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Bulls Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic a tale of two rookies

Nikola Mirotic drives against Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph on Friday in Memphis. | Brandon Dill/AP

Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic found himself Friday.

Not that he hasn’t had good games this season, but none was like this. He scored 27 points against the elite Memphis Grizzlies in their own backyard. He was 6-for-6 from three-point range and grabbed eight rebounds in the Bulls’ 103-97 victory.

‘‘He’s a talented guy,’’ Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said after the game. ‘‘That’s why they drafted him; he is a good player. We’ve been watching him for a long time. I don’t know how many nights he’s been 6-for-6 from three, but [Friday] he was.’’

Hours before Mirotic’s breakout performance, fellow rookie Doug McDermott discussed his recent surgery to repair a small tear of the meniscus in his right knee. That’s when it became obvious how different a direction McDermott and Mirotic have taken this season.

‘‘It has been tough,’’ McDermott said of his rookie campaign. ‘‘Obvi-

ously, being a rookie in general, you are trying to learn and be perfect out there. It [stinks] having an

injury. For me, I’m trying to take it as a positive, settle down and take a deep breath and learn from Jimmy [Butler] and Mike [Dunleavy] and watch them play and watch Thibs [coach Tom Thibodeau] and how everyone reacts on the floor. I think it will be a good thing to watch practice every day and get better.’’

Maybe. But there is no substitute for playing in NBA games, and McDermott knows that.

‘‘It’s tough,’’ he said. ‘‘I came from being a really good college player [at Creighton], playing 40 minutes a game, so it’s tough. But it’s an adjustment, part of being on a really good team. I understand that. It’s tough for me and some of the other guys, but we have to

realize we are fighting for a championship, and this will be good in the long run for me.’’

The best-case scenario for McDermott is to return by late January, when he can resume getting a grasp of the speed of the NBA game. In the 17 games he has played in this season, he has averaged 3.2 points and 11.6 minutes. He has been hesitant on offense and overwhelmed by the defensive responsibilities at times, but he also has shown he’s willing to put the work in.

Mirotic’s season has been quite different. His early hesitations to shoot are long gone, and he has a short-term memory when he misses.

‘‘A lot of times with shooters, they’re one-dimensional,’’ center Joakim Noah said. ‘‘I think this guy is the real deal. And I think he’s getting better every game. And that’s big for us. He just adds a whole different dimension with his three-point shooting, his ability in the pick-and-roll.’’

Mirotic is still fourth in the big-man pecking order behind Noah, Pau Gasol and injured Taj Gibson (right ankle). But when Gibson

returns, Thibodeau will have to make a tougher decision than he anticipated in terms of getting Mirotic more minutes.

‘‘The game is slowing down a little bit for him,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘He’s getting some games under his belt, and he’s getting comfortable. And I think he’s knowing his teammates better and his teammates know him better. That goes a long way.’’

How long? That soon will be

determined.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops