The Chicago Bulls traded for Nikola Mirotic in the 2011 draft, and after two strong stateside appearances with his Real Madrid club, the 21-year-old seems to be worth the wait.
The Toronto Raptors on Monday hosted European powerhouse Real Madrid in a game broadcast live on NBA TV. It not only was a chance to see what former Bulls player John Lucas III looked like in a different uniform, but also to see if Bulls prospect Nikola Mirotic was as good as advertised.
Last Saturday, Real Madrid took on the Memphis Grizzlies and Mirotic played so well that Zach Randolph came away impressed and Sam Smith gave him a glowing review after a 14-point, seven-rebound performance.
Against the Raptors on Monday, Mirotic put up a stat line of 17 points and 12 rebounds. Even though he somewhat struggled with his shooting (5-13 from the field), it’s clear why the Bulls traded for him in the 2011 draft. The kid can play.
Mirotic is an athletic 6-10, 210-pound player who moves well laterally and can run the floor. He’s not a stiff by any means. He can handle the ball and has a very good outside shot. If you’re looking for a comparison, in today’s NBA, he’s a smaller, better version of Raptors center Andrea Bargnani with more athleticism.
From a size perspective, another good comparison would be former Bulls star Toni Kukoc with less ball-handling skills, or even a young Dirk Nowitzki when he first came into the NBA.
Mirotic can pay the “stretch-four” power forward position and in some instances, he can even move over to small forward. At just 21 years old, his upside is tremendous.
But of course, you can’t talk about the good without mentioning the bad.
Mirotic appears to be a good pick-and-pop player where he sets the screen and then drops back waiting to receive the pass for the outside shot. But once he set the screen against the Raptors, if he didn’t get the ball, he just stood around on the perimeter and watched the action. It was a consistent theme all night and made Bargnani’s job easy on defense.
He also doesn’t appear to enjoy playing in the post and banging with guys his size. Sure he grabbed 12 rebounds and did a fine job of boxing out, but he just doesn’t seem to enjoy physicality. But again, he’s only 21, still maturing, and once Tom Thibodeau gets him under his wing, you can be sure those negatives will be ironed out.
In short, Nikola Mirotic appears to be worth the wait. He has the size and the talent to actually be a starter in this league, even if it will be another two years before he gets here.