Moving Forward With Nikola Mirotic

Moving Forward With Nikola Mirotic

20.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.6 free throw attempts, a TS% of .564 and a workload of 31.4 minutes. That's March for Nikola Mirotic so far, and while 12 games is a somewhat limited sample size, it remains an extraordinary line that inspires a lot of confidence in Mirotic moving forward. What makes his contribution even more legit is through the fact that his long-ball wasn't falling. He was taking 6.5 a game at a horrid 25.6% and still posted a TS% above league average by compensating for his struggles to the tune of attacking the rim off the dribble, and this part of his game is what's most encouraging.

At 6'10, Mirotic is surprisingly agile and quick, something not seen to the same extent during his years with Real Madrid. While in Spain, Mirotic was often camped out in the corner, or setting picks. He was not given the ball and asked to create, so his skills in that area were not expected coming over to the Bulls. It's caught notice around the league, in part due to Mirotic's ability to close out games. He's currently averaging 9.1 points a game in the fourth quarter during March, second in the league behind Boston's Isaiah Thomas (who has played in seven less fourth quarters than Mirotic), making the 24-year old rookie one of the primary go-to guys for Tom Thibodeau.

Those numbers, admittedly, are skewed by the lack of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. But while this trend may not continue, a question has risen in the meantime; Can you even remove Mirotic from playing late in games? Pau Gasol is very vocal about finishing games, as is Joakim Noah. Taj Gibson has closed games for years, which in part has helped him stay positive despite seeing player after player start over him. Now you're looking at four big men who wish to finish games, and deservedly so. You can get away with playing Mirotic at the small forward position here and there, although it's not a position that plays to his strengths. His quickness and mobility allows him to move past slower power forwards and take advantage of their lack of speed. Against smaller players, Mirotic has to rely on his length a lot more, as players are able to keep up with him and challenge his shots.

Conclusion: Unless the Bulls get some of these guys to sign off on the idea that they won't always be playing important minutes, a trade will have to happen during the summer.

It's a tricky situation in which four players, sharing two spots, all deserve to start and play big minutes. Gibson is turning 30 this year and should have been a full-time starter earning 32 minutes a night over the past three years, so he'd be the guy most deserving of being traded to a place in which he could get those minutes. His trade value is still pretty high, ironically in part due to his lack of total minutes where he's sitting at 10,446 for his career, and while losing Gibson would do the defense no favor, it may be a way to locate that small forward who's been missing since trading away Luol Deng last January.

Moving Gasol would be near impossible from a PR-perspective. How do you justify trading an All-Star starter on a great deal? You can't use the age argument, seeing as you went out and signed him just a year prior. So you knew what you'd be getting yourself into. For the Bulls to trade Gasol, the return would have to be unrealistically good, and since the other 29 GM's around the league are fully aware that Gasol's about to turn 35, the likelihood of such a deal is near nil.

That leaves us with Joakim Noah who is weaved into the Bulls culture to such an extent, it wouldn't make sense to move him to anyone but San Antonio, Memphis, Golden State or Atlanta. No other team would fully be able to utilize his passing skills, and given his knee troubles, none of those teams would be willing to give up anything of substance. You could obviously shop Noah to whomever, but teams would know in advance if they could install Noah or not, seeing as it takes a special approach to the game to properly use him. The Charlotte Hornets for example would know right off the bat that Noah's game would have to re-define the way they play offensively, likely minimizing Al Jefferson's touches. As with them, any other team would understand what acquiring Noah would entail, and very few could accommodate that.

(Obviously, if New York offer their 2015 first-rounder for Noah, you take it and run. But that's not happening. Or. Well. It IS the Knicks, after all. Fine, it's unlikely to happen. Better?)

Back to Mirotic - Whoever is moved, or whoever is willing to accept that they won't always close games, the point here is to open up minutes. Mirotic will turn 25 in the middle of next season, meaning his prime years are a lot closer than one would think. If the Bulls can put him in a situation where they get a lot of bang for their buck (Mirotic is signed through the 2016/2017 season, earning a total of $16.6 million over that time), making Mirotic their star forward would further open up financial flexibility to make some additional moves.

