Since the first three games of the season for the Chicago Bulls, Nikola Mirotic is struggling. The Bulls are 7-3, but with a tough four-game road trip looming, the Bulls need their second-year star to step his game up.
If the NBA’s most improved player award was handed out after the first week of the regular season, Nikola Mirotic would have ran away with the distinction. During the first three games of the season, Mirotic averaged 19.7 points per game while pulling down 24 total rebounds in those three games.
Since Mirotic’s hot start to the season (in which he was shooting 50 percent from the floor), the numbers have taken a concerning dip. The Bulls have gone 5-2 with Monday’s win over Indiana, but Mirotic has shot just 28.1 percent and failed to reach double digits in the scoring column during five of those seven games.
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Mirotic’s on-off splits don’t tell the whole story. The Bulls are better with Mirotic on the floor, but the big factor from that is Mirotic is playing with the starters on a frequent basis. Mirotic’s defensive rating is a 97, which is an improvement from the 101 rating he had last season off the bench, but his offensive rating is a 93. That’s an issue.
During his rookie season, Mirotic was respected for his ability to stretch the floor with his perimeter shooting. That was weird, being that Mirotic shot just 31.6 percent from long range last season.
This season, Mirotic has improved to 34 percent, but that’s still not the number the Bulls are looking for with his shooting from deep. Mirotic has only made 24.2 percent of his three-point attempts in eight games since making half of his first 20 attempts this season during the first three games of the season for the Bulls.Shot chart via NBA.com/Stats
It’s not just Mirotic’s cold shooting that’s concerning for the Bulls.
When I sat down and watched Bulls-Pacers from Monday night, I wasn’t expecting this to become a trend:
During Monday’s win against Indiana, C.J. Miles — Mirotic’s match-up — made five of his eight three-point attempts and kept the Pacers around to potentially win the game late.Nikola Mirotic guarding C.J. Miles on Monday night in Chicago. (Apologies for the screen quality.)
Chase Budinger set a good screen on Mirotic for this made three, but Mirotic did a poor job fighting through the aforementioned screen. Miles is shooting 38.8 from long range this season, so you obviously cannot give him this much space to shoot from deep.Mirotic closed out better here, but if he didn’t help so much up top, this could have been avoided.
This one won’t look as bad as the previous attempt, but Mirotic gave up another three to Miles later in the second quarter on Monday night. Mirotic closed Miles out here, but the concerning part was how Miles even received a pass from Monta Ellis (seen here near the nail).This wasn’t exactly good defense from Nikola Mirotic.
Nikola Mirotic is helping Derrick Rose with Monta Ellis at the top here, but look how open he left C.J. Miles. Tony Snell can’t rotate over to help because he would have to leave Chase Budinger open in the corner. That’s a problem. Mirotic got caught helping too much and got burned with another Miles three-pointer dropping on this possession.
The black circle is Nikola Mirotic. The orange circle is the ball. The yellow circle is C.J. Miles. You only need one guess to figure out how this possession ended.
It’s not that Mirotic is the only who has struggled on the defensive end. Only Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah have better defensive ratings then Mirotic does. But, when you’re in a slump like Mirotic is offensively, you have to be able to find other ways to produce, which is something Mirotic didn’t do in just 17 minutes on Monday.
The Bulls are going to need Nikola Mirotic this season. He’s a x-factor that can make a big difference on nights throughout the year. All shooters go through ruts. Nobody can shoot like Stephen Curry or Kyle Korver. Shots will miss, shots will fall. It happens.
But, when shots aren’t falling, Nikola Mirotic can’t be a liability on both ends of the floor for the Bulls to have success. Teams are shooting 55 percent against Mirotic inside of 10 feet. Mirotic’s opponents are shooting 48.5 percent from three against him this season.