Thanks to Michael Walton II for his debut piece on Nikola Mirotic's lack of progression and development we hoped for during his second year in the NBA. Follow Michael on twitter at @ZenMasterMike and enjoy his piece!
Bulls fans were thrilled when Nikola Mirotic finally debuted in the NBA after a long-awaited buyout from his Spanish club Real Madrid. After an inaugural NBA season in which he nearly stole Rookie of the Year from Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins, Mirotic now finds himself trying to establish his identity on a roster adjusting to a first-time NBA coach, Fred Hoiberg.
During March of his rookie season, Mirotic had Bulls fans and analytics-heads drooling over his efficient scoring and stretch-4 potential. This year, he has not been able to build on a strong finish to his rookie season. Now, the 25-year old must find a way to get back on a path towards realizing his potential, so that he can become a key part of the future of the Bulls franchise.
Headlined by his 37.1 percent 3-point shooting, Mirotic has the tools to be the Bulls power forward of the future. With the trajectory of the game heading towards a faster, space-oriented offense, a shooter at the power forward spot has gone from commonality to necessity. Defensively, his quickness and mobility generally help him stay active and competitive in pick-and-roll coverage. Mirotic has shown flashes of the offensive skill set that made him such a coveted prospect, but still has to put those skills together to become that perfect fit in Hoiberg’s space-and-pace attack.
For the Bulls to have a potent offense Mirotic's contributions have to increase heavily. To do this, he needs find consistency in the kind of offense he produces.
Performances such as his recent 35-point outburst against the New York Knicks show that Mirotic still has the potential to get better. Mirotic was always marketed to a large-audience unfamiliar with his talents as a shooter. What the basketball world didn’t know then was just how streaky of a shooter he really was, perhaps because of his janky form. On any given night, Mirotic is just as likely to hit multiple 3-pointers as he is to shoot worse than 30% from the field. That inconsistency is worrisome.
The biggest change during Mirotic’s transition from Thibodeau to Hoiberg is his 3-point attempt rate. Mirotic took nearly half of his shots from deep during his rookie campaign, but that has increased that to 54.5 percent this year. While the effort to produce more driving lanes for less effective shooters, is admirable, Mirotic is at his best when he is scoring in a variety of ways.
Mirotic’s ability to shoot from deep is the most important aspect of his arsenal -- but it isn’t the only part. In his attempt to get players to buy into his system Hoiberg has effectively made Mirotic a one-dimensional player. He is still very effective, just predictable.
Mirotic's regression is Hoiberg’s fault. Hoiberg was brought in to connect with, and develop the younger players. It is his job to make strategic adjustments to improve and maximize the offensive output, while maintaining the core defensive principles that made the Bulls so special under Thibodeau.
For Mirotic, those adjustments might include putting the ball in his hands (his usage percentage dropped from 22.8 last year to 20.9 this year) and instilling the confidence he needs to attack the basket more rather spotting up for 3-pointers. His decrease in shots driving towards the hoop has informed 14.9 percent drop in his FTArate, per Basketball-reference.com.
To become more of a nightly offensive threat, Mirotic must get back to his attacking ways. If this happens we could see him develop into a player capable of scoring 15+ points per game on a regular basis.
As Mirotic and the rest of this Bulls roster start to get more comfortable with Hoiberg’s offensive direction, players like Doug McDermott and Mirotic have seen more minutes that have resulted in offensive explosions post all-star break. Hoiberg’s effort to maximize the amount of shooting on the floor for the Bulls seems to indicate that Mirotic’s two, 3-pointers per game will go a long way towards establishing the integrity of Hoiberg’s early-action offense.