Derrick Rose won't demand another max contract, Jimmy Butler's upcoming deal will look nice under the increased salary cap even if he signs a max deal, Noah's knee could hurt his future income, Gasol could opt out of his $7.7 million if he has another strong year, and would Gibson really consider re-signing with the Bulls by 2017 if he remains a bench player? Could he possibly even request a trade during this summer?

All in all, as things look now, Chicago's future boils down to Mirotic and Butler. If you coordinate their salaries and make the most of Mirotic's cheap deal, there might be a way to make a splash in free agency.


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  • Welcome back Morten, and another fine post.

    Time for Taj to go. Depth is highly overrated. It comes down to a finite number of minutes, minutes that Niko simply must get. If there's any kind of decent return to be had for Taj, jump on it, it won't last forever.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    "Depth is highly overrated?" As far as the Bulls are concerned I disagree. the Bulls have essentially four usable "bigs." Pau will be 35 next year and has a history of injuries. This season is an anomaly for him as far as his health over the past few years. Noah is 30 and breaking down rapidly. Taj is 30 and is sidelined frequently for injuries. The only young guy is Mirotic.

    I agree that Mirotic should play over Taj but would you really want to go into next season with just Gasol, Noah, and Mirotic? I'm OK with trading Taj only if our fourth big is solid. But who will fill that role? Muhammed should be rendered for glue and Bairstow should be playing in China where he has a better chance of improving his game and his hair.

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    Well, I think you're guilty of overrating depth :)

    No team needs four starting-quality bigs unless you really think it's optimal to play each guy 24 minutes, which to me would be severely limiting both Niko and Taj. As for Gasol and Noah, 24 minutes would be just fine, IMO.

    We all think that if one of those four were traded away, the Bulls would need a legit (not Nazr) fourth big, but he'd only have to play 10-12 minutes per game. In a world of finite resources, would the Bulls be better off with a starter caliber big when they already have three, or a starting caliber wing when they have only one?

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Taj to Sacto for Rudy Gay? Bulls almost certainly have to sweeten the pot, our #1 or give Sacto back theirs. Not sure that Sacto has an interest in Taj, but he would seem to be a good fit next to Cousins unless they think that a stretch 4 is their best bet for the future.

    Actually, I am somewhat dubious that Taj has as much value around the league as Bulls fans want to think that he does. Despite his age, and boozer like defense, it wouldn't surprise me if we got better offers for Gasol than Gibson. Supposedly, SA, OKC, Miami, the Knicks and Lakers all wanted him last summer.

    However, I also agree that the Bulls are more likely to shop Taj than Gasol.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Bulls would have to sweeten the pot considerably. This is what I would do.

    To Kings- Rose, Gibson

    To Bulls- Gay, Collison, Thompson

    Works on RealGM Trade Checker. Why Bulls do it? Get two starters not even at their peaks plus a 4th big. Get rid of two players who are still good but already have reached their peaks and are injury prone.

    Why Kings do it? Need upgrade at power forward and a "superstar" (LOL) to go along with Boogie to bring in fans. Also, and most important, they are the stupidest franchise in the NBA.

    I would even let them keep their draft pick. Maybe throw in Snell. Kings were actually thinking of drafting him #7 when most teams pegged him for second round (see above regarding "stupid"). Bulls have a core of Butler, Gay, Niko, and Collison for next five years. All still young and Bulls still have Pau, Noah, Doug, and maybe Brooks.

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    In reply to hgarbell:

    2 starters at their peak ? Gay is on his way down, but we probably only need him to be good for 1-2 years anyway.
    I would do it, but we still need to find a PG as collision is a backup in this league due to his size

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    "Gay is on his way down?" Sorry, Jim, Gay is 28 and is averaging 21 ppg. Most in his career.

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    In reply to hgarbell:

    He will be 30 next summer and will be entering his 13 NBA season. If you think that he will produce peak value ( for his contract) without volume shooting then I would love to have him.

    The problem I have w Gay is he's not a winner or considered a team player. That could of course change coming over to the Bulls. Regardless anyway to get out from the Rose contract is worth a shot.

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    I don't see that trade happening, but if it could, I would buy it. As you point out, Bulls would have a tremendous young core!

