Niko Mirotic is set to make his debut tonight after the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans made a deal to send Mirotic and a second-round pick to the Big Easy in return for a top-5 protected 2018 first-round pick, Omer Asik, Jameer Nelson and Tony Allen.
Many Bulls fans were happy with the news. Getting a first round pick for the much beleaguered Mirotic seems like a step in the right direction for a rebuilding team.
See, the problem for me is I’m not as high on this trade as other Bulls fans.
Before I tell you why, let me first get a few things out of the way.
First, I get it. Niko didn’t have many fans. He was marketed to Bulls fans as a high-level player coming from Europe who, when he got here in 2014, would be a key piece on Bulls team trying to get back to a championship level.
Niko largely disappointed us on that front. He had one good month in March 2015, after Jimmy Butler went down due to injury, and he became the focus of the offense.
From there he was inconsistent, showing up for a stretch of games then disappearing for others.
Things only got worse at the start of this season when teammate Bobby Portis punched him in the face, broke that face, and Niko was out for the first 23 games of the season.
After Niko returned, the Bulls went on a seven-game winning streak, much to the disappointment of some Bulls as it appeared Niko was hurting the much-anticipated tank season - another reason to dislike Niko.
“Oh so nowwww you want to play well,” almost all Bulls fans thought as Niko averaged 16.8 ppg on 47 percent shooting in his last 25 games as a Bull.
So again, I get why Bulls fans are happy to see him go.
Additionally, if the Bulls, who are currently 18-32, continue to drop in the standings and the Pelicans, who are currently 28-23, fall out of the playoffs the Bulls could end up with two lottery picks in the 2018 NBA Draft.
I can hear you guys saying now, “What’s the problem Rob, this all sounds great.”
The problem is the Pelicans won last night, are 28-23, and barring an injury to Anthony Davis, are probably making the playoffs.
If the Pelicans make the postseason, that pick falls out of the lottery. Then the question becomes: Will whoever we draft be better than Niko Mirotic is now?
While many Bulls fans love to focus on how annoying and disappointing Niko was, they fail to see just how good he’d been this year.
In Niko’s first three seasons, he’d been relegated to spot up shooting. With guys like Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade on the team throughout those three years, there wasn’t much room for head coach Fred Hoiberg’s pace-and-space offense or much ball movement. That’s changed this season, and Niko has taken advantage of it.
According to NBA.com, this year 87% of Niko’s made three pointers have been assisted, the lowest of his career - meaning he’s making more three’s off the dribble.
Also, just because Niko’s making less threes off the pass this season, doesn’t mean he’s taking and making less threes overall.
He’s attempting six threes a game this season, the most of his career, while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc - the highest percentage of his career.
Niko is also more than a three point shooter. He’s made 10 percent of his points there years from mid-range - again the highest percentage of his career.
Also, according to Cleaning the Glass, he’s made 67 percent of the shot’s he’s taken at the rim which, you guessed it, is the highest percentage of his career.
Niko has also cut out the stupid pump fake. You know the one where he pump fakes, and then throws his entire body into the defender looking to draw a foul?
Nope, this season he’s pump faking with purpose. (That sounds like a chapter in a basketball/life coaching book. “Pump Faking with Purpose: How to Maneuver Past Your Haters on Your Drive to the Basket of Success.”)
Anyway, Niko is now using the pump fake to get into positions where he can either take an open shot or drive to the basket.
Then there’s Niko’s place on this team.
Despite Niko’s fight with Bobby the two actually played well on the court together. The Bulls had two guys, coming off the bench, who could find each other for open shots, shoot the three, and worked on hard on the glass.
If you take out Bobby and replace him with Lauri Markkanen(congrats on your first born son by the way, Lauri Bird) then you have two elite three point shooters who can handle the ball, are good passers, play defense and rebound.
Can you guarantee whoever you draft in the mid to late firstround will play well with Lauri like Niko does? The answer is no.
Imagine the Bulls frontcourt if they didn’t trade Niko and they took either DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, or Jaren Jackson Jr. with that first pick.
According to NBADraft.net, the Bulls are currently slated to take Jackson Jr. with the sixth pick.
The Bulls would have four big men who could dribble, shoot and, for the most part, pass the ball.
We’d win the frontcourt battle almost every night -with the starters and off the bench.
Also, Niko’s only 27-years old. His game isn’t predicated on athleticism which means that game will grow nicely as he gets older.
Again Bulls fans I get it, you didn’t like Niko. But despite your feelings for him, you better hope whoever the Bulls draft with the Pelicans’ pick, fits with this team as well as Niko did.