The Chicago Bulls seem to have a tendency for developing players and withholding them as secret weapons. Their newest piece of weaponry is rookie sensation, Nikola Mirotic.
The 6-foot-10, 23-year-old, stepped right into his position on the Bulls with confidence, as if he has been in the league for years. Hitting three’s, driving to the basket, pushing the ball up the floor and forcing defenses to think twice about ignoring him — Mirotic has been everything the Bulls desired.
His length and offensive ability has provided the Chicago with versatility and the necessary firepower to stay ahead of teams and maintain leads. There are not many players at 6’10” with the ability to be a spot up shooter, while also possessing the skill to handle the ball to create further offense. He can either take a smaller opponent to the post or use his length and quickness to bring bigger defenders out of the paint. Mirotic has several ways to kill opponents… and he is just getting started.
Throughout the season, he has shown flashes of brilliance and has appeared more dangerous every time he steps on the court. His foreign play has been so spectacular this season that he’s been in conversations as a runner ups for Rookie Of The Year honors, behind frontrunner Andrew Wiggins. His offensive prowess has been recognized league wide and defenses have began to honor him and his skill set. Although it is early in the month, Mirotic is putting up big numbers for March, averaging 22 points and 8.3 rebounds, which included a career high of 29-point performance against the Los Angeles Clippers. His spectacular play came just in time, as key players Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson remain out of the line-up, likely until the playoffs.
Mirotic’s teammates have raved about his play as of late. “He’s a very hard worker and he’s an unbelievable talent. And the sky’s the limit for him”, said Joakim Noah after a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“He’s getting more used to the competition, more comfortable, more confident,” adds Pau Gasol. “Now, he’s getting more minutes because of Taj’s injury. He’s doing really well. I think he’s done great every time we’ve been short-handed on the frontcourt, and he’s played at a high level.”
Let Mirotic’s play come as no surprise though. He gained valuable experience during his 5-year stint in the European League with the Real Madrid, enough to become a vital piece to a championship contending team.
Now, as the Bulls push forward to the playoffs without their stars, they know they have a potential star with the ability to get them a basket at anytime, even if its one of the biggest shots of the game. Mirotic is comfortable with taking big shots and has the confidence to make them. “I was taking a lot of shots in Europe, important shots. Of course it’s a huge difference, you’re a new guy, but my teammates — they expect me to take those shots,” he says. “They got confidence in me, the coach, too, so if they run plays for me I just need to think to score the shots.”
After seeing guard Jimmy Butler emerge as one of the league’s next stars this season, it seems they have yet another on his way up the ladder as well.
If the Bulls manage to hold onto him in the coming years, we’re sure to hear NI-KO-LA many more times.