The Rookie Wall is always something basketball observers keep in mind when breaking down the first NBA seasons of any player new to the League.
In the case of Nikola Mirotic there hasn’t been any kind of Wall impeding his transition from rookie to not-a-rookie, its been more of a Power-Up boosting the sharp-shooting Spanish-Montenegrin up into one of this season’s most effective scoring stretches.
March didn’t enter kind for the Chicago Bulls, adrift in upper management drama and in-between time without injured stars Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. In fact, Butler just came back Monday in the Bulls winning effort against Charlotte, but with plays like the one above and with another outstanding fourth quarter Mirotic (or Niko, Threekola or whatever) showed to what extent he’s held the entire team down, keeping the waters from getting too rough as playoff season approaches.
The seven-year stretch that the Bulls are currently in has yet to produce a player like Mirotic — a true stretch four, rangy enough to deflect any shot but quick and skilled enough with the ball to kick-start fast breaks and create plays instead of just waiting on guards to to draw in defenders while hovering around the three-point line.
Take, for instance, his defining play from Monday. The aggression it showed and the willingness to follow through with an attack was amazing. Utilizing Pau Gasol’s steadiness with the ball and his unselfishness allowed Mirotic to make the most of a game-defining second chance possession.
Whereas so many players of his basic skill-set would have probably faded back out on the wing after getting the ball back, Mirotic wasn’t going to be denied and as he took flight over Jason Maxiell he not only assured a win that night but he showed himself to be a player full of several years of professional experience, confident within his physicality on the court and far from relenting when there is a game to be won.
It was reasonable to predict that we’d see flashes of Mirotic’s potential as an NBA contributor this season but in joining what looked to be a loaded team last summer, with a coach who is known to be stingy with the minutes of first-year players, there was little reason to think that such a significant swath of excellent play would arise from Mirotic at any point of his rookie season.
To put this number somewhat in perspective, over his five seasons with Real Madrid, Mirotic never averaged more than 12.5 points a game while averaging no more than 24.9 minutes a game. Overall, in the NBA, Mirotic is averaging 9.5 a game and 19.5 minutes played, but that average shoots up to 17.4 per 36 minutes and 25 points per every 100 Bulls possessions, putting him among the team’s very best offensive contributors like Gasol. Derrick Rose, Aaron Brooks and Jimmy Butler.
Along with having a recent fourth-quarter average that outdoes MVP candidates like LeBron and Russell, Mirotic’s total of six games with 25 or more points this month is only bested by that two and Dwyane Wade, says Bulls radio producer Jeff Mangurten.
This has been quite a revealing month for Mirotic, the kind of showcase that we’d normally associate with a talented freshman or sophomore being exposed nationally for the first time in the NCAA Tournament. For a city like Chicago, with nothing going in the way of college ball enthusiasm, Niko’s unbounded play has re-awoken us and opened Bulls fanatics to new possibilities for the rest of this month and beyond.
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