The Bulls knew they really had something special in Nikola Mirotic back in training camp, but the problem was special doesn’t always translate to earned minutes in the Association.
Injuries to Taj Gibson, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah at certain times through the first few months, however, have forced Mirotic to play more than anticipated, and on Monday, the team continued to see the payoff of the first-year-player getting over early growing pains.
The 6-foot-10 stretch-four was named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, ranking second in the conference in scoring (9.9 points per game), rebounding (5.7 per game) and field goal percentage (.439) in the 15 December games he played in, including a Dec. 19, win over Memphis in which he went six-for-six in three-pointers.
More than the numbers over the last month, Mirotic continued to show Tom Thibodeau how versatile he really could be, playing some small forward in the win over Boston on Saturday when the Bulls were short-handed., and then coming back on Monday and doing it again with Mike Dunleavy (right ankle) out.
“It’s still a work in progress,’’ the coach said. “Overall, I thought he did a very good job [at the three]. I’ve been pleased with him from the start of the season. He’s never satisfied. He wants to correct things immediately. He’s got a high basketball IQ and he’s highly skilled.’’
The immediate concerns Thibodeau had with Mirotic back in camp was on the defensive end, but he’s also shown improvement in that department.
“He battled,’’ Thibodeau said. “That’s what I like about him. He likes to take on a challenge. He’s not afraid to mix it up.’’