The development of Luka Mirkovic

Luka Mirkovic puts in a short shot

One of the most interesting players on Northwestern is Luka Mirkovic. The junior center is all over the place in terms of his performance. This variance leads people to think he's regressing when often he's just fine. At least offensively you can show objectively that Mirkovic has actually improved during the season. 

His 111.1 offensive rating this season is excellent. It ranks 401st in the nation. That's even better than last season when he was at 106.1. Still, that numbers jumps all over the place during the season. How does it trend?
I've gone through and compiled Mirkovic's offensive rating for each game through his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. I then took a linear regression of the data to see if he was improving during the season.
Unfortunately this still doesn't allow us to measure defensive production. While Mirkovic is a competent help defender, his defense on the block leaves a lot to be desired. That said, his rebounding numbers have always been strong as well. (He's got a 20.3 defensive rebound percentage this season, 182nd in the nation.)

First the three graphs, or you can skip to the equations and analysis that come after them.


This is Luka's freshman year. Not going in the right direction. 


This is Luka's sophomore season. Now the trend is in the right direction.


Finally, here is Luka's junior season. The slope here is even better than last season, though the starting point is actually a little bit lower.

So there you have it. Here are the equations for those orange lines.
  • Freshman Year: 92.8 - 1.8x
  • Sophomore Year: 62.0 + 0.45x
  • Junior Year: 60.6 + 0.98x
Well that seems to be going in the right direction. On a game-to-game basis it appears that Mirkovic has been improving. It's interesting that as the schedule gets tougher - those dots to the right are Big Ten play - Mirkovic plays better. You know when the last time Mirkovic had 16 possessions in a game way? The victory over Illinois. He had 17 total touches in the next two games. 
When I emphasize putting the ball into the paint I'm not kidding. Mirkovic is one of the team's most effective weapons and he gets better as the season goes along. We're talking about prime Mirkovic time. The Wildcats need to make a conscious decision to put the ball into the paint and the junior center can't be afraid to go to the basket. By the way, Mirkovic has had a bit of a rough time lately. He's fallen below his trend line, but if you look at his sophomore season I have high hopes that he can contribute in a big way down the stretch. 
That starts with Iowa on Thursday. The Hawkeyes are a good team when freshman forward Melsahn Basabe gets a chance to create offense down low. Mirkovic needs to neutralize him from a defensive and offensive standpoint. He wins that battle and the Wildcats should have no problem getting a much needed victory.

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