013-14 season in a big way off the bench (at least to start things out).

“He didn’t fight it one bit,” Hoiberg said. “I think he’s excited to play with Taj [Gibson].”

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Here’s the thing with the loaded frontcourt situation for the Bulls: No matter what moves are made to put together a starting five and a rotation, there’s going to be plenty of questions and concerns in the beginning and beyond.

Nikola Mirotic has shown that he’s primed and ready for a big sophomore campaign, but let’s not forget that Mirotic barely shot over 30 percent from beyond the arc last season.

Joakim Noah looked like the Noah of old on Monday night with a 12-point, 13-rebound, seven-assist outing. But, in a contract year for Noah at the age of 30, last season could have sadly been a sign of things to come for Noah’s career.

Pau Gasol drank from the Fountain of Youth last season, but he’s 35 and has a pending player option after the 2015-16 season concludes. Oh, yeah, right … there’s rookie Bobby Portis, too. Despite not playing on Tuesday night, don’t expect Bobby Portis to log many more DNPs this season. He’s an asset of the future for the Bulls.

There’s really no wrong answers for Hoiberg at the moment. It’s later October and there’s plenty of meaningful basketball ahead. He’s a rookie at this level of coaching and he’s going to make mistakes. It comes with the territory.

The most curious thing of the whole frontcourt situation at this point is why Hoiberg is pairing two offensive-minded bigs together and two defensive-minded bigs together to start out the year.

For example, Mirotic and Gasol had an offensive rating of 103.7 and a defensive rating of 99.3 in 653 total minutes in 2014-15. But, the pairing of Mirotic and Noah had an offensive rating of 104.7 and a defensive rating of 99.9 in 579 total minutes.

In terms of big men pairings, the three top pairings for the Bulls last season, all included Nikola Mirotic. The Gasol-Noah project of last year was a complete disaster and it appears that Fred Hoiberg recognizes that he needed to switch things up and adjust his units.

(Reminder: There’s only so many minutes to go around, along with Derrick Rose and Mike Dunleavy both still on the shelf with injuries. They’ll need their share of minutes in the Bulls rotation.)

Could the latter part of last season have been just a hot run for a young player (Mirotic)? Possibly. But, one thing’s for sure for the Bulls: he needs to be on the floor much more this season.

Next: Fred Hoiberg must stress defense to start season

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