The Chicago Bulls pulled off a trade back in 2011 that will pay off and help them in 2014. They acquired the rights to 20-year-old Nikola Mirotic from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Bulls stashed Mirotic away in Europe, allowing him to grow and learn the game more before entering the world of the NBA. Boy did he learn.
Mirotic started his professional career in 2008 when he was just 17 years old (and you thought the 19-year-olds that go pro now are too young).
In his seven seasons in Europe, he has won the Spanish King’s Cup (a tournament of Spanish professional teams) twice, and the Spanish Supercup (another professional tournament) twice as well. He was named to the All-Euroleague Second Team twice, and the All-ACB Team (top 5 basketball players in the league) twice, and was the 2014 Spanish King’s Cup MVP.
A lot of honors for a kid who is just 23 years old.
In this past season at Euroleague, Mirotic’s stats seemed like they came from a video game. He shot 64.3 percent from three-point land. He shot 62 percent from inside the arc. Yes, he shot BETTER from the three-point land than from the two point area! He ranked first in 3-point percentage (of course) and Index Rating (20.5), and fourth in True Shooting Percentage (67.3). Just so you know that he can play some defense (music to TomThibodeau’s ears), he finished sixth in blocks.
Mirotic reminds Bulls fans of Toni Kukoc, another European who played for the Bulls 20 years before him. He is a 6-foot-10, 210 pound forward who can play either forward position. He has really good hands that help him shoot better. Of course, with his shooting ability, he is cold-blooded and does not shy away from the big shot. Playing in Europe, he is a perfect stretch-four.
For being a big guy, Mirotic has good agility. He is quicker than a lot of big men, so he will be good in pick and roll schemes. He can move around the basket, and with his soft touch, he makes a lot of his shots. He can kill you inside, or he can kill you outside.
Mirotic doesn’t really create his own shot, but his set shot is extremely good, and he is excellent in catch and shoot situations.
Mirotic is also a good passer. He has a high basketball IQ, and great court awareness and vision. Once he gets the ball, he knows what to do with it, whether it be taking a shot or passing to the open man.
So now that he is in the NBA, how will the Bulls use him?
Mirotic probably won’t have the pressure of starting right away. Gibson and Gasol will cover the power forward, while Mike Dunleavy and Doug McDermott will go at small forward. Mirotic will still get significant minutes, however.
Gasol and Gibson can both help play the center position so Mirotic can step up to the power. He can also play good minutes at small forward. He can play a rover position.
After years of lacking shooters, the Bulls have set themselves up with players who could spread the floor. With Pau Gasol, Dunleavy and McDermott to go along with Mirotic, defenses cannot just key on one player.
With Mirotic, Gasol and Joakim Noah (and even Taj Gibson to an extent) being excellent passers, the ball movement will be crazy. It will make life easier for Derrick Rose.
In an interview with Slamonline.com, Mirotic was asked how he felt about coming off the bench. “I’m ready to accept my role on the team. In Madrid I’m always starter. For sure this is different. This is NBA. I don’t care if I start or don’t start. I have to do my job and I play, so that’s it.”
Nikola Mirotic will probably need to add some strength in his frame. Some have described him as the best basketball player in Europe, and the best basketball player not named LeBron James. I am sure there are a lot of players looking forward to test that theory and put some punishment on him.
Having a 23-year-old player with seven seasons of professional experience already, the Bulls may have given themselves a chance to win big in 2014 with one simple trade in 2011.