TORONTO – Rookies aren’t supposed to get star treatment when it comes to getting to the free throw line.
Nikola Mirotic seems to be the exception lately.
The Bulls big man was averaging 7.8 free throws per game in the month of March, which would be the fifth highest average in the NBA if it carried out over an entire season.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey had one explanation.
“We got to be smart and not bail him out because he’s got the soccer mentality a little bit,’’ Casey said, all but falling short of calling the 6-foot-10 rookie a flopper.
Tom Thibodeau had a slightly more positive explanation.
“Well, that’s set up with the shot,’’ the Bulls coach said. “He’s deceptively quick, so I think when you generate speed, and you draw the contact, you’re going to get the call in this league.
“When they implemented the new rules that was a point of emphasis, so he’s got the ability to do that. And because of his shot, you’ve got to react to that, you’ve got to get upon him, and usually if we can force switches in certain situations, now fives are on him, he’s going to be impossible to guard. We try to do that as much as we can, he’s good in the open floor, so that’s all been a plus.’’
Even more impressive than the free throws, however, was the fact that Mirotic led the entire NBA in fourth-quarter scoring for March with 9.5 points per game.
“Niko has been stepping it up, along with my other teammates,’’ injured guard Derrick Rose said of Mirotic. “But I’m loving the way Niko is playing right now.
“He just wasn’t scared to mess up. He’s someone I think he’s his hardest critic. That’s the way I think he wants it. He wants to be great. You can just tell by the way he works out.’’