There was a lot of hype for Nikola Mirotic when came over to the NBA three years ago. Mirotic, drafted in 2011, had continued playing for Real Madrid in Europe and won the Spanish League MVP and Spanish Kings Cup MVP in 2013 and 2014 respectively. So when he came to Chicago in the summer of 2014, it was time to see if he could translate those skills to the best league in basketball.
Mirotic played decently in his rookie year, using a strong second half of the season to finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He flashed the potential to be the ultimate stretch four with his three-point shooting and ability to be a playmaker. Mirotic averaged 10.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in his rookie season. Even with him averaging 31.6 percent from three, it was a good start to his career.
Flash-forward to now, where the Bulls are faced with a decision. Chicago has expressed a desire to bring Mirotic back but choosing not to strike a deal initially and letting the chance of another team signing him to a huge offer sheet was risky. It could’ve forced Chicago to pony up more money for the forward than they want to.
At the moment however, it seems unlikely as the market for Mirotic looks bleak and it seems the Bulls are only bidding against themselves here.
But the real question should be: Is Mirotic worth bringing back, even at a reasonable price?
Why he’s worth re-signing
The main reason for the Bulls bringing back Mirotic is for his offense. More specifically, his three-point shooting and potential to be a playmaker. Mirotic has a career 3-point percentage of 35 and although it’s not the greatest, he still is a threat to knock it down. We have seen at times where he absolutely catches fire and starts hitting every three in sight.
Mirotic offers Chicago someone who can space the floor, which is something they didn’t do a whole lot of last year. With Doug McDermott being traded last year along with Anthony Morrow and Denzel Valentine not playing a lot, Mirotic was often the only three-point threat Chicago had on the court. He was also the guy who took the most attempts, averaging 5.4 three-point attempts per game. In a Bulls offense which often looked cluttered and disorganized, they need players who can force defenses to react to the threat of outside shooting, keeping the defense honest with and stopping them from clogging the lane. Drafting Lauri Markkanen and giving Denzel Valentine a bigger role will help the shooting woes, but so will Mirotic if he stays with Chicago.
Apart from the shooting, Mirotic offers value for the Bulls as someone who can be a playmaker. With Jimmy Butler now gone, the Bulls really don’t have a main guy who can create his own shot. Mirotic has shown he can do this if given a bigger role. Due to the threat of his jump shot, opponents guarding Mirotic are always guarding him close and it gives Mirotic the opportunity to drive right past guys. It makes him more dangerous as an offensive threat when he is doing so.
Mirotic great drive, breaks down the defense and drops off to Felicio for the dunk pic.twitter.com/rfVfhFqDFq— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) December 9, 2016
By using his famed (and overused) pump fake, Mirotic was able to create space for him to blow by his defender and drive into the lane. That caused Cristiano Felico’s man to step up for the help defense, allowing Niko to make an easy dump-off pass to the Brazilian for the dunk.
This hasn’t happened enough however. Part of the reason is Mirotic’s trigger-happiness when it comes to shooting threes, but we can also focus on Fred Hoiberg not using Niko in roles where he can succeed. If Chicago really wants to maximize Mirotic, they should facilitate his play-making abilities.
Mirotic isn’t a bad defender either, registering a defensive box plus/minus of 0.4 last season. He can hold his own and even though he make the occasional bonehead mistake, he’s not as bad as people think. He also brings somewhat of a rim protector presence given Bobby Portis’s defending and Lauri Markkanen needing to get stronger to defend the post, the Bulls need all the defense they can get.
If used correctly and he’s making the simple choices with the basketball, Mirotic is a useful player for Chicago. He spaces the floor and isn't a total liability on defense. His ability to heat up quickly from three makes him an interesting prospect anytime he starts knocking down shots. However, there are some concerns the Bulls must have when it comes to re-signing Mirotic.
Why he might not be worth it
While his three-point shooting is a big part of his game, it’s very flawed. Particularly when he starts firing away ill-timed 40-footers. As fun as it is seeing a guy just pull up from anywhere on the court and knock down threes, there is a very likely chance he is going to miss and completely waste a possession. Shooting three-pointers is the right idea and if it’s a guy like Mirotic, you would want him shooting it. But they have to be smart shots and taken in the right situation. For a Bulls team already struggling on offense and shaky on defense, wasting an offensive possession was the worst thing they could possibly do. It was tough watching him take bad shots halfway through a possession and the anger only compounded when Chicago was struggling when he was doing it.
The one most frustrating thing about Mirotic is his inconsistent play. When Chicago has needed him the most, he absolutely disappears. In the 17 career playoff games Mirotic has played in, his averages don’t look good. He only averaged 6.8 points and has shot horrendously from the floor, shooting 31.9 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from three-point land. The series against the Boston Celtics was no exception. Even when Chicago went up 2-0 on the C’s, there were still concerns about Mirotic’s poor play. It’s not a good sign at all when a guy, who helps Chicago’s offense with his shooting, vanishes out of thin air during a playoff series. It’s the same cycle every year with Mirotic. An ok start followed by an absolutely amazing month of March then he fails to show up for the rest of the season.
Inconsistent play is a serious issue to consider. A bad couple of months could massively lower his trade value if Chicago decides to flip him for assets during the middle of the year.
Although he has been up and down in terms of production in his three years in Chicago, Mirotic still provides some value for the Bulls. His ability to knock down threes is extremely beneficial and he gives them some defense at the power forward spot as well. Granted this all still depends on what the money is on the deal he gets. Like mentioned earlier, the Bulls seem to be bidding against themselves here so unless a team swoops out of nowhere and offers him a massive offer sheet, he’s likely coming back.
By signing a new deal, Mirotic will be locked in during the prime years of his career. There is a chance the Bulls are able to rebuild quickly and be able to use some of those years. But given the pieces Chicago has right now, it seems unlikely it will happen. The best outcome of this is banking on Mirotic having a good first couple of months and possibly flipping him for assets in the middle of the season to a contender. But it all depends on how he plays, which is a coin flip in its own. Get ready for another year of Mirotic Madness.