Nikola Mirotic Is One of the Few Reasons Chicago Bulls Fans Can Stay Hopeful

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Nikola Mirotic Is One of the Few Reasons Chicago Bulls Fans Can Stay Hopeful
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The Chicago Bulls have lost nine of their last 11 games; they are collecting injuries like kids collect baseball cards. They look like they're poised to blow up their core this summer, but there is one cause for the hope of the future: Nikola Mirotic.

Mirotic is the draft-and-stash player they picked in the 2010 draft. He currently plays for Real Madrid and has since become the best player in Europe. He won the “Rising Star” award in 2011 and 2012. He was the first player to win that award twice.

Last year he was the ACB MVP, an award previously won by Marc Gasol, now with the Memphis Grizzlies. The ACB is widely considered the second-best professional league in the world.

Now, according to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, one NBA scout has tagged him, “The best player who is not in the NBA right now.” Not the best “European player” mind you, but the best player. Considering this summer’s draft, that’s quite a statement.

 

The Meat

Mirotic is now having his best season yet. His numbers are ridiculous. According to In-the-Game, his simplified PER (a rough equivalent to John Hollinger’s player efficiency rating) is over 30, he’s scoring 16.2 points per 28 minutes (eighth best in his league among players with at least 100 minutes) and grabbing 6.2 rebounds.

But what makes Mirotic positively ridiculous is the efficiency with which he scores.

He’s shooting 72.2 percent at the rim, 52 percent from mid-range and an otherworldly 64 percent from three. And, oh yeah, he’s making 91.2 percent of his free throws too. His 76.5 true shooting percentage leads the league.

And, while the general perception is that he’s only a light’s out spot-up shooter, he gets to the rim 2.3 times per game (about 3.5 per 36 minutes), and almost 70 percent of those shots are shots he created.

He has a high basketball IQ and more agility that most American fans are realizing. He’s a great team player as well.

Real Madrid’s offensive rating with him on the court is a gluttonous 128.2. With him on the bench, it’s 114.4. That’s a 13.8 point swing. And his defensive impact is there too, as his team gives up 6.5 more points with him sitting. Combined, that’s a 20.3 point difference.

And if your eyes are glazing over and you’re thinking, “Advanced stats! What are they good for?!” here’s an updated Draft Express scouting report, put together by Mike Schmitz

He’s terrific attacking the closer, whether it’s just taking a step up and knocking down the jumper, or driving all the way to the rim. His jumper is wetter than the ocean between the US and Spain. He has real positives that transfer well to the NBA. 

He needs strength and a better post game, but he is NBA ready.

And what’s even more compelling is that he’s a perfect fit with the Bulls. His ability to stretch the court is exactly what the Bulls need. Being able to do so from the power forward position is even better, as it will allow for the hopefully healthy Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler to attack the rim with one less defender in the way.

Granted, NBA defenses are a lot tougher than Spain’s, but shooting tends to be a constant in any league. The ball and the rim are the same size, so shooting doesn’t change much.  Creating shots might change, but the ability to hit open shots won’t.

That should not be a big issue, because a healthy Rose would be the primary person setting up shots for him. He will face a greater challenge off the bounce, or attacking the closer, but he should still get some points that way.

If he’s not a complete bust, and his game makes a reasonable migration to the NBA, I’d put his floor at Ryan Anderson and his ceiling at Dirk Nowitzki. That sounds optimistic, but Anderson is a stretch 4 with a fluid jumper who doesn’t create a lot of his own shots.  

Overall, the thing that the Bulls need the most from Mirotic—stretching the court—will work. The notion of a healthy Derrick Rose and a "Dirkola Mirotizki" playing a pick-and-pop game together is enough to make Bulls fans want to practice lucid dreaming just to see it happen. 

 

The Rub

It’s hard to not look forward to his possible arrival next summer. But there’s the rub. Will he come or won’t he?

There’s no guarantee that he does, but there is considerable cause for hope.

It is the plan to bring him over next year. According to Nick Fridell of ESPN.com, Gar Forman told ESPN Chicago 1000’s The Waddle & Slvy Show":

He's still under contract there [with Real Madrid]. But we've talked about once a guy is three years out from his draft class, then he's no longer restricted to the rookie-scale contract for the slot that he was picked. So that begins this summer, which means our hope is we'll be able to have dialogue this summer with the possibility of getting him over.

Meaning, the Bulls haven’t been able to sign him to this point because of the amount of money he makes for Real Madrid. Gringo Rican of Chicago Bulls Confidential did a terrific breakdown of the salary information regarding Mirotic.

If you want all the intricacies, it’s worth the read, but for those not wanting to get bogged down in numbers, essentially what it boils down to is that when you factor in what he makes in Spain, what he could make in the NBA and what it would cost him to buy out of his existing contract, it would have literally cost him money to play in the NBA up to this point.

Now he’s at the “break even” point though. He makes the same amount of net money either here or in Spain, but here he can get more years of guaranteed salary.

Another financial incentive that isn’t discussed there is taxes. Because the top U.S. tax rate (35 percent) is much lower than Spain’s (45 percent), Mirotic would take home more money than he is currently making. Endorsements are another factor not considered.

He does stand to make more money by coming to the NBA.

Sam Smith, of Bulls.com, isn’t quite so convinced Mirotic is coming though, saying in his mailbag:

…There is hardly any certainty Mirotic would come for next season. He still has a buyout, so it may be better for him to wait until his contract expires so he doesn’t lose so much money, as some in Europe believe. At this point, I don’t think the Bulls are completely counting on him being in the NBA next season. I assume they’d love for him to be, but the really good European players sometimes take awhile before they make the move to the NBA. And he hasn’t said yet.

Of course he hasn’t said he’s not coming yet either, and this is one of those cases where not saying something is an awful lot like saying the opposite. If your significant other asks if you want to break up and you don’t say anything, the rest of the conversation will go badly.

My belief is that he comes over. Much of the conversation has revolved around the idea of Mirotic coming over for the mid-level exception, and that the Bulls would use their “extra” money to make a major splash in free agency.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The truth is, even if the cap were to go up to $62 million, and the Bulls were to let Deng walk and amnesty Boozer, they would still be at $48 million in guaranteed salary, per Sham Sports. That means they would have only $14 million to spend in free agency before cap holds.

Then you have to add in the potential two rookie salaries (around $1.5 million each, depending on where they pick) and two minimum salaries for the new roster spots (another $1 million). That drops the cap space to about $10 million, and that’s only if the cap goes up to $62 million.

They’re not going to get a star player for that much money.

They’re certainly not going to get a player with more upside than Mirotic. And potentially with as many as three rookies (the two draft picks and Mirotic) coming in, this would be the perfect summer for the Bulls to try a mini-rebuilding effort.

Hopefully he could come over for the mid-level exception, but if he doesn’t want to, the Bulls could make the cap space available to bring him over now. They have bargaining power.

From Mirotic’s end, there is an extra incentive too: the challenge. It’s hard to believe that a player with that much potential wouldn’t feel the pull to prove himself on the world’s highest stage.

Because of the Bulls’ current struggles, the financial flexibility to get him and the timing, I expect that Mirotic will come to the Bulls in the summer of 2014. Don't lose hope Bulls fans. There's always next year, and in this case, that could actually mean something. 

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