Is Mirotic ready to be a star for Bulls?
There has been plenty of chatter about the Bulls eyeing New York's Carmelo Anthony this summer. It's possible, though, their best potential addition is not in the Atlantic Division but across the Atlantic Ocean.
Nikola Mirotic's talents were displayed in Spain over the weekend when he was named MVP of the Copa del Rey, a national tournament. The 6-foot-10 Mirotic averaged 16.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in three tournament games for Real Madrid. The native of Montenegro turns 23 on Tuesday.
The Bulls traded for Mirotic on draft night in 2011 and hope to have enough cap space to sign him this summer after using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer.
Mirotic has been described as the best player on the best team in Europe. In that sense, there are similarities to the Bulls adding Toni Kukoc in 1993. But Kukoc and Mirotic are similarly sized but very different players.
While Kukoc had the guard skills to play point guard, Mirotic is a sharpshooting forward. His style of play is a better match for Dirk Nowitzki (or Andrea Bargnani) than Kukoc.
Mirotic is averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in the EuroLeague, where Real Madrid has blown out most opponents. His most eye-popping statistic is shooting 54.3 percent (25 for 46) from 3-point range over 15 games.
A European stat line and some YouTube highlights provide only so much insight. For a better picture of Mirotic, we contacted a couple of Spanish journalists who cover him on a regular basis.
Fernando Martin from SpanishHoops.com provided a rundown of Mirotic's skills: "He is a fundamentally sound player. He may not be a highlight type of guy, a player that jumps or dunks every time, but he plays consistently throughout the whole game. He loves to run the court, great basketball IQ, good motor, nice touch near the basket.
"Basically, he is good at everything, but in my opinion the skill that makes him so special is his shooting."
Most Mirotic observers see him as a "stretch four" in the NBA, a power forward who can slide outside and shoot the 3-pointer. Mirotic probably lacks the defensive skill to play small forward.
Hector Fernandez from Onda Cera Radio in Spain described Mirotic as his best friend.
"Niko is a winner. He has born for competition. He wants to win in every aspect," Fernandez said. "He is ready for the NBA adventure for sure. Since he was drafted, he's been interested in Chicago. He knows everything about the team and also about the city and the number of Serbian people who live there."
Martin told a story from last year when Real Madrid lost to Barcelona in the opening game of the Spanish ACB league finals. Mirotic went back to the practice gym and shot for two hours in the middle of the night.
"Niko is a perfectionist," Martin said. "Every summer he goes back to Montenegro to train like a hermit with his longtime coach, Jadran Vujacic. Runs up and down the hills, shot drills, everything.
"Basketball is his No. 1 priority. He wants to be the best. He is unselfish on the court, but that doesn't mean he is not ambitious or hungry. He is both. That's a common mindset in Balkan players."
Strength and being able to create his own shot are listed as potential weaknesses for Mirotic when he reaches the NBA. He figures to be one of those guys who is tough to match up against. He could take a smaller defender inside or a taller defender outside. In theory, he could complement Taj Gibson, whose inside scoring skills have improved.
Mirotic reportedly has a $2.5 million buyout in his contract with Real Madrid. Basically, the Bulls had to wait three years after the draft so they could pay Mirotic more than a rookie scale contract and make it worth his while to leave Europe.
The Bulls have a history with the Copa del Rey. That's where John Paxson watched Andres Nocioni in 2004 and set in motion plans to sign the Argentine forward.
"(Mirotic) had an extraordinary game against Barcelona, no doubt," Martin said of Sunday's Copa del Rey final. "He scored 17 points with only a couple of misses, blocked 3 shots, grabbed a lot of rebounds -- the way he's been playing all season long.
"He was dominant from Day One and superb in the championship game. He is the best ACB player and probably the best in Europe. For sure, the best forward."