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    If Nazr was rendered for glue I wouldn't trust it to seal an envelope.

  • I don't know how much the intangibles mean at the professional level. For all I know talk about such stuff is done because reporters and broadcasters have run out of other things to discuss. But, if they mean anything at all, I find it hard to believe that the Bulls would have the right stuff to win a championship without Noah. His contract coincides with this group's window to win a championship. If they can't get it done I could see letting Noah go elsewhere in free agency, but I would be against trading him in the meantime. As you say, it is not likely they get much back for him in trade anyhow.

    I know talent triumphs over heart almost every time, but to the extent that this team has any heart at all is due to Noah, imho.

  • In reply to bjb57:

    Noah, even an aged, hobbling Noah (which he isn't yet but could be as soon as next year) has far more value to the Bulls than what he'd bring in a trade. Unless he's got unrealistic contract expectations, I'd try to have him retire a Bull, and that's with the assumption that he will not age very well.

  • I was reading a blog by Sam Smith a few days ago and got me to thinking. Taj may not be as easy to move as everyone thinks. Next season Noah will be on a contract year as a free agent during a time when teams will have boat loads of money to spend. There's no garuntee that we'll be able to keep him and if so we might end up overpaying at a ridiculous price. On top of that Gasol will be 35 and technically on the last year of his contract unless he opts into his player option ( which I fully expect him to do ) but still, there is a chance we could lose him. Therefore other than Mirotic, Taj is the only big man we have that's a guaranteed lock moving forward. I understand moving Gasol wouldn't look good from a PR perspective but it's the only move that makes any sense and would actually improve the team. Gasol's best years are behind him and he's also a cancer to this team defensively. While his contract is reasonable and he did make the all star team, that only makes it easier to trade him. it's now or never with Gasol and if we don't win a championship this year or come damn close then they need to send this guy packing. We only got him because we're supposed to be in win now mode so if we don't win then he's just in the way.

  • In reply to ajaychitown:

    I agree with many of your points and in an ideal world, Gasol is the one that would move because Taj is the more valuable player for the reasons you state. If we're choosing between keeping Pau and keeping Taj without regarding the rest of the team, I think most of us would rather keep Taj.

    The simple fact, though, is that Taj plays the same position as Niko. Pau is not blocking Niko's minutes, Taj is. Taj and Niko shouldn't really ever be sharing the floor since neither can play C or SF. If you trade Pau, you still have this same problem, plus now you need a backup C (which is how Pau should be used).

    I also agree that we don't know what Taj would bring back in a trade but most likely, it would be more than Gasol for the reasons you cite. Who wants to give up assets for a 35-year-old? Meanwhile, Taj will be a starting-caliber, two-way player who is 30 and on a very reasonable contract, and will likely fetch a lot more in return. You think Taj is more valuable and I think the NBA agrees with you.

  • In reply to ajaychitown:

    All that may be true, but you simply cannot start Taj and Niko, so one of them has to accept being the sixth man even if Noah or Gasol are gone.

  • Never trade Mirotic and definitely resign Butler everyone else can go, but you better get a huge return if the Bulls let go of Noah.

  • In reply to Sluggers:

    None of the four big guys duplicate each other's strong points. Pau and Noah both lose a lot when they get tired. Both play like super stars when they are in the right match ups.

    We need all four, put them in when they match up best. Ignore starting and finishing minutes. Go 100% for match up and proper rest.

  • In reply to granvil:

    If you could put all four guys on the floor together, keep them all on the team and still add a quality starting SF, I'd agree with you.

    Another one who overrates depth. Remember all that great depth that the Heat had in going to four straight finals? Neither do I.

  • If this team has a deep playoff run, no changes should be done other than Dunlevey's departure. If not, both Thibs and maybe Taj will be gone next year. So, with the hopes of deep playoff, I feel that Mirotic will improve to the point that he can play a serviceable 3 and star level. Mitotic will take Dunlevey's starting position. Gasol needs to reduce his time to no more than 30 min. Rotation should look like this:
    Rose, Brooks, Kirk (emergency only)
    Butler, Snell, Moore, Kirk (emergency only)
    Mirotic, McD, Snell
    Noah, Taj, Mirotic
    Gasol, Noah

    The Bulls should draft a solid PG and big. This will keep the team a contender for years to come.

