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Mirotic minutes about to dwindle again when Gibson returns

CHARLOTTE – It’s been a nice little run for rookie Nikola Mirotic ever since Taj Gibson’s left ankle decided to touch the hardwood in an unnatural way.

With Gibson sidelined the last six contests because of the injury, the 6-foot-10 stretch-four has averaged 27.3 minutes per game over that span, as well as averaging 13 points.

Plenty of playing time to work through the NBA growing pains.

That could be changing very soon, however.

According to coach Tom Thibodeau, Gibson is “close’’ to returning from the injury, and when he does, Mirotic will be in a very familiar position. The sitting variety.

“You have to look at a lot of things,’’ Thibodeau said of Mirotic’s performance with Gibson down. “You have to look at how the team is functioning when he’s on the floor. You have to look at the defense and rebounding. You guys are forgetting how good Taj is.’’

Thibodeau said having four very functional bigs is a “good problem,’’ put pointed out that three of the four are definitely more experienced and more talented.

Translation: Mirotic is the odd-man out.

“Again, you have three guys who are starters that are playing ahead of him that are significantly better,’’ Thibodeau said of Gibson, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. “You can’t lose sight of that.’’

No, but you could be losing sight of Mirotic.

Before Gibson went down, Mirotic played an eight-game stretch in which he averaged just over nine minutes a game, and averaged just three points.