The great tendencies of Nikola Mirotic

The great tendencies of Nikola Mirotic

With Jimmy Butler believing he's a point guard - and thus adding further uncertainties to my previous post - it might be time to catch a break from a situation that might, or might not, be escalating into some deep-rooted issues that will be the talk of the town when training camp rolls around.

And what better player to bring a smile on our faces, than Nikola Mirotic?

The 24-year old will play for Spain in the upcoming EuroBasket, and could enter training camp in top-notch condition and game-ready. This will be necessary, as Mirotic is going to be a major cog going forward, given that he's the best "new era" big on the roster. At 6'10, Mirotic turned out be surprisingly adept at handling the ball, even taking defenders off the dribble and attacking the rim with reckless abandon, leading to an excellent free throw rate of 45.5% which he then knocked down at a steady 80.3%.

Mirotic's three most common ways of scoring the ball comes from the most efficient manners in the game; at the rim, from three, and from the line. Of his 833 total points last season, only 92 points did not come from those areas:

297 points off shots from three (31.6% accuracy | 35.6% of offense)
228 points off shots from the line (80.3% accuracy | 27.3% of offense)
216 points off shots at the rim (63.5% accuracy | 25.9% of offense)

With a year under his belt, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to see each and every one of those percentages increase slightly. Given Mirotic's TS% of .556, it'd take no more than a slight increase across the field to throw the second-year man into elite efficiency territory, especially if he ups his volume a little at the same time. With Rose and Butler handling the ball in Fred Hoiberg's motion/spacing offense, Mirotic projects as receiving significantly more open shots, as defenses won't dare to use just single coverage on neither guard.

Hell, had Mirotic been just an average three-point shooter (35%) and shot the same percentage from the line as his 2012-2013 ACB MVP season (82.3%) on last year's volume, he would have had a TS% of .582 which would have been almost identical to Butler's of .583 - thus, a near-elite number.

There's an ideology that for the most part as volume goes up, efficiency doesn't follow with it, but that line of thought is somewhat outdated as several players have shown the capacity of increasing both, and Mirotic should not be an exception given that most shooters improve their accuracy with age. He might take a hit on his efficiency at the rim now that people know about his ability to attack it off the bounce, but assuming Mirotic lives up to the expected improvements as a long-range shooter, and remains a high-volume free throw shooter, it seems difficult to project inefficiency from him at any point soon.

In fact, Mirotic's scoring pattern projects as shielding him from becoming an inefficient scorer. Down the road, this could turn Mirotic into a huge security blanket for the Bulls' offense, if he can remain a continuously consistent scorer who year in and year out provides high percentages.

Pairing Mirotic's already established manner of scoring with his potential as a shooter, and it wouldn't be inconceivable to see him develop into a sort of lower level All-Star like Paul Millsap, only with greater offensive production, while giving up more on the other end. That in itself is a big ask, and admittedly is expecting a lot of Mirotic, but pending the right system and course of development, it could be in the cards even without him making a Butler-esque leap. The tools are there, as are the mechanics and versatility to further improve them, which begs the question:

What level, from a realistic perspective, can Mirotic actually reach?

It's an impossible question to answer perfectly, but there are hints. Players who routinely gets to the free throw line, and converts, are acquiring a ton of free points on a nightly basis. With 27.3% of all Mirotic's points coming from the line, this is undoubtedly a huge weapon going forward. James Harden's 715 made free throws were responsible for 32.2% of his offensive, which is a number Mirotic isn't that far off. 45.1% of Stephen Curry's offense was from behind the arc, less than 10% ahead of Mirotic. Those two are the best at what they do in their respective field, and Mirotic is going the route of not mimicking one, but both.

If given the minutes, Mirotic could become a rare 6/6 big man. That's six three-point attempts and six free throw attempts a game. Kevin Love did that in 2013/2014, his last in Minnesota, and his three-point/free throw production accounted for 54.2% of his 2,010 total points. And Love did it on a very surmountable 37.6% from behind the arc, and 82.1% from the line. Mirotic's per36 numbers already saw him take 6.8 three's and 6.2 freebies, so there's precedent for projecting him to do the same with his raw numbers at some point in time.

