Future Chicago Bull Nikola Mirotic got his first "real" taste of NBA action on Saturday night when he and his mates from Real Madrid faced the Memphis Grizzlies in an exhibition. Real Madrid fell 105-93, but Mirotic finished with a solid 14 points and seven boards in 28 minutes. Bulls.com's Sam Smith was on hand to take in the action, and based on this nearly 2,000 word love fest, he and one particular Grizzly came away mighty impressed.
That particular Grizzly would be the rotund but talented Zach Randolph, who had the pleasure of going up against Mirotic for a good chunk of the night. Based on Randolph's own words and Sam's stirring play-by-play, it appears that Mirotic more than held his own:
"I was just asking Marc (Gasol) about him," Randolph was saying after the game when I caught up with him in the Grizzlies locker room in a sort of a Butch and Sundance "Who was that guy?" tone.
"I like him," Randolph said. "I told Marc he can shoot the ball. I was asking how old he was. He's just 21. The kid's got a real upside. He can play in the NBA."
It's one thing when fans, sportswriters, teammates and coaches hype up players, because that happens all the time almost regardless of circumstance. I mean, just take a look at what happens at Media Days around the league, and you'll see talk about how bums are "in the best shape of their life" and "ready to contribute." But I'd like to put a little more stock into the words of an opposing player, especially a player who has been as successful as Z-Bo. To read those quotes from him make me feel good about the future prospects of Mirotic, who very well could turn out to be a major steal from the 2011 NBA Draft.
Naturally, Sam took the praise to another level, which he appears to be doing a lot of these days:
I know everyone wants to compare great U.S. players to Michael Jordan and great Europeans to Dirk Nowitzki. But this kid does have Nowitzki kind of skills. Even his coach, Pabio Laso, when I asked him if Mirotic compares, say, to someone like Peja Stojakovic because of his great shooting range and face up game Laso said no, that Mirotic is more like Nowitzki.
I know I, as well as every other Bulls fan, would be thrilled to no end if Mirotic ended up as good as Dirk Nowitzki. But it could be really dangerous to throw that name around and make these proclamations that Mirotic could be "one of the best" European players to ever come to the NBA. There already seems to be this growing legend that Mirotic will be some kind of savior for the Bulls when he finally comes overseas, and stuff like this just feeds into that hype machine. The kid is still just 21 years old, and I'd rather not put unfair expectations on him when he's likely at least two years away from stepping on a NBA court. Hell, I'd be ecstatic if he turns out half as good as Dirk, because that guy is going to be a freaking Hall of Famer.
To be fair, Sam did stop short of calling Mirotic that "second star" to play with Derrick Rose, so he didn't go completely overboard with the love. Sam did say that he felt Mirotic could start in the NBA right now, which probably isn't that much of a stretch. There are some pretty bad players starting in the NBA, and Mirotic appears to be a damn good player. He should be able to make some nice contributions to the Bulls, whenever that may be. I'd just like to keep the hyperbole to a minimum.
Mirotic and Real Madrid will play one more NBA exhibition against Toronto on Monday.