  • In reply to BullsDynasty:

    Mirotic isn't a 3 and I don't think you really think he is, you just want to have your cake and eat it too by keeping both him and Taj. That's great that you love both players but they play the same position and one of them has to go.

    Apparently, this is a concept many on this board refuse to accept. To many, it's ok to have a hole in your starting lineup at SF but it's not ok to have fewer than four starting caliber bigs because you know the old adage that deep bench depth wins championships. Actually I've never heard that.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I agree with you on this. Taj deserves to start and the Bulls need another wing - so, trade Taj for the wing! Simple, eh?

  • Back in the summer and preseason while most everyone was all hyped up about McD, his shooting and his overall offensive game, there were a couple of us(myself and DE) who thought that Mirotic was the better player and going to make a bigger impact this season.

    While nearly everybody was talking about him as simply a stretch four(3 point shooter), I noticed just from watching highlights available on Youtube that he had 2 other significant skills. One was that he liked to put the ball on the floor, taking guys off the dribble and finishing at the rim. The other was that he liked to get out on the break and again finishing at the rim. We don't see too much of the second simply because the Bulls just don't try to run much, even though they should. Of course in order to do so, you have to dominate the defensive boards, which clearly doesn't happen all the time the season.

    My only concern going forward is that teams will figure his game out and start defending him with their best/most athletic wing defender, kind of like SA did with Leonard and Detroit did yesterday with Prince. It might not be a coincidence that he had his worst game of the month Sunday and in addition to disappearing Niko Prince added 10 rebounds of his own. So fared well when playing small forward or defended by wing athletes. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the rest of this season, and especially next season when I expect that he will be our starting PF.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    That would be a problem if Niko was our only offensive option at wing but we also have Butler who's really stepped up offensively. In the near future both of these guys are gonna spend a lot of time on court together or at least they should. No matter which big when end up moving I would like to see us get a wing in return. Preferably a defensive one. The Bulls need to get back to a defense 1st mentality and that's the main reason I would like to see Gasol go. He contradicts everything the Bulls are about and it's not even his actual defense that bothers me, it's his lazy approach towards it. He's either physically incapable of doing it or doesn't know what it means to hustle. We need guys out there that's not too proud to dive to the floor or jump in the stands to save a loose ball. We need guys that's not afraid to take an offensive foul or battle tooth and nail for a rebound. Those are the kind of traits that goes unnoticed when looking at a stat sheet, but also the very things I've yet to see Gasol do. Even on an injured knee I've seen it from Noah, Taj and Niko but only Gasol waits around for the ball to come to him and it often times results in a turnover, missed opportunity, or fast break from the opposing team. I know Taj isn't a center but I would still keep him over Gasol just for those little things alone.

  • In reply to ajaychitown:

    It sounds like you would prefer Reggie Evans in your lineup over Gasol. Did you enjoy watching Will Perdue play center for the Bulls?

    Consider this. Gasol has a PER of 22.65 (12th in the NBA). His brother Marc has a PER of 21.75. They have almost identical Value Added (VA) shares and Estimated Wins Added (EWA) shares in Hollinger's database, and both are near the top of the NBA in both of these measures. Guess which brother is going to get a max offer for next year and which brother will get $7M?

    I see every thing you do when Gasol plays. The softness at times and his taking off plays. But the Bulls are lucky to have him. Unless you don't believe in Hollinger's system. Fwiw, I do and so do many NBA execs.

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    In reply to hgarbell:

    Regardless w out Pau, then Bulls would be fighting for 6th or 7th seed vs having a chance at the 2nd and 3rd seed (

    Pau was great today. The problem is when him and Jo are on the court together. They need to find a way to split the minutes better

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    I don't have anything against Gasol and I'm not downplaying his strengths. It's just that his weaknesses are difficult to overlook and has a negative impact on the whole team. And hell no to Reggie Evans. We already have Noah who's abysmal on offense the last thing we need is another. I guess I end up agreeing more with Roman on this one, if Gasol wouldn't mind coming off the bench at lessor minutes I'd be cool with him.

