Nikola Mirotic may be the most predictably inconsistent player we’ve ever seen. After an incredibly disappointing start to the 2016-17 season, Niko is once again finishing the campaign on an unbelievable hot streak. Since receiving several DNPs from Fred Hoiberg earlier in the season, Mirotic has snatched the starting power forward spot with aplomb. As his restricted free agency fast approaches, Chicago’s front office will now be in the increasingly complex situation of deciding whether Mirotic can claim the starting role for good.
Niko finished the month of March averaging 15.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 27.5 minutes with .496/.412/.750 shooting splits—excellent efficiency. He hadn’t averaged more than 10.1 points, 41.9% field goal shooting, or 35% on threes in a full month all season. His season long three point percentage had hovered disturbingly close to 30 before then.
In his ten games as a starter, Niko is shooting 51.4% and a ridiculous 48.4% from long distance to the tune of 14.3 points and 6.6 rebounds. In his last four games of March, Mirotic averaged 24.8 points on 68.6% shooting and 62.5% to yield 20 three pointers. They should legitimately replace the flame emoji with Niko’s beautiful bearded face.
Of course, Bulls fans saw this exact scenario play out last season. Mirotic averaged 34.5% on threes in 44 games before the All-Star break. He then canned a Curry-esque 44.5% on 6.2 attempts in his final 22 games post-appendectomy. The Bulls hoped they’d have a more consistent version of the player that shot 39% overall from deep last year. They’ve gotten an ever starker contrast.
Mirotic will be a restricted free agent this summer after completing the three year contract he signed upon arriving from Spain. Always a complicated market, this year will be even more interesting as teams don’t have quite as much to spend as in the great Cap Explosion Bonanza of 2016. Niko’s season-long struggles seemed to point toward a scenario where the Bulls could keep him relatively cheaply—or another team perhaps pull off a heist.
That likelihood has dwindled with each bonkers three point attempt that Niko somehow knocks down. There’s simply too much of a premium on bigs who can guard their position and stretch the floor. While Mirotic’s defense is constantly lambasted by frustrated fans, his ability to create chaos and defend a little near the rim is undeniably valuable. It only takes one aggressive suitor to force the Bulls into considering a contract they may not be comfortable matching.
There is very little way to predict how the front office may approach this. The Bulls first must decide if they want to build around Jimmy Butler in the now or set the reset button with a blockbuster trade. Even if Butler is moved, Mirotic will be 27 next season, smack in the middle of his prime. These are tough factors to mull over, and Gar Forman and John Paxson haven’t inspired confidence in their decision-making.
One must always beware of the short sample size, but keep an eye on Mirotic’s play through the end of the season. Keep up this hot streak and he’ll surely have at least one or two rival teams considering their options; crash back to earth and March perhaps looks like little more than a blip on the radar. While the reality is that we should probably accept Niko as an inconsistent and average three point shooter, front offices might see something more.
Are they wrong? Mirotic has never had anything close to a regular role on the Bulls. His minutes were all over the place as a rookie under Tom Thibodeau and Niko has started 48 of 131 games for Fred Hoiberg. Perhaps it’s unfair to decry inconsistency from a player whose role has been anything but consistent. The Bulls have been consistently better when Mirotic plays, particularly alongside Butler:
The Bulls have a +12.4 net rating with Jimmy and Niko.— Kelly Scaletta (@KellyScaletta) March 31, 2017
The potential to be an above-average starter is undeniably there for Nikola Mirotic. A combination of the Bulls organization’s ineptitude and Niko’s own maddeningly frustrating cold streaks has befuddled his future path in the NBA. This summer, we’ll find out if he’s shown enough in those flashes of brilliance to convince another team to offer him a big payday.
It seems unlikely that the notoriously frugal Bulls would match a hefty contract for a player who has perplexed them so much. Given some of their recent decisions, it’s damn hard to say if the front office would even match a contract that looks cheap. One thing is certain: the rollercoaster ride of Bulls fandom will undoubtedly surge on this summer.