Bulls rookie forward Nikola Mirotic went for 28 points and eight rebounds in a win against the Hornets last night, a performance that he punctuated by banking one on Jason Maxiell's head. Mirotic's minutes have been fluctuating like crazy throughout the season, but Tom Thibodeau is finally starting to give him some consistent run, and the bearded big man is making stuff happen.
Since March 1, Mirotic has been racking up 21 points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes per game. Those numbers are nice, but what's been fun about the way Mirotic has been lighting teams up these last 13 games has been the various ways he's gone about doing it. There's more skill packed into his 6-foot-10 frame than is probably fair, and at times it feels like he has a bottomless bag of tricks to reach into. Take his highlight reel from last night's game:
The dunk on Maxiell stands out, but the most impressive thing about that clip is the sheer amount of stuff that Mirotic does. He hulks up and gets some buckets in the paint, abuses a few guys with his pump-and-drive game, buries a pair of step-backs, draws fouls (he's averaging nearly eight free-throws a game this month), and makes thundering drives to the hoop out of the pick-and-roll as both the roll man and the ball-handler. And let's not forget that this is the guy who can put people into the ground with his spin move.
The trick with Mirotic is that he hasn't yet figured out the best way to cohere all of these skills in a way that maximizes his efficiency—that wrong-footed step-back in the clip above was cool as hell, but eliminating shots like that would probably be a good start. On the season, he's shooting 40 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range, and even during his current hot streak, those numbers haven't really gotten better (42 percent from the floor, 25 percent from deep). Hopefully, Thibs will keep Mirotic on the floor for the rest of the season and give him some freedom to figure things out, or at least to make a few plays here and there that will add some late shine to what's been another hard slog of a season.