Last offseason, after a season of disappointment, Gar Forman told reporters that his team needed to get younger and more athletic. This narrative has been dragged through the mud at this point, but throughout his conversations with media, he continually mentioned one of the Bulls young big men--Nikola Mirotic. Forman referred to Mirotic as a "core piece." From that moment on, pressure has started to build on Chicago's Montenegrin forward. So far this vital piece has fallen flat--the opposite of what this "young and athletic " team needs.
After playing Euroleague ball for Real Madrid, and capturing the Rising Star award during his 2010-2011 campaign. Expectations were high for Mirotic, and the unfair comparisons to the best European player of all-time--Dirk Nowitzki started to flood in. His rookie season was promising, as he captured runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting. Aspirations were high, and under coach Tom Thibodeau--it seemed like the sky was the limit.
During that rookie campaign Mirotic's month of March was bonkers. He averaged 20.8 points per game, and also led the league in fourth quarter scoring. It seemed like Niko was starting to get more and more comfortable. He ended the month with an offensive rating of 109, and a defensive rating of 102. Another staggering number was that he had a usage rate of 30.5%. It was clear that Bulls' players and coaches were confident in his abilities.
Fast forward to this season--fans aren't as confident. Mirotic is putting up career low numbers, averaging 9.7 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, and 0.8 assists per game. The same confidence isn't there and since Niko is in a contract year, the question of whether or not to bring him back hangs in the balance. There is always the possibility of a trade, but at this point who would trade an asset for him? His weaknesses on the defensive end, and his inability to develop any type of consistency should be a red flag for most.
This season Mirotic's value-over-replacement is 0.3, and in regards to real plus minus ranks 38th in the league among Power Forwards with a -0.36. His player efficiency rating is 13.2 which falls below the league average of 15. To put it into perspective, Andrew Wiggins--who won Rookie of the Year over Mirotic, is averaging 21.5 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, and 2.3 assists per game. Granted, Mirotic and Wiggins are completely different players, but you would like to see the Bulls' power forward progress.
So how can Mirotic become consistent? How can he become a valuable role player in this league? He needs to be used properly. At times, Mirotic is slotted in at the small forward spot instead of the power forward. He simply isn't quick enough to hang with smaller guys, and defensively he gets murdered. Something else that is glaring is his lack of confidence, it seems like he is thinking way too much. Instead of letting the game come to him, he try to force the issue. For example--his annoying pump fakes. In the video below, Niko is very aggressive, but I would much rather see him shoot that ball immediately.
The way for the Bulls to best utilize Niko is to have Doug McDermott on the floor with him. That two man combination is one of the best on the team, and lead the team in plus/minus of +4.6. A lineup with these two on the floor also has a net rating of 7.9. Lineups with McDermott and Mirotic provide the most spacing possible, since both are threats from deep.
Moving forward, Mirotic's future with the Bulls seems to be bleak. His level of play would have to increase dramatically in order to justify Chicago resigning him long term. It feels like the experiment is coming to a close, and it would be smart if the front office tried to get some sort of value for the young forward. Some team will probably take a chance on him considering he has a long career ahead of him. Mirotic certainly has the talent to be a solid rotation player for years to come, but the mental aspect of the game continues to be a struggle.