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

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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.

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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:

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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.”

Kevin Love tries to ignore trade rumors, ‘let the chips fall where they may’

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Cleveland Cavaliers GM said he has no interest in trading Kevin Love.

You can count the number of people around the league who believe him on one hand. There’s a good chance Love is still on the Cavaliers at the end of this season, but that’s more about him being in the first year of a four-year, $120 million contract extension than it is Cleveland’s willingness to trade him (or interest from other teams, if money was not an issue). The Cavaliers are rebuilding, and if they can get young players and picks for Love, they have to consider it.

With Portland off to a slow start, and Love growing up in the Pacific Northwest, that rumor has floated around. There are others. Love is just trying to ignore them and play ball, he told Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times.

“I know there’s talk about me possibly being the missing piece somewhere,” Love said. “There’s been constant chatter since I signed that I could be traded. It’s one of those things where I’m going to keep doing right by the team, by Cleveland and by the organization. If my number is called, so be it, but I’m going to stay true to my commitment and let the chips fall where they may.”

Love, who has been open in recent years about his struggles with anxiety and mental health, said dealing with the trade rumors that constantly swirl around him can be a challenge on that front.

“A big aspect of mental health is just staying in the present but it’s so hard,” he said. “You have to try to not get too far ahead of yourself or get worked up. You can get that anxious feeling or fear for the future, but you have to try to stay focused on getting better and let things work out the way they should.”

Kevin Love has played well to start the season, averaging 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds a game, shooting a respectable 34.7 percent from three. He could help a lot of teams, particularly ones in the West who want to be in the mix for a ring but who look at the Lakers and Clippers and think, “we have to get better fast.”

The rumors around Love are just going to get louder the closer and closer we get to the trade deadline. Love will have to do a lot of work to tune all that out.

 

Bulls big man Luke Kornet out following surgery on sinus obstruction

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Just before last Christmas, Luke Kornet broke his nose. Apparently, that never healed quite right.

Kornet underwent surgery to repair a sinus obstruction on Monday, the Chicago Bulls announced. There is no timetable for his return, although coach Jim Boylen suggested it could be less than two weeks.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen added this at practice, via NBC Sports Chicago.

“Kornet had sinus surgery this morning. He had blockage and some issues from a previous fracture from when he was in New York. We just felt it was time to go in there and clean that thing out. That happened this morning at 6 AM. He’s out. Surgery went well. We’ll have more to report as we go. Originally, it was a seven-ten-day thing where he’d be back. I think it’s one of those things they don’t know until they get in there how extreme it is. But he had blockage and it needed to be done.”

This does not impact the Bulls much on the court as Kornet has fallen out of the rotation in recent games (in part because of the sinus condition, in part because he just hasn’t played well). Kornet signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Bulls over the summer.

D’Angelo Russell says weather played ‘major part’ in picking Warriors over Timberwolves

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D'Angelo Russell wants to play with Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns’ Timberwolves were reportedly interested in Russell last summer.

Why did Russell join the Warriors instead of Minnesota?

Russell, via Chris Hine of the Minneapolis StarTribune:

“I thought the opportunity here was amazing … ” Russell said after Warriors shootaround Friday. “It was definitely something I was considering very strongly. But then when this opportunity came, the weather is way better, so that helped me.”

“I did my first winter in New York and that was tough,” Russell said. “So to get the opportunity to go somewhere where it’s warm again, I think that played a major part in my plan.”

I don’t blame him one bit.

Russell grew up in Kentucky then finished high school in Florida. He spent his first couple NBA seasons with the Lakers.

He also played collegiately at Ohio State and a a couple years for the Nets. In other words, he spent enough time in cold-weather locations to know how miserable they can be.

This is an issue that will always hinder teams like the Timberwolves. It doesn’t mean they can’t attract free agents. It’s just a disadvantage.

There will always be players who don’t have multiple max offers. Minnesota can separate itself with money, playing time and other considerations.

But good for Russell for playing himself out of that group and earning a max contract in the Bay Area.

Kyrie Irving (shoulder) out for Nets-Pacers

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Kyrie Irving missed the Nets’ win over the Bulls on Saturday.

He’s not healthy enough to play the Pacers tonight.

Nets public relations:

Kyrie Irving (right shoulder impingement) is OUT.

Brooklyn (5-7) lags behinds Indiana (7-6) in the Eastern Conference’s middle morass. The Nets must try to catch up in the playoff race without their best player.

But it’s a long season. Brooklyn has plenty of time to gain ground. Spencer Dinwiddie is capable in relief, and the unselfish Nets can create ball movement while Dinwiddie rests.

I’m more concerned about next week. A segment of Brooklyn’s schedule:

  • Nov. 24 at Knicks
  • Nov. 25 at Cavaliers
  • Nov. 27 at Celtics

That’s the team Irving spurned in free agency, the team Irving requested a trade from and the team Irving just left after pledging to re-sign. Those are juicy matchups. Hopefully, Irving is healthy enough to play in all three.