Nikola Mirotic is having a hell of a rookie season with the Bulls in 2014-15 that will get him some peripheral votes in Rookie of the Year balloting and has him mentioned as a finalist for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
The 6-10 power forward is a fantastic ball handler, passer, and finisher at the rim, with a shooting range to make him a true stretch four. His beautifully versatile game was on display in the Bulls' recent 27-point beatdown of the Nets in Brooklyn on Monday, where he nailed six of 11 three-point shots on his way to scoring 26 on 15 total shots in 24 minutes, in the midst of a five-game stretch of hitting almost 43% of his threes:
"It was an important game for us and for me before the playoffs," Mirotic said. "I didn't shoot really well from the 3-point line and it was good to get some confidence. "Some of my players told me, 'Niko, don't think. Shoot the ball. Because you're wide open. Don't pump-fake.' These guys, they're right. I just need to shoot. Because sometimes when I think, I miss the shots. When I don't think, I make it."
In the sick shooting performance on Monday, though, this attempt happened, a pretty blatant case of the mentioned think-and-miss.
Tom Thibodeau rightly called Mirotic "fearless" in postgame comments, but when Mirotic caught the ball in that moment while wide open on the wing just right of the basket, he was like a teenage boy whose mom barged into his bedroom at the worst point of the morning.
Mirotic started the season on an absolute tear that had Bulls fans screaming for more, but the truth is that Mirotic has greatly struggled from beyond arc for most the season. In the 45 games from December 30 through April 3, he shot under 25% from long range and under 20% from the wings:
And look at where Mirotic is shooting worst: the exact wing from which he super-awkwardly hesitated before bricking on Monday!
Does that hesitation mean anything? Probably not. But it could be a cold spot on the floor of which Mirotic is aware. His volume from that wing is beginning to show it. He hit one from that spot in the same game without hesitation, so the momentary lapse in Fearless Killer Hero Mode is probably nothing, but only 17.1% of his three-point attempts in the last five games have come from that wing, compared to 26.5% over his slump.
What is a big something is dropping his 3P% from .419 over the first 31 games to .317 for the season in the 50 over the last 15 weeks. And that he is rebounding with quite a hot streak over a ten-day stretch:
|%3PA from Corner||Corner 3P%||%3PA from Wings||Wing 3P%||Overall 3P%|
|12/30 through 4/3||.324||.317||.503||.194||.249|
|4/5 through 4/12||.343||.417||.543||.474||.429|
Mirotic is a shooter, for better more than worse. The mechanics and recognition are already very advanced for 6-10, 24-year-old rookie. His early season success from the wings may have been a fluke, but, for now, it is reasonable to accept his failures as an aberration, hoping that "somewhere in the middle" is the most recent lights-out shooter who stretches the floor to carry this team to deeper playoff success.
Stats via NBA.com.