Welcome back to the Nikola Mirotic scouting report series. For those of you who are just joining the series now, we here at Bulls by the Horns have been scouting Nikola Mirotic and breaking down his play both overall and in individual games to give you all a better idea of what to expect from him when he makes the jump to the NBA. The series started in part to the season being a little hard to watch so we wanted there to be some sort of bright spot for Bulls fans. If you missed any of the previous posts you can find the links just below:
A few notes before we get dive into it:
- At this point you undoubtedly know that the Chicago Bulls shipped Luol Deng off a few days ago. Assuming other roster moves, the Bulls could go into this free agency period with enough money for a max contract. Some are speculating the potential of the Bulls going after Carmelo Anthony. While that’s a possibility there’s just as good a chance Chicago could use their newfound cap space to finally lure over the phenom. It’s definitely a situation worth monitoring.
- As one reader pointed out the title of this series was dry. In an effort to spice things up, we’re going to try to use new titles. We can’t promise they’ll be good, but hey… effort.
- Lastly, sorry for the brief delay in getting this part up. This past week family flew in from the East coast and I became a little lazy (just like Mirotic’s performance in this game… but more on that momentarily).
Game 4: Vs. Strasbourg 11/7/2013
Box Score: 22 Min, 5 Pts (1-2 2PM-A; 1-4 3PM-A), 6 Rebs (2 Off, 4 Def), 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TOs
Once again Real Madrid beat their opponent handily and strutted their way to an easy 85-66 win to improve to 4-0 in the Euroleague “regular season.” Just like in the previous three games, Real Madrid had a sizable lead by halftime and were playing a a far superior level than their opponent. Perhaps as a fan it’d be exciting to watch Real Madrid blow everyone out of the water night in and night out, but as someone who is only there to really watch one player things got boring. To add to the boredom, Mirotic had a fairly quiet game marked by laziness on both ends the floor. As a result there isn’t much to talk about, but we still managed to pull a few things from the game.
Mirotic started the game with great aggression. He rolled to the basket hard off of screens, ran around to get open for spot up shots, and hustled early and often. But as his team caught fire (particularly Rudy Fernandez) we noticed Mirotic began to slack off more and more. He barely moved off of the ball to get open (on several full possessions Mirotic never once moved from the corner three), his screens were lazy (he was called for a few offensive fouls on them), and he put absolutely no effort on getting close to the basket for rebounds. Perhaps the most amount of effort Mirotic displayed after Real Madrid gained a near 20 point lead came when he produced some Emmy-worthy acting to get a foul call.
But we can forgive the laziness. In Tom Thibodeau’s system we know that kind of effort will never fly and Mirotic will eventually put forth the effort on a nightly basis regardless of how large a lead or deficit Chicago has. What can’t be forgiven though was the level of predictability in Mirotic’s game.
Outside of the game against EA7 in which Mirotic was aggressive and innovative with how he got to the basket, we’ve noticed that there has been a level of predictability in Mirotic’s game due to how selective he is with his shot taking. Particularly there are two things we’ve noticed you can count on Mirotic relying on.
First and foremost is the pump-fake and drive whenever an open shot is quickly closed out. To Mirotic’s credit not taking a shot that will be contested by the time it’s released is a smart move on his part, however it’s what he does after the move that that could use some changes. As noted in the game 3 report, Mirotic loved getting his defender in the air and driving to the basket and, upon further review, Mirotic tried to go to the move in games 1 and 2 (though with little success). It comes as no surprise now that Mirotic went for the move on three different occasions in this game. The first instance was the only one that saw moderate success as Mirotic got his opponent in the air and drew a foul as he started to drive (the defender flared his legs out). Both other instances failed completely as defenders either didn’t bit on the fake or cut off his driving lane swiftly, thus forcing him to pass and reset the offense.
We recognize that there aren’t exactly many things you can do off of a pump fake, but Mirotic can diversify what he does rather than immediately trying to drive every time. At this point it seems defenders seem to expect him to drive after a pump fake. By our count, since game 3 Mirotic has now driven or tried to drive on roughly 10 strait shot fakes (possibly more but we didn’t go back to game 2). His options as to what he can do following a pump fake are limited, but it’d be nice to see Mirotic occasionally opt to draw the shooting foul off the pump fake or simply take a dribble over a few steps into open space and pull up for the jump shot.
The other bit of predictability we’ve noticed in Mirotic’s game is that he’s almost always turn into the pain when working in and/or driving into the post, even when he makes adjustments (as we saw last week in one of the play breakdowns).
It’s understandable why Mirotic opts to go into the paint. He has the ability to finish with both hands on his hook shot (running or otherwise) and playing towards the paint gives him a better angle and chance to make his shot than if he were to turn to the baseline. But continuously turning one direction can get him into some trouble. In previous games (and once in this game), Mirotic found himself turning into a double team in the paint after making his move. While he managed to get himself out of the jams, this could prove to be a problem in the NBA where physical play could give him trouble.
In addition to simple double teams in a crowded paint though, there will be the occasional block by one of the NBA’s premiere rim protectors. The following slideshow give a decent, although blurry, depiction of what could happen if Mirotic sticks to predictably turning into the paint. The rejection that flew to half court was made by a rotating center who kept his eyes on Mirotic during the entire play.
Mirotic wasn’t as lazy on defense as he fought through screens, worked to deny post entry passes, and moved into passing lanes to tip away easy passes. However, there were still moments of complete mental lapses or just plain lack of effort on his part. For instance, Mirotic put forth no effort to box out or even move inside for rebounds, occasionally didn’t keep his arms up while defending, and didn’t close out on defenders. Luckily for him this lack of effort didn’t matter as far as the end results go. On many defensive possessions Mirotic managed to demonstrate both effort and lack of. This was most noticeable in situations in which he rotated to provide some help defense.
The sequence started with Mirotic putting forth the effort to try to keep the ball from entering the post in images 1 and 2. Using his length and a good deal of effort, Mirotic did gain positioning momentarily and denied the pass (he subsequently lost position and the ball did enter the post). The play ended up being a give-and-go as the guard sprinted to the baseline and took a handoff towards the basket. Mirotic quickly rotated over during the handoff to cut off the driving lane (image 3). Mirotic stuck with the much quicker guard as he drove (image 4), though he put forth little effort physically to force the defender out of bounds. After dribbling along the baseline, the guard passed the ball out to a teammate (image 5). To this point Mirotic demonstrated solid effort to start the play and little effort by the time of the pass. It only gets worse from there (we couldn’t get a clear enough image). The Strasbourg player who caught the pass began dribbling to the post. Though Mirotic was quite literally standing right there and could help with a double team, Mirotic simply walked by the driving player and started slowly heading to the other side of the court.
As the sample size of games grows, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what to expect from Mirotic. While the man can demonstrate brilliance on both the offensive and defensive side of the floor, it all comes down to how much effort he wants to put forth on any given night. In previous games we noted Mirotic can occasionally have a tendency to lose focus and put forth little effort and that was highlighted in this game. In addition to all of this small tendencies in Mirotic’s game have started to manifest themselves and have shown that they can be a problem if they continue in the future. Should Mirotic stick to his habits and fail to diversify himself on the offensive end, he could find himself being wildly ineffective in the NBA despite the excellent footwork and fundamentals he demonstrated to this point.
We’re going to continue to monitor both of these things because they could be detrimental for Mirotic if/when he makes his jump to the NBA.
That wraps it up for this game. As always if there’s something you feel we missed or y’d like for us to focus in on please let us know below so we can keep our eyes open for future posts. Mirotic’s next game against Anadolu Efes Istanbul. Thanks for reading and until next time!