Nikola Mirotic’s unique style rewarding Bulls for waiting on him


BOSTON – Nikola Mirotic rarely watched the NBA while growing up in Europe. Even as a promising professional player drawing American scouts, he still had only passing interest in the league.

But that changed the instant the Bulls traded up to get him with the No. 23 pick in the 2011 draft.

Mirotic, who signed a five-year contract with Real Madrid earlier that year, began watching nearly every Chicago game.

“I had to see maybe my future team,” Mirotic said. “So, I started following, and I really loved how they were playing.

“I was thinking, How can I adapt on this team? It was really important for me to imagine me on this team, and I really loved how Chicago was playing. They were a little bit playing like European, too. Team, they are sharing a lot of balls, playing plays.”

Mirotic didn’t learn his biggest lesson about the Bulls by watching them on televison, though. He ascertained it by simply waiting.

“I really saw how Chicago loved me in this time, because it was not easy to draft me,” Mirotic said, “because I signed for five years, and it was a long time that they need to wait for me.”

He’s proving he was worth the wait.

Mirotic is averaging 7.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.0 minutes per game, modest numbers that don’t fully reveal his efficiency. He leads rookies with a 16.8 PER and 3.0 win shares.

In fact, Mirotic has more than double the win shares of any other rookie despite ranking just ninth in minutes among his class.


Just 11 rookies have doubled their class’s closest competitor in win shares:

  • 1990: David Robinson (SAS), 15.1 win shares
  • 1972: Clifford Ray (CHI), 8.7 win shares
  • 1970: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (MIL), 13.8 win shares
  • 1966: Rick Barry (SFW), 10.4 win shares
  • 1964: Jerry Lucas (CIN), 12.7 win shares
  • 1962: Walt Bellamy (CHP), 16.3 win shares
  • 1961: Oscar Robertson (CIN), 13.2 win shares
  • 1960: Wilt Chamberlain (PHW), 17 win shares
  • 1959: Elgin Baylor (MNL), 9.8 win shares
  • 1955: Bob Pettit (MLH), 10.7 win shares
  • 1951: Paul Arizin (PHW), 13.7 win shares

Nine of those 11 won Rookie of the Year. Ray and his 8.7 win shares lost to Sidney Wicks, who had 2.3 win shares. Arizin played before the award existed, but he claimed an unofficial unofficial retroactive version of the honor.

Yet Mirotic gets minimal Rookie of the Year support.

Andrew Wiggins is the clear front-runner (and my choice for mid-season Rookie of the Year). He fills a larger role for the Timberwolves and has fewer veterans around him, mostly excusing his volume-over-efficiency tradeoff.

But don’t dismiss how well Mirotic is handling what the Bulls ask of him .

He’s doing it in a historically unique way.

Mirotic has taken half his shots from beyond the arc, and he has attempted a free throw for every two field goals. No player has ever finished a season with a 3-point-attempt rate (3PA/FGA) and free-throw-attempt rate (FTA/FGA) both over 50 percent while playing as many as Mirotic already has.

Heck, just a few players – James Harden (2011 and 2012), Chauncey Billups (2011), Danilo Gallinari (2011), Jon Barry (1999) and Terry Dehere (1996) – have ever joined the 45%/45% club while playing regularly.

For context, here’s how Mirotic’s 3-point-attempt free-throw-attempt rates (Bulls logo) compares with everyone else who has played at least 150 minutes this season:


Nobody else lands near Mirotic – for good reason. Logically, it’s difficult for players to draw fouls while they’re hanging near the 3-point arc. It takes a special blend to balance both skills.

Mirotic, who shoots 36 percent on 3-pointers, does it a few ways.

One, he’s the floor-stretching big Chicago needs to complement Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson – especially because Noah has struggled spread the floor as a passing hub this season (perhaps due to injury). Even on the perimeter, Mirotic has a nifty shot fake that helps him draw fouls, including on 3-point tries.

Two, he plays hard. Mirotic, who credits playing professionally at age 17, is comfortable amid contact.

A perception exists that rookies and European players get unfavorable whistles, but Mirotic has overcome that double whammy.

“I don’t think about it when I’m playing,” Mirotic said. “I try to play smart, and sometimes you need to try to get contact to go to the free-throw line.”

The 6-foot-10 forward is also skilled at putting the ball on the floor and driving, though it’s not quite clear yet what form that will take. It’s easy to see him slashing and kicking as a fundamental part of an offense, but he’s averaging just 1.1 assists per game. He’s also shooting just 37.5 percent on drives. This just reveals his untapped potential more than anything.

Mirotic is already finding plenty of ways to help the Bulls. They outscore opponents by 7.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, better than they do with any other player. At 23, Mirotic should only get progress from here.

Because he waited more than three years after being drafted to sign in the NBA, Mirotic was eligible to receive a larger salary. He’s earning more money this season than any rookie besides Wiggins and will become a free agent a year sooner than the top 2014 first rounders. But he also had to pay a hefty buyout to leave Real Madrid.

