Chicago Bulls

Were we too kind with how we discussed Nikola Mirotic?

Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

On August 12, the day of this writing, Nikola Mirotic remains unsigned by the Chicago Bulls – or any NBA team.

Mirotic will get signed at some point – but where and for how much are the key questions. The fact that he still doesn’t have a team in the middle of August might tell you something. While NBA Twitter wasn’t exactly singing his praises, he was considered by most to be a mediocre player. And here’s the thing about mediocre NBA players – they usually get paid. Mirotic looked like a candidate to receive a dumb offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets, or some other team with more capital than they knew what to do with.

The other (and my) side of that argument: To characterize Mirotic as ‘mediocre’ overstates his value. Given his porous defense, Mirotic would need to be a clearly good offensive player in order to qualify as mediocre – in other words, Ryan Anderson. Anderson is average, all things considered, and the Rockets have found exactly zero takers for his bloated contract.

Mirotic isn’t the offensive force Anderson is – Anderson shot 40 percent from three last season. Mirotic is branded as a sniper, but he’s a career 35 percent three-point shooter – also known as league average. And that’s supposed to be his primary skill. So it boils down to a very simple question: What, exactly, is Mirotic good at?

Mirotic can get to the rack and attack an overeager closeout better than most his size, but to say he’s some slashing fiend is laughable. Mirotic can shoot, but he’s just OK at it. Mirotic is 6-foot-10, but he doesn’t play like he’s 6-foot-10 — opponents can slot smaller defenders on him without batting an eye, essentially vaporizing the benefits of being a big man who can shoot.  And there’s no need to get into his defense, which is below-average at best and horrendous at worst.

After the season, the Bulls front office expressed interest in bringing Mirotic back. Given his restricted free agency, Chicago had no reason to set the market – let the rest of the league do that – and evaluate once he came to them with an offer sheet. Only, that hasn’t happened, probably for the reasons laid out above.

The question: If the price is reasonable, should the Bulls bring Mirotic back? They just drafted a guy they hope is Mirotic in his most ideal form in Lauri Markkanen. They also have Bobby Portis, who brings a skill set to the table similar to Mirotic’s – Portis is a slightly better athlete with an off-and-on jump shot, but he’s equally inept on defense and lacks general awareness. That said, count this Bulls observer as one who is more optimistic of Portis’ chances of becoming a valuable NBA starter than Mirotic’s. If it were me: Split the power forward minutes between Portis, Markkanen, and a wing like Paul Zipser in smaller lineups and call it a day. What does Mirotic provide you that you don’t already have?

Twenty-nine other teams are asking themselves that same question. Mirotic belongs on an NBA roster – but for as drunk as the free-agency market was last season, a case like this proves how the league has sobered up a bit in 2017.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Will Barnes

    Aug 12, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Bobby Portis should be the starting power forward. During his rookie year he showed both offensive and defensive potential as well as a player who could score inside and outside. It was because the Bulls have a young, incompetent coach who don’t know how to evaluate talent and was hung up on 3 point shooting that Portis didn’t have the minutes to show what he could really do. The jury is still out on Portis. He had an excellent, although short, college career and has the tools to be a good NBA player. I hope he gets his chance this year, His “competition” is an unproven rookie and a player who shouldn’t even be in the NBA.

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