The Stunted Progression of Nikola Mirotic

The Stunted Progression of Nikola Mirotic

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

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.


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  • I still like Mirotic long-term because he's only finishing his 2nd season and has not been effectively used by Hoiberg. Similar to Love in Cleveland, Mirotic has been designated to the perimeter. Mirotic is more versatile offensively than he has shown this season. But, the Bulls have guards who cannot shoot very well so he must fire away from the outside to open up driving lanes - I get it.

    Bulls need to probably make a change with Gar/Pax... whether it's reassigning them or replacing them fully. Hoiberg never really had a chance to implement his offense. I'm not sure what the deal is, but players seemed to be feuding and competing for that leadership, top-dog role. Meanwhile, no leadership existed.

    I'd trade Rose and Butler. Rose is coming off his best year since 2010-2011. He has actually played well since the all-star break. As for Butler, he's one of the better 2-way players in the league, but he may not be a good fit for Hoiberg's system (poor shooter and holds the ball too long) and perhaps he needs to check his ego. He's in his prime now, and if the Bulls are going to rebuild, they may as well part with Butler if the return is solid.

    Thus, build around McDermott, Mirotic and Portis. Let Noah and Gasol walk. Sounds depressing, but Bulls should get back other players/picks for Rose and Butler. A step in the right direction would be drafting Kentucky's Tyler Ulis or MSU's Denzel Valentine. Both are high character guys that could provide good leadership. Ulis is small (5'9") but he's a bulldog and is a fierce competitor. Valentine is "old", but has great skills from the wing - shooting, rebounding, passing and defense.

    I'd push the reset button over another season with these unmotivated and disinterested bunch. Rose cannot be relied upon. Butler may be salvageable. But, changes need to be made. We need players who show urgency and desire to compete. Look at Boston - they have hardly any talent, but they are one of the best teams in the East.

  • In reply to Granby:

    "Thus, build around McDermott, Mirotic and Portis"

    are the other 2 guys on that team Wilt and Michael in their first 5 years. Those guys might give up 200 ppg, they are all physically inept on D and historically moronic to boot. Portis might eventually be OK assuming that he isn't a complete idiot BBIQ wise. the other 2 will never be 2 way players and thus are not likely to ever become legitimate starters.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Yes, hard to disagree with you! But, there will be additional players/picks if we trade Butler and Rose. And, lot's of cap space if we don't resign Noah or Gasol. So, maybe "build around" is the wrong term... but these guys would still be under control and on the roster.

    Harrison Barnes as a FA anyone? A nice young 2-way player, but probably should not be the top player on any team...

  • The primary job of a head coach is to get the most out his players. Hoiberg is the bizarro head coach, getting the worst form those under his tutelege. What has he done to get the best out of Mirotic, McDermott and Portis (Snell is a lost cause)? He can't get Butler to run his offense. He let's Rose play his own game, whatever that is. He refuses to do anything about Gasol's unwillingness to play defense. Aaron Brooks has carte blanche to be a selfish goof. Looking for player development under Fred Hoiberg is like expecting D'Angelo Russell to keep a secret.

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    Good piece!
    Niko's progression has be worrisome, not just due to his streaky shooting, but his inability to contain anyone on defense too.
    He's still young so there's no reason not to believe he'll get better next yr, but his play is too much like Doug McDermott's and there's really no need for both of them to be on the Bulls roster next yr, so if the Bulls can find a decent trade partner for Niko they should do it.

  • We all looked forward for Niko to have some progress that his potential indicated, but his shot selections (choosing too many low percentage shots and missing them), inaccuracy (too streaky from game to game and is very inconsistant), judgment (almost never works his way in to get more high percentage shots) and poor defense really hurt the team. Besides all of that, he McDermott, and Dunleavy are basically the same player this year and Chicago needs to trade two of them and keep just one who plays the best defense. Niko has been playing pro ball for 5 years and has not improved or shown any progress towards the potential that is needed towards team play.
    None of these players seem to be effective in Hoiberg's new system--they just don't fit or maybe the Bulls need a coach that matches their skill sets. It may be that Hoiberg's ideas and the teams skill set are too conflicting.

  • In reply to penwit1:

    I agree that the players skill sets do not fit the system. Butler and Rose need to dominate the ball and neither are good shooters. Mirotic is the best shooter, so he has to play on the perimeter more to open up driving lanes. I think we should play small and make Portis/Niko the big and get more shooters.

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