I think I actually had fun watching preseason basketball tonight, and Nikola Mirotic's debut was a big reason why. Mirotic received a ton of hype from publications like this one over the last few seasons, but his arrival had relatively little fanfare in the wake of the Bulls' pursuit of Carmelo Anthony and the eventual signing of Pau Gasol. The way things ended in Real Madrid didn't help, either. Factor all of that in with Tom Thibodeau's famed reluctance to play young players, and you can see how he became something of an unlikely forgotten man once he arrived stateside.
Well, if there wasn't enough buzz around Mirotic before, it might be different after his first preseason game in the NBA. Mirotic scored a team-high 17 points and led a fourth quarter rally before the Bulls were eventually downed by the Wizards. There was a lot here that was impressive.
- He likes to shoot: Mirotic was aggressive from the onset. He didn't look good in his first stint, badly missing his first outside shot and misfiring on a three off the dribble in his second attempt, which seemed like a forced look. He didn't stop looking for his offense, though, and eventually shots started falling. Mirotic finished 5-of-9 from the field, 3-of-5 from three and 4-for-4 from the foul line in 22 minutes. Every make was off the dribble. Which ...
- His handle was better than expected: To me, the most impressive play here isn't one of the threes. It's the drive he made from the left wing, with his left hand, early in the fourth quarter to draw a pair of free throws. You'd see him attack hard closeouts in highlight videos from Spain, but I didn't expect his ball handling to be this advanced.
- His shot looks as advertised: The release is a bit funky, but there's no doubt it's effective. The man looks he can shoot the rock. From various positions, no less. D. Rose and Thibs both talked about the new dimension Mirotic could conceivably bring to the offense (Rose: "I've never played with a stretch four before.") at media day, but it seemed like something that would be more of a long-term payoff. Maybe not?
It's still probably a safe bet that Thibodeau will largely stick to the obvious three-man big man rotation, but if Mirotic has a few more good preseason games he might force his way into an opportunity. The worry with Thibodeau is that one blown defensive rotation means he'll get buried for a month. That's always going to be possible. But if his offense is good enough it'll be hard to deny him minutes.