The contract signing of forward, Nikola Mirotic, became official today. The 2011 draftee signed a three-year, $17 million deal with the Chicago Bulls, who had selected him 23rd overall in a draft day trade. He spent the past five seasons with Real Madrid on Spain, averaging 13.1 PPG with 4.6 RPG over that span. However, he had his career high in points per game this season at 15.9. If that can translate to the NBA, you could expect his career averages to hover around that range.
We do not know much about this kid, though. Since 2011, all we have heard about him is speculation of whether or no the forward from Montenegro will come over. Let’s take a closer look to learn more about Nikola Mirotic.
INTERNATIONAL TEAM: Real Madrid (Spain)
WEIGHT: 220 LBS
NBA PLAYER COMPARISON: Toni Kukoc
It’s kind of ironic that Toni Kukoc is Mirotic’s player comparison, right? These players have both had similar journeys on their way to the NBA with the same team.
They are the same height at 6-10, stretch forwards, below-average rebounders for their size, and good handle of the basketball. Mirotic seems to be one short step behind Kukoc in that aspect. However, with tutelage from the newly signed Pau Gasol, one of the better big man passers in the game, the former Real Madrid player could end up being a better passer than Kukoc when it’s all said and done.
Mirotic also has a terrific face-up game. He knows how to find his way past defenders with a brilliant shot fake and his underrated athleticism. That skill helps him get up and down the court with ease as well.
Now the obvious here is his rebounding ability is a weakness, as touched upon briefly already. Mirotic averaged only 7.0 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. His lack of strength to get inside and battle with other big man is a reason for those numbers. It is also a typical aspect of European big men. The lack of strength that he has also essentially eliminates a post game for him. With today’s NBA power forwards focusing more on their outside shots, this should not hurt Mirotic too much. He will be pushed around on defense by players like Zach Randolph and Julius Randle since both players are workhorses on the boards and with their aggressive post games.
There is a silver lining to all of this. Mirotic should be able to play at small forward when the Bulls play larger lineups. He should have the agility and speed to keep up with most NBA players at the 3 spot. Even if it turns out that he cannot keep up with them, his scoring ability will get him into the lineup at the power forward spot.
As of now, it looks like he will be battling for minutes with Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, Tony Snell, and Jimmy Butler. Gibson at back-up PF and the latter three at SF. We should not expect Mirotic to be in the starting lineup in the beginning of the season in an attempt to bring him along slowly so he can adjust to the NBA style of play, but by the time the first quarter of the season is over, the Bulls staff could be tempted to make that change.
Mirotic’s transition to the NBA should not be too difficult, but there will be hardships here and there. Right now, Toni Kukoc is a fair comparison for him. If he can build strength and work on an inside game, the Bulls could have a real steal here.