The return of Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic has created a spark in the Windy City. Since his return, the Bulls have won their last five games. They’ve also amassed a net rating, 9.5 points per possession, that would only trail the Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors during this span of time, according to the NBA’s official website.
Not only is this turnaround stunning because the Bulls were the worst team in the league before their win streak began, but because they’re the first team in NBA history to win five straight games immediately after a double-digit losing streak, according to a Dec. 15 NBC Sports article.
Mirotic has been sensational. He’s averaging 20 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc. All of those numbers are career-highs. He’s even formed a devastating 1-2 punch with forward Bobby Portis (oh, the irony). When those two are on the court together, the Bulls outscore their opponents by an insane 34.3 points per 100 possessions (!!).
Despite these recent developments, the Bulls are still probing Mirotic’s value on the trade marketing, according to a Dec. 11 Chicago Tribune article. While this move may seem puzzling because of Mirotic’s recent play, it’s the right decision to make.
The 2017-18 season has witnessed multiple stars unexpectedly making significant improvements in their game; Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo and Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris immediately come to mind. However, Mirotic’s improvement doesn’t appear to be as sustainable as theirs.
He’s shooting a ridiculous 75 percent on three-point attempts when the closet defender is 2-4 feet away from him, according to the NBA’s official website. That’s double what he shot last season. It isn’t hyperbole to say this is the best he’s ever played in the NBA as he’s never put together a four-game stretch where he’s scored 18 or more points until now.
But, what makes him truly disposable is that the Bulls already have a logjam of other forwards whose playing time and development are more important than his.
Rookie forward Lauri Markkanen is recovering from back spasms, but figures to be inserted back into the starting lineup after having a solid start to his first season in the NBA. Portis has been a delight in his own right, is nearly five years younger than Mirotic and provides a toughness on the interior Mirotic lacks.
If the Bulls draft Marvin Bagley or DeAndre Ayton with their 2018 first round pick, then there truly won’t be any room for Mirotic’s contract of expendable skillset.
Unfortunately, the Bulls can’t trade him until Jan. 15, at the earliest. Which leaves for plenty of time for Mirotic to regress back to the mean. But, if he’s able to maintain a fraction of the play he’s displayed over the past week, then teams like the Milwaukee Bucks or Washington Wizards would be sure to call.
And when those calls come in, the Bulls would be smart to take them. The franchise is rebuilding, emphasizing the development of their young and focusing on the future. As good as Mirotic has been, he shouldn’t be involved in the team’s future.
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