Jan 1, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The X Factor:
Nikola Mirotec may be a rookie, however he’s proving to have nerves of steel and shows no obvious signs of his lack of experience.
I noticed repeatedly how his energy specifically on the defensive end caused problems for James Harden, Josh Smith, Trevor Ariza or whoever he happened to be guarding.
While the stat sheet only shows 2 blocked shots Mirotec’s length changed a number of other shots or altered the initial goal of the offense.
McHale doesn’t generally run a set offensive scheme, rather he allows the team to read and react to the defense of the opposition. The problem with that was every Bull on the court was switching which didn’t allow any open shots or paths to the bucket.
The one player the Bulls left open (and only when he was behind the arc) was Josh Smith. Given his 11% average from the perimeter it was an area Thibs was willing to live with.
Since Smith obliged by hanging out behind the arc it allowed Mirotec who was guarding him to help on defense versus Harden and Howard (the two primary scoring options).
On the season Mirotec averages 8.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.7 blocks. By night’s end he had dwarfed those stats with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assists, 2 blocks and was a team best plus +17.
While he was only 1 of 4 from behind the arc, his one successful make came with just under :40 seconds remaining in the game and gave the Bulls a commanding 110-103 lead. Ultimately though it was this slam dunk in the fourth quarter which stood out as his highlight of the night.