Needless to say, this is all conjecture and speculation. His game could change. Hoiberg's system could force change. The offensive symmetry to his game could change. But going off his rookie year, Mirotic projects as a highly interesting four-man who could take the best of both worlds from several elite athletes, and apply it in a package that likely will be of lesser volume than those guys, but compact it and perfect it to such a degree that he would be one of the most efficient scorers at the power forward position.

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  • As you implied, Mort, it is almost impossible for Mirotic to make a jump up like Butler did. However, if he just gets to play more minutes and at his best position, PF, he should take a significant leap. In fact, he would have done that last season if Thibs had utilized him properly at PF.

    So, barring a severe injury, Mirotic will improve for a variety of reasons. What about the rest of the team? There is a ton of potential here. I predict Hoiberg and staff find inovative ways to tap into that potential. 60 wins seems reasonable, but the ceiling may be even higher.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Agreed, and I wonder what Niko's numbers were just at PF?

    His eFG% and PER were much better when he played PF:

    eFG% - .433 SF, .499 PF

    PER - 15.2 SF, 19.5 PF

    We all saw what happened in March, when Niko got 30 minutes a night exclusively at PF, IMHO the biggest jump this year's team will make will be due to Hoiberg playing Niko close to 30 minutes at PF every night.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Also, his RPM was 3.5, somewhat surprisingly split precisely in half between offense and defense, and second only to Jimmy Butler among Bull's players. I would imagine that both his offensive and defensive RPM were much worse at small forward, meaning that his RPM at power forward was likely somewhere between 4-5 or in the neighborhood of Butler's 4.3.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Hope you are right, BUT, I ain't buyin it. Too much improvement in our conference. I see it as a real, difficult dog-fight. Lots of teams competing for those playoff spots.

    I worry about 2 things(besides Rose and his health).

    1--How long will it take Hoi to choose best combos out there.
    Also,
    2---How long will it take for players to learn new system without "thinking".

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    You could be right, but I hear the "so much improvement in our conference" every year. And while a team or two always makes an unexpected jump, another team or two always takes an unexpected fall.

    Nobody saw the Hawks winning 60 games last year, just like nobody saw the Pacers falling completely out of the playoffs.

    The year before, nobody saw the Hornets making the playoffs, and nobody saw them falling off the face of the Earth last season.

    The Bulls will be fine, as long as they stay reasonably healthy. You're 100% correct that it could take some time for Hoiberg to figure out his rotations and for the players to learn the new system, but they have the entire regular season to figure it out.

    I hope they can adjust as quickly as they did in Thibs' first year, which turned out to be his most successful (though admittedly, a lot of it wasn't his fault, with Rose's injuries).

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    In reply to rakmessiah:

    You have my vote!

  • All I know is in March when Niko was allowed to play power forward full time he was an all star. So if that's his ceiling I'll take it.

  • I think Niko easily has all-star potential. He's got a great, rare skill set for a man his size. He just needs to play PF full time. This lets me say it again: Taj has to go -- unless he can play C, which he's never shown. Taj is a good player but he's blocking Niko's development, and Niko's development is a key to this team going forward. Taj is no longer part of the future picture.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    The Bulls are probably holding on to Taj because they probably won't resign Joakim Noah. Otherwise they should trade him, especially if Snell and McDermott don't show any improvements this year at the wing positions. Rose, Butler and Mirotic are the three main pieces in a championship run? The question should be what role players help this scoring trio get a championship. You look at Golden State with the dynamic core of Curry-Thompson but they couldn't do it without key role players in Draymond Green and Iguodala that complimented the two star players. The question I have is does Garpax know how to place the best role players around Rose and Butler that magnify their strengths?

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    We all have our complaints about GarPax but they're very good at getting role players. The Bulls' problem has been the ability of their top stars, not the ability of their depth. Rose isn't LeBron. Rose and Butler aren't Curry and Thompson.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Ouch, the truth hurts, reality bites. Rose and Butler will never match the shooting prowess of Curry and Thompson. However, if Rose at least returns to an all star level of play how big of a difference is there overall.