  • In reply to ajaychitown:

    The problem to me isn't Gasol so much as how he's being used. He should be the backup C to Noah, who really needs a quality backup C behind him. I think Gasol would be even more dominant offensively, and less of a liability -- and he is a liability -- defensively coming off the bench. Playing each 24 minutes would probably be best for both, and both better get used to playing with Niko because he needs to be out there 40 minutes.

    If you want to trade away Gasol, and I think you've made a decent case to do so, but that doesn't mean we keep Taj. It's not about Gasol vs. Taj it's about Niko vs. Taj and one has to go, and be replaced by someone who will be happy to play 8-10 minutes per night. If you also want to trade away Gasol, you could but then you'd need to find another backup C, and I think it's hard to do better than Gasol for $7MM. He'll accept the bench if it means another shot at a championship, if not then trade him yesterday.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Honestly if Gasol played backup center at about 27 minutes a night I would love him. So I think your right about him not being utilized properly but then again Gasol has made it very clear that he wants the lion-share and won't settle for anything less. There lies the problem.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I would also be concerned if every team had a Prince on their roster but they don't. Niko can post up smaller guys.

  • You mentioned that Isaiah Thomas was the only guy scoring more 4rth quarter points in March than Niko. Given all the problems with Rose, I wonder, if going after a guy like Thomas would actually make sense for the Bulls. Boston just traded for him, so they likely are not interested in moving him, or the price would be prohibitive. Would he be better for the Bulls than the next Brooks, DJ or Nate?

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Offensively he would. Defensively, I have strong concerns. It depends, I guess, on Thibs. If he's on the bench next season, there's no way Thomas is in a Bulls uniform, as he wouldn't see the floor a lot. I know Thibs played Nate Robinson a lot, but Robinson had serious strength which he utilized properly. For all his shortcomings, literally, Nate was sound at bumping players off their natural strides. Isaiah Thomas would not fit that description, unfortunately.

  • This is a contending team if each player knows what is expected of him. Trading Gipson is a bad idea especially when his best years are ahead of him.
    Teams always figure out ways to defend, but offensive players like Mirotic always have an edge along with the good ones--who always have an extra motor that makes them special. Mirotic and Gibson need to have the PF position exclusively now--with Bairstow being the cleanup man on games the teams are outright ahead. Who starts should be in accordance to the team they are playing against.
    Against Detroit, we saw the younger and newer players who had sat on the bench mostly all season still were not accustomed to playing back to back--and ball movement was not good after Noah sit out--but, the team needed to play that back to back game for the experience knowing what intensity they need to have in order to compete in back to back games. They still have not made that adjustment.
    Its so much easier for players to know how they fit in the regular rotations--into roles. I'd love to see the minutes at center divided exclusively between Noah and Gasol--with one of them as the defensive specialist and the other as the more offensive player. At guard Butler and Snell should dominate the minutes--with Moore as the cleanup man when the team blows out other teams. At small forward the minutes look like Dunleavy and McDermitt. McDermitt should at least be given some bonified time at that position.
    At PG is Rose, HInrich, and Brooks (with restrictions on HInrich's minutes in according to how well he plays)--and during the upcoming draft a high pick should be used for a PG.

  • In reply to penwit1:

    Gibson plus "best years ahead of him" does not compute in my book. If that were so, teams would have been offering good value for him before the trade deadline. What trade rumors did you hear about regarding Gibson prior to the deadline?

  • McD is going to be just fine in this league.

  • As for Gibson being a starter, I still contend that any team that has him as its starting PF will always be looking for a starting PF.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Shhh! Shhh!

  • Ok, out of 11 people posting here today, no fewer than four have advocated hanging onto all four big men. Either you think Niko is a 3 despite evidence to the contrary, or you would rather have a strong bench than a strong starting rotation, or you think you can just have it all without making tradeoffs, or you don't care about winning championships. We all love both Niko and Taj but I don't get it.

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    There's really no way to justify having arguably your best player and a core piece for the future coming off the bench next year. Taj, imo, is a guy who you love to have off the bench but can't wait to replace him when he's starting 80 games a year. He's a backup.