For Mirotic, it wasn’t just about the money. It was about the league he once shunned.

“The NBA, it’s the best league in the world,” Mirotic said. “So, I really think it was important for me to give this step right now and not wait. And I’m really happy to be here.”

Sacramento Kings turning former arena into coronavirus surge hospital

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If you’re old enough, you might remember Arco Arena as the home of the Sacramento Kings when they were a playoff team. Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojaković, and company pushed the Shaq/Kobe Lakers to seven games in 2002 and won huge playoff games in the arena. Arco was where Jason Williams was dropping dimes without looking, and arena which later became known as the Sleep Train Arena, Power Balance Pavilion, and eventually the current Natomas Arena.

Now, it’s about to be a coronavirus surge hospital.

The Kings are making the arena available and it will house about 360 beds, the team announced on Friday. The team also is donating $250,000 to support area community organizations providing services to families in need in the area, plus donating 100,000 medical masks to state and local health agencies.

“On behalf of the entire Kings family, our hearts are with all who have been affected by this pandemic,” said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé in a statement. “California always leads the nation and the world, and we applaud Governor [Gavin] Newsom’s strong and decisive leadership to keep Californians healthy and safe during this crisis…

“Our community has always come first, and that is more important now than ever,” Ranadivé continued. “The Kings are proud to help by providing additional space to accommodate a predicted surge in patients. We are also donating masks to help keep people healthy, and critical resources to area organizations that are addressing food insecurity and other issues as a result of the coronavirus. I have always been in awe of the resilience and ingenuity of the American people and firmly believe that together, we will defeat this invisible enemy.”

The Kings moved to the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento in 2015 and since then their former home and practice arena has mostly sat vacant. The Kings’ G-League team practices there at times, but like the rest of basketball they find their season suspended.

Hopefully, this arena helps save some lives in the California capital. That would be the most important thing ever to happen in the building.

WNBA postpones season

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban backed off his belief that the NBA could resume in May.

It’s just already clear, amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’ll be unsafe to hold professional basketball games that soon.

WNBA release:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15.  While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees.

Many top female players – including Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Wiese, who tested positive for coronavirus – play overseas during the WNBA offseason. That frequency of travel makes it even riskier for WNBA teams to gather any time soon.

The WNBA will still hold its draft April 17, conducting proceedings virtually. That could provide lessons to the NBA as it determines how to handle its draft.

Joel Embiid, 76ers owners pledging $1.3M for fighting coronavirus

76ers owner Josh Harris and Joel Embiid
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Joel Embiid just showed up 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer by pledging to pay team employees who were set to have their pay cut. Amid widespread backlash, the 76ers backtracked on their salary-reduction plan.

Now – with a portion of Embiid’s coronavirus-related donation unallocated and Harris and Blitzer looking to change the narrative around them – those three are working together.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer are contributing a combined $1.3 million to Penn Medicine, establishing a funding campaign for COVID-19 antibody testing of frontline healthcare workers.

According to a Penn Medicine press release, “The pledge from Embiid, Harris and Blitzer will provide a much-needed boost for efforts to quickly identify health care workers who may have immunity to the new virus.”

This is great.

Some Utah Jazz employees laid off as part of cutback across owner’s businesses

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The Philadephia 76ers came in early, trying to force 20 percent cutbacks in salaries across the franchise’s staff. That lasted less than 24 hours before the backlash hit, the net worth of the team’s primary owner, Joshua Harris, was trending on Twitter, and the decision was reversed.

That stopped other owners from making a similar move or laying employees off for a while, but not long after the top 100 earners at the NBA League office — including Commissioner Adam Silver — were given a 20 percent pay reduction. The worsening economic crisis caused by the coronavirus shutdown of the United States is pushing NBA owners to act.

On Friday, the Utah Jazz — owned by the Larry H. Miller Group, which in total has more 80 different companies under its umbrella — sent this message to Adrian Wojnarowski ESPN:

“Due to the impact on our customer-facing businesses from this unprecedented pandemic, the (Miller Group) …. unfortunately had to make difficult decisions to reduce a small percentage of our workforce. Over the past several weeks, we have worked to manage and reduce costs, including executive compensation, and have reached a point where we have had to say farewell to a limited number of our valued employees.

“We have connected with our associates with outplacement services and aligned them with employers who have immediate hiring needs. We remain focused on helping our communities stay healthy.”

Reports out of Utah say these are layoffs that hit a lot of people and could be permanent.

It’s not fair, but little is fair right now. As noted, this is not just a layoff of some Jazz employees but also people at other businesses across the Larry H. Miller company.

Expect other NBA owners to follow suit soon, too. Not all, but some. Like owners of businesses of all sizes, they have been both hit hard in the short term and see a looming recession beyond the coronavirus. They will be looking to save money.