It’s apparent now, in today’s NBA, that you need stars (plural) to claim the ultimate prize. Sure, lightning could strike in the form of the 2004 Detroit Pistons once in a blue moon, but in this players-recruiting-players era of professional basketball, the model for success appears to be to assemble as many star players as you can, then fill in the remainder of the roster with specialists. Depth is certainly a valuable commodity, but it is no longer an essential ingredient in the recipe for building your team to chase the title.
In Chicago, Derrick Rose was a superstar. Truthfully, he still could be, but two knee injuries have robbed him of two crucial years of development and two years of playing in his prime. So for now, we have to assume that he will still be a good player and maybe a fringe all star, but certainly not capable of carrying a team on his shoulders to a title all by himself. Joakim Noah has emerged into an ideal secondary star; someone that can do it all and can be the ideal Robin to someone else’s Batman. But for the Bulls to truly get to the next level, they need to somehow add an additional star, and unless Carmelo Anthony wants to leave $30 million on the table in the Big Apple then they will need to look elsewhere.
All of these factors have Bulls fans gazing longingly overseas to see when Nikola Mirotic; the draft day steal of the Chicago Bulls in 2011 who has been racking up accolades for Real Madrid. At only 23 years old, Mirotic has already won a Euroleague Rising Star Award, an MVP award, a Spanish League Championship, and several medals with the Spanish National Team (http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Nikola-Mirotic-5134). Some scouts have compared him to Dirk Nowitzki; a stretch 4 who can score in droves and shoulder much of the scoring load for a team that struggles to score. Realistically, what can we expect from Mirotic when he finally makes the move overseas? Let’s take a look at his strengths and weaknesses, and see if he can be as successful as NBA experts are predicting.
Mirotic stands at 6’10 and weighs in at about 225 pounds (http://www.nbadraft.net/players/nikola-mirotic), which is great height for a power forward but is a little light. He has very solid shooting mechanics, and he can be a force in the pick and roll game due to his ability to step back and knock down jump shots. He is extremely agile for his size, and he can attack slower defenders off the dribble. While he is by no stretch a lockdown defender, his athleticism allows him to stay in front of defenders. He also has active hands, and gets a lot of steals for a power forward.
Mirotic’s smaller frame results in a strength disadvantage, however, and it is certain to get exposed in the NBA against some of the bigger power forwards. His lack of explosion and his inability to play above the rim makes him a below-average rebounder, and also prohibits him from making up for his lack of strength with athleticism. While plenty of power forwards play below the rim with success (take Zach Randolph, for instance), they tend to be bruisers and play with some power, while Mirotic is all finesse. He also lacks any real back to the basket game, though he has a decent supply of hook shots.
Ultimately, Mirotic’s success in the NBA will be made or broken by his ability to hit jump shots. His defense can only improve, and playing for a Tom Thibodeau-led squad can only help him. Rose’s penetration ability will open up shots for him as well, and it will be his responsibility to knock them down when given the opportunity. And don’t forget, he’s only 23 years old. People that are looking for Mirotic to be the Windy City savior in his rookie year may need to temper their expectations, but it’s not totally out of the question that he could come to Chicago and contribute right away. Knowing Mirotic’s strengths as well as his weaknesses can hopefully limit some of the expectations that will be thrown on him upon his arrival. He doesn’t really need to be Dirk Nowitzki to help the Bulls reach the Finals after all. Maybe, just being Nikola Mirotic is enough.