Tom Thibodeau tried to give Nikola Mirotic minutes as a SF last year. The results were very poor.
This is why many cringed when Zach Lowe broke the news last week that Fred Hoiberg would be trying Mirotic at SF again.
So far, the results have been pretty much what you would expect. Here is the breakdown of the +/- that Niko has provided over the past 4 games as a SF vs. a PF
Dec 21 vs. Nets: 21 minutes, 8 pts | As SF: -4 | As PF: DNP
Dec 25 @ OKC: 16 minutes, 6 pts | As SF: +19 | As PF: +1
Dec 26 @ DAL: 40 minutes, 23 pts | As SF: -18 | As PF: +15
Dec 28 vs TOR 17 minutes, 2 pts | As SF: -10 | As PF: DNP
(game logs via popcornmachine.net)
Summary of Niko's stats over past 4 games:
Bulls w/ Niko as SF: -13
Bulls w/ Niko as PF: +16
Not only are Niko's individual stats slightly down over the past 4 games, but the team isn't playing better with him at SF either.
Yes, we need a caveat that this is still a small sample that is subject to a lot of noise. But we've seen the results overwhelmingly confirm this conclusion from last year's play as well.
Niko's best game by far in that last four game stretch was his 21 point performance against Dallas. He was incredibly effective in that game because he was able to get to the line 11 times.
Where has this been all season? Last year Niko had 14 games of 8+ FTs. This year, he only has 2.
Niko has been playing almost 4 minutes more per game this year, but his free throw shooting has gone way down (3.5/gm --> 2.6 gm). He's great at drawing contact (or flopping) off drives like this one against Dallas:
It's not pretty, but it's effective. Getting to the line on a shooting foul is one of the most efficient outcomes for a possession, and Niko is great at it off his drives. Unfortunately, Niko has stopped driving nearly as much. Last year, he took 1.7 drives per game. That number is down to 1.1.
This is what made Niko such a dangerous player last year. His shooting percentages weren't great, but he possessed a mix of volume 3 point shooting and free throw shooting that was incredibly rare. In fact, there has never been a player in NBA history his size that could do what he did last year in terms of generating 3's and free throws at that kind of rate.
This year, Niko has been relegated to more of a spot up shooter. Via NBA.com, he gets half of his points (5.0/gm) from catch and shoots. That number was way down last year (3.1/gm), when he depended more on drives and free throws to generate points.
It doesn't make sense at all to use Mirotic so much in catch and shoot. He's simply not a good enough shooter. He takes volume 3's, but he only makes them at a 33% clip. Niko's full offensive arsenal needs to be utilized for him to be a great player, and sitting on the perimeter spotting up is not the way to make that happen.
This is another reason why it doesn't make sense to use Mirotic as a SF. His greatest advantage is that he can drive by slower, bigger players and get open looks when they are slow to come out to the perimeter. In the video above, Niko is playing at PF against another PF, Dwight Powell, who is too aggressive in his close out. Niko blew right by him and the Mavs were forced to foul.
You could at least see Hoiberg's logic in putting Mirotic at SF while Joakim Noah was still healthy, Bobby Portis needed minutes, and Tony Snell was pulling off his annual disappearing man act of the winter. With Noah hurt though and Snell putting together by far his best game of the year, it's time to end the Mirotic at SF idea that was doomed from the start.