Fellow die hard Bulls fans probably remember the soul-crushing defeat the Chicago Bulls suffered at the hands of Miami Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals . After soundly defeating the Heat in game one by 21 points, the Bulls looked well on their way to their first trip to the NBA Finals in 13 years. Sadly, we all know what happened next: the Heat took control and didn’t allow the Bulls to win another game in the series.
Because of the young age of the Bulls’ and Heat’s main core of players, both teams looked destined to clash in the playoffs for years to come. The reason that I bring this up is because of what happened a few months afterwards on June 23rd 2011; the 2011 NBA draft.
Looking for a solid guard to share the back court with Derrick Rose, the Bulls hit the jackpot with the 30th pick in the draft, selecting Marquette senior forward Jimmy Butler. “Jimmy Buckets” as he is commonly referred to by Chicago Bulls broadcaster Stacey King, has vastly exceeded all expectations that come along with being the 30th pick in the draft. This could be because there simply are not many expectations associated with being the last pick in the first round but the fact remains that he has developed into a solid starting guard in a very competitive league.
Putting the greatness of the Jimmy Butler selection aside, what happened a little earlier in this draft may prove to be more beneficial for the Chicago Bulls in the long run. The Bulls traded for the rights of a 20-year-old forward from Montenegro by the name of Nikola Mirotic who the Houston Rockets had selected with the 23rd pick in the draft. What Mirotic has accomplished since then is what really makes this story.
Mirotic is now 22 years old and playing for Real Madrid in the Spanish ACB League. The ACB league is widely considered to be the second best professional league in the world behind the NBA. What’s most exciting for Bulls fans is that Mirotic won MVP of the ACB League in the 2012-2013 season and led his team to a league championship in the process.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, Mirotic is under contract with Real Madrid until the end of the 2016. However, Bulls general manager John Paxson has been quoted as saying he believes Mirotic will finally be a Chicago Bull at the beginning of next season.
Bringing Mirotic across the Atlantic will cost the Chicago Bulls tens of millions of dollars in buyout fees with Real Madrid for the last two years of his contract. With the recent trade of Luol Deng as well as the almost inevitable amnestying of Carlos Boozer this offseason, the Bulls are poised to save themselves millions of dollars. Hopefully this is a sign that they are truly getting ready to buy out Real Madrid and insert Mirotic onto their roster.
After watching various scouting videos, the first thing that catches your eye about Mirotic is his ability to stretch the floor with his three point shooting ability. Assuming Derrick Rose returns and is somewhat reminiscent of his MVP-caliber form, the Bulls’ offense will greatly benefit from having a power forward who can consistently hit an open three point jumper.
Just imagine for a second that a potential lineup for the Bulls next season is Derrick Rose, Tony Snell, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah. That means 4 out of 5 players in that lineup are a threat from the behind the arc with Noah being the exception. Floor spacing is the key to consistent success of any NBA offense and if Rose can do his thing by penetrating and creating space for open jump shots for his teammates, the Bulls look poised to capitalize on that.
If there is one major concern about Nikola Mirotic it is his less-than-stellar defensive ability. However, due to his size, Mirotic is more than capable of holding his own defensively in the post. Adding a few extra pounds of muscle definitely could not hurt his potential as a solid defender.
Mirotic’s defensive inabilities shouldn’t be too much of a concern seeing as Joakim Noah will presumably always be guarding the larger of the two players in the post. If there is one thing Bull fans have learned so far in Tom Thibodeau’s tenure as head coach, it’s that the man knows how to teach his players how to be great defenders. Thibodeau will undoubtedly make Miriotic a better defender. If he does not it is almost impossible to be a worse defensive power forward than Carlos Boozer.
Nikola Mirotic may not be the missing piece to the Bulls’ championship puzzle, but hopefully he will live up to his recent hype and be a solid player for years to come. Best case scenario: he becomes a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki. Worst case, Darko Milicic with a better jump shot. My guess is that he will be a more aggressive Andrea Bargnani, but regardless of how good he will be as an NBA player his potential arrival next season gives Bulls fans something to look forward to during this season of despair.
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