It may be tough to envision an unproven European prospect cracking a stacked frontcourt rotation composed of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson, but it’s going to be hard for head coach Tom Thibodeau to let such a versatile big man languish on the pine.
The Chicago Bulls have a remarkable contributor for their 2014-15 season in Nikola Mirotic. Anticipation has been high since his acquisition back in 2010. Mirotic has played extremely well for Real Madrid the last few years and has finally brought his talents stateside.
There is a great opportunity this season to have something really special with the Bulls’ second unit. The options for creating offense have never been so numerous, and the Montenegro native can be the player who galvanizes a new Bench Mob in the Windy City.
A loaded offensive arsenal
Thibodeau’s game strategy is a throwback to the hard-nosed style that dominated the 1980s and '90s. His defense-first approach makes it clear that simply winning trumps winning pretty.
While this modus operandi has yielded some success, it’s important to note very little deviation has been made due more to necessity than just sticking to what works.
Even when Derrick Rose was healthy between 2010 and 2012, the offense was tepid at best. In Thibs’ inaugural season, the team ranked 19th in points scored with 98.6 per contest. The subsequent campaign saw them skyrocket to 18th overall despite production dropping a bit to an average of 96.3 points.
It was apparent that, outside of Rose, there was no one who could actually create their own scoring opportunities. Fortunately, Mirotic is not short on ability when it comes to putting the ball in the hoop.
Standing 6’10” will make him a power forward, and although he doesn’t have the muscle to bang in the post, he is a mismatch when facing up on the perimeter.
The beauty of his offensive repertoire is he can be an effective complement for whomever has the ball. He has step-on-the-court shooting range that will stretch any team’s defense. That will come in handy when he’s on the floor with Rose attacking the lane or Gasol posting up. He can also beat his man off the dribble which will take away the option of closing the distance to disrupt his mechanics.
This scoring resourcefulness will make Mirotic playable in almost any game situation. Despite what seems to be Thibodeau's aversion to playing rookies, the polish of the two-time Euroleague Rising Star’s game will earn him a legitimate chance to crack the rotation, of which he will take full advantage.
DraftExpress.com composed a thorough breakdown of Mirotic’s game. This video highlights all of the aforementioned aspects and much more. It is evident the team would benefit immediately from playing him.
Not just a cog
The Bulls 2014-15 group is arguably deeper than the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals cohort, and definitely more balanced. There are legitimate post players, shooters and slashers; some guys can even do a little of everything.
Such is Mirotic.
David Blatt, the new head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers, is very familiar with the former Real Madrid standout. In an article written by KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Blatt shares his opinions about his former European foe, "Whenever they talk about guys coming over, I always say, 'Can he step in a game right away and play?' And I would say in his case, definitely yes…He's an atypical rookie, no question. He has been in big games. He has a lot of experience."
Finding playing time may seem like a challenge, but Gibson’s ability to play center should allow for Mirotic to get some time at power forward. His shooting and dribbling ability could even allow him to occasionally play small forward.
All in all, the young man is too talented to be a one-dimensional specialist. Mirotic will allow Thibodeau to test his coaching wits. The fifth-year sideline general has plenty of options at his disposal as he comes up with a game plan for his new addition.
Mirotic’s impact probably won’t be immediate, however. He still has to learn how to deal with a faster, more physical NBA game and grueling schedule. Playing behind Gasol will be great for his transition, though.
Given his basketball I.Q. and worth ethic, it should not take long for the 23-year-old to catch on and turn it up.
Once things start to pick up, Bulls fans are going to see the wait was well worth it. The terms of Mirotic’s acquisition will go down as one of the best steals in recent memory. Chicago’s basketball future is looking bright.