Nikola Mirotic was entering his 5th season in the NBA where he was expected to continue his growth from seasons past. He had just resigned with the Chicago Bulls on September 25th, 2017 when, three weeks later, on October 17th, 2017, Mirotic was gearing up for the start of the regular season when everything changed. Mirotic was involved in a scuffle with fellow Bulls teammate Bobby Portis. Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN: “The players had been talking trash to one another in practice, going back and forth before those exchanges escalated into a physical encounter”, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Mirotic charged at Portis twice before Portis threw a punch and connected with Mirotic’s face, league sources said. Mirotic dropped to the floor and lay there for several minutes before getting up, league sources said.” Mirotic suffered a fractured bone along with a concussion and had to miss about 6 weeks due to the infamous injury resulting from the brawl.
When Mirotic was cleared to play, everyone wondered how the fight would affect his game, yet alone how the chemistry with his Bulls teammates would be impacted by the return of Mirotic to the Bulls lineup. Mirotic returned to the line up and came of the bench where he scored a modest 6 points on 2-7 shooting from the field in 14 minutes of play. Clearly rusty from missing the Bulls first 23 games of the 17-18 season. Mirotic didn’t allow his slow return impact his expected growth. The very next day, as the Bulls were on the second night of a back-to-back Mirotic came off the bench again, however he had a much bigger impact. Mirotic went 6-10 from the field including 5-8 from 3-point land to route 19 points of the bench. This was the start of a 7 game winning streak for the Bulls were Mirotic scored at least 20 points in 4 of those games. Mirotic went on to average a career high in just about every category, averaging 16.8PPG 6.4RPG and 1.5APG in 25 games with the Chicago Bulls.
On February 1st 2018, as per Mirotic’s demand, the Bulls forward was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, where he was expected to continue his growth and become a weapon for the Pelicans off the bench to help them in reaching the playoffs. In his first game with the Pelicans, Mirotic came off the bench and gave a much needed boost to New Orleans bench, scoring 18pts. Although the Pelicans lost to Minnesota, you could see that Mirotic was playing at a higher level. Mirotic continued his great season with the Pelicans where he finished the season averaging 14.2PPG with 8.2RPG in 30 games with the Pelicans, for the season, combined with the Bulls, Mirotic had his best statistical season in 17-18.
Mirotic has always been known as a pretty good shooter, for his career he shoots 42% from the field and 35% from 3. He is your modern day “Euro Big Man” that can spread the floor and shoot the three. He isn’t much of a cutter as he does not move the most without the ball, however he can take his man down to the post where his offensive moves include pump fakes to free himself up and if that fails, his game includes the fade-away mid range jump shot. Mirotic’s game is ideal for today’s NBA. He’s that cliche term we use called a “stretch forward”. He will impact the game by himself with his beautiful jump shot. Also for the first time in his career Mirotic is playing alongside a dominant big man in Anthony Davis. Davis draws just about every defenders attention. As he should. This allows Mirotic to roam around the three point land. Once Mirotic’s man commits to helping out on Davis, Mirotic is ready for the kick out to hit the open three. Or he can cut into the lane for an easy bucket
Nikola has such a high release as well. Standing almost 7ft tall, his high release shot make its almost impossible to block. Mirotic is always ready to score, and since the Pelicans have two primary ball handlers in Jure Holiday and Davis, Nikola just needs to stay ready to score.
In all this season has been amazing for Mirotic, he is averaging 23.1PPG while shooting 53% from the field and right around 40% from 3. His usage rate has increased a lot more this season especially with the current injury to Anthony Davis. It will be interesting to see if Mirotic can continue to produce at this level for the whole season, thus completing his “evolution” into the next step of his game. Even if he cant, Mirotic is a hell of a third option for any weapon. the Pelicans have one hell of a front court in Mirotic, Davis, and Randle. To be honest I really like any combination of those 3 players. Mirotic is definitely the best shooter of the bunch, and a key reason why the Pelicans have to be taken very seriously in the Western Conference this season.