    Butler and Thompson had very similar seasons last year, not quite identical but close. Thompson scored a little more 1.7 ppg, Butler had slightly better assist and steal rates, and a significant advantage in rebounding(5.8 vs 3.2). They both shot 46% from the field, with Thompson holding a significant(6%) edge in 3 point shooting, and Butler getting to(7.1 vs 3.3) and scoring from(5.9 vs 2.9) the line twice as often. Contrary to what most likely believe, Butler managed to edge Thompson out in PER by .5 of a point. Butler also had a higher RPM 4.3 to 3.64. Interestingly, despite both having reputations as stellar defenders, they were both much better on offense than they were on defense, at least according to RPM, with Thompson actually registering a negative .72.

    I suspect that most if not every NBA type would take Thompson over Butler(except Thibs of course), but that decision would be validated by 3 point shooting only.

    I also suspect that most if not every NBA type would take MVP Curry over MVP Rose, again mostly but not solely because of 3 point shooting.

    Obviously, even MVP Rose was never all that close to Lebron, neither is MVP Curry for that matter, but maybe his elite 3 point shooting gets him closer than Rose.

    This should be an interesting debate all season long, as I believe that Rose will have a comeback type of year, even if they don't give out that award anymore.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Especially true(about Taj) if Portis is anything more than an outright bust.

    Portis looks like he can be a better offensive player than Taj, but likely not as good a defender. Rebounding might be a wash as neither is elite, although Portis might again be better on the offensive end. While Portis is a natural PF, he should be a better backup center than Taj ever was, especially as the small ball era expands.

    That said, we shouldn't just give Taj away. It will be interesting to finally see what his true value is(not a starter for most teams in the league, despite what everybody has been saying for a couple of years now). I'd say the Bulls put him on the market sometime after the first of the year, assuming that the rest of the front line doesn't break down and that Taj himself demonstrates that he is healthy and doesn't look like Noah did last season (like he is playing on one leg).

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Completely agree that Taj should not be given away. I don't mean to imply that he should be dumped for a few basketballs or anything like that. He's a viable starting player on a team-friendly contract. You'd think that would have value to some team, but it seems like every team either has a starting PF or isn't close enough to winning to bother trading for one.

    While I don't think you give Taj away, anyone who thinks we're getting back a starting caliber player for him is dreaming. Hold out for a fair value and you will go through the year with 5 big men and not enough minutes to go around. Accept a modest return in Taj's case, I don't know what that is but any legit asset.

  • I like him as a player. He turned out to be more complete than most of us initially projected him to be. Having said that, I think his shooting stroke looks awkward. I don't see him being able to shoot the three at the same level of efficiency as the other elite stretch fours, given his mechanics.

  • My only concern with Niko taking a "big leap" this season is that teams didn't know what he was last year, but seem to have figured it out toward the end of the year and in the playoffs. How much of this was on Thibs is debateable.

    If you defend him with a smaller more athletic player, it seems to take away many/most of the advantages that he has against traditional PFs. He really isn't a great ball handler(high dribble, not good in traffic) or exceptionally quick on his feet, he's just a good deal better than your typical PF.

    While certainly not his best season, this is likely Niko's career defining season, as the Bulls and the league figure out what he is and what he can be. Hopefully, Hoiberg will bend his progression toward becoming an all star. Even then is he a Luol Deng type all star, or a real one. I'm guessing that most fans think that he is already, or will be soon be better than Deng, even though most fans were very high on Deng for many years.

    Right now, I am likely more trepidatious than most, even though Niko is one of the players that I will be rooting for the most this upcoming season. Hopefully, we get an elite shooting version of the Niko that we saw in March as the new norm.

  • I could be wrong and only basing this on memory, but I think the only times Niko was guarded by a smaller player was when he was playing SF.

    And he couldn't really use his size advantage to take the smaller defender into the post, because was on the floor with 2 big men who couldn't spread the floor and didn't leave room for Niko to post up.

    I think if Niko is at PF with Gasol and a team puts a small defender on him, Pau can spot up in the corner and leave Niko all the room he needs to operate in the paint. He seems to have pretty decent post skills if given a real chance to use them.

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