    Niko's floor is higher than Taj's ceiling ever was. Trade him and Gasol. Draft this year's Dieng like you were supposed to do before and sign a PF who will accept playing 15min a night behind Niko.

    And for the love of God. Get rid of Kirk the Klank Hinrich and Dunleavy.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    That's right, trade Gasol. Who needs 1) a starting all-star center who 2) leads the league in double-doubles, and 3) is near the top of the league in some important advanced statistical categories?

    I remember when Mike Dunleavy went down with an injury. Many posters on this blog were convinced that the Bulls scoring problems were a result of his absence. What if Pau broke his leg in the next game? I wonder if some of you would change your tune about wanting him gone.

    And, btw, Pau has been an iron man this year compared to Noah, Rose, Taj, and even Jimmy- who was out for 11 games. Sure the guy takes plays off but Thibs has run him into the ground yet he still produces at age 34. All I am saying is that some fans need to re-think this excessive Pau bashing.

  • In reply to hgarbell:

    I never bashed Pau. He's good at what he does. But like others have said. He's more of a stat padder than anything else. The offense essentially stops when he gets the ball down low. His defense is terrible. And he's for the most part soft.

    He also decreases Noah's effectiveness by shifting him to PF. Also. If Niko is going to be your guy going forward you cannot pair him with Gasol. The defense suffers too much. Our most productive front court is Niko and Noah together.

    With Gasol gone you can insert him with Mirotic who will give you equal, if not better production while Shifting Noah back to he strengths. It just makes too much sense.

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    In reply to MarcelJ:

    So a stat padder would avg 19 pts 12 rpg and 2 blks? Pau Gasol is leader of this team by example. He's often the only player on the team who can consistently throw the ball into the basket without having to shoot it from the freethrow line. The Bulls would be barely over a .500 ball club without Pau.
    I can't believe anyone would criticize his play with the Bulls when he's the best player on the team.
    Want to talk about poor defense? Look no further than Mike Dunleavy, and Joakim Noah. They suck

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    You can't be the best player on the team when you give up as many points on defense as you do on offense. Once again. Pau is a good player. But unless we're going for a championship (and I believe that window has passed for a year or two) he's not a good fit going forward. I've given plenty of reasons I believe why but one thing I've yet to mention is that he's 35. Doesn't matter how good he is today, Pau Gasol is not part of the future so get something for him while his value is sky high.

    Once again. What are you really losing by trading him? Mirotic, his replacement in the lineup, will give you better overall production and is 10 years younger. It's a no brainer. Just think about it.

  • In reply to MarcelJ:

    I agree that this could be a good time to trade Pau. Supposedly there were several teams interested in him and he's putting up huge numbers, so it's hard to believe there isn't a market for him. Get two teams interested and you'll get a decent return on a trade.

    However, Pau and Niko don't play the same position. You're losing a C and then Noah is your only C, and he needs a strong backup. I say keep Pau as backup C, trade him if he can't accept that.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Agreed 100%. Pau is the perfect compliment to Noah as a backup but I don't believe he'll accept that role. If not get a nice return for him before he breaks down.

  • In reply to MarcelJ:

    So, put Noah in the backup role! His knees will continue to be a problem, and he just might stay relatively healthy at 24 mpg - if anyone could ever get Thibs to not overplay him.

    It's very risky to trade Gasol when Noah has his injury history. For that matter, Taj has been a bit fragile too. Barring a steal in a trade of Gasol, the Bulls keep him and trade Taj for a wing.

  • Welp! There goes the development of Tony Snell and McD with Jim my's return(he had a good game). Meanwhile Klank and Dun both get 30+ minutes each while doing nothing. With Jimmy back there is no reason in hell Kirk should ever be on the court for 30minutes. Snell is the better player and has been since January. He got 16 tonight.

    Thibs being Thibs.

  • In reply to MarcelJ:

    True, Snell got 16 minutes. But am I unreasonable to want my shooting guard to to do better than 0 points, 1 rebound and 1 assist in these 16 minutes? Did better on defense. How could he not?

  • Rose will be passing the baton to Nikola next year. So regardless, Niko has to be a starting player next year.

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