Couple rotation notes: Hoiberg said Niko would still start at 3 when Noah returns/Portis would remain in rotation. So Noah/Portis off bench.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 7, 2016
Last week, I wrote about how Niko at the 3 hasn't been working.
It's still not working a week later.
Here's an update on Niko's game logs since Fred Hoiberg moved him into the small forward position:
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
Dec 30 vs IND 20 minutes, 0 pts | As SF: -11 | As PF: +11
Jan 1 vs NYK 31 minutes, 17 pts | As SF: +5 | As PF: +20
Jan 3 @ TOR 29 minutes, 17 pts | As SF: -7 | As PF: +7
Jan 5 vs MIL 29 minutes, 14 pts | As SF: +6 | As PF: DNP
(game logs via popcornmachine.net)
Totals: As SF: -20 | As PF: +54
Even if it is a messy stat, that +/- is startling. The Bulls have only had 3 games where they have outscored opponents while Mirotic was playing the 3. In that same stretch, they have never been outscored in the aggregate minutes that Niko plays the 4.
Credit Niko with being diplomatic about playing out of position. He told KC:
"The team is playing well. That’s the most important," Mirotic said. "The last couple games I was feeling a little bit better. I have a really important goal for me, to show that I can play the three, too, but once in a while I like to mix it too. Play a little three, play a little bit four, not just one position, but whatever they need me I will try and do my best."
Pau Gasol has played a lot with Mirotic, and he sees that putting Niko at SF isn't a great fit either. Gasol told KC a few days ago:
"He's emotional and is trying his best to be productive and help the team.
It's harder for him at small forward than (at stretch power forward), where things are more natural for him. We talk and I try to pick his spirits up. He understands he's in a tough position. He's trying to figure out, trying to contribute as best he can. But for the most part, it has been a little hard for him."
Niko at the 3 didn't work last year, it didn't work for the first week Hoiberg tried it, and it's still not working now. Even with Joakim Noah out, it's hard to balance time for Mirotic, Portis, Gasol, and a quietly improved Taj Gibson. The answer isn't to shove Niko in at the 3 because the Bulls play like crap with those lineups.
Of course the obvious answer is to make a trade, but who knows if that will ever happen.