Nikola Mirotic is playing like a top rookie but just don’t tell his coach

SHARE Nikola Mirotic is playing like a top rookie but just don’t tell his coach

SAN ANTONIO — Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t the type of guy to get caught up in talk about postseason awards on March 8.

He has no problem leading a campaign for his players, but he wasn’t going to stump for forward Nikola Mirotic for Rookie of the Year honors just yet.

‘‘I don’t get wrapped up in that stuff,’’ Thibodeau said Sunday. ‘‘In the end, let everyone decide who has had the best year and done the most for their team. I just want [Mirotic] to concentrate on his improvement and doing his job every day.’’

With the Bulls short-handed because of injuries, the 6-10 Mirotic has done just that. He has led the team in scoring in three of the last five games, including a 29-point effort last Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers and a 26-point performance Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Mirotic also has shown that he’s more than just an outside threat. He scored 19 points without a three-pointer against the Spurs, including 9-for-9 from the free-throw line. On the downside, he committed four turnovers.

‘‘We want him to be more than just a shooter,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘So he can put [the ball] on the floor, he can post up, he can run the floor, but he also has to make the offense function well. We have screening responsibilities, spacing responsibilities.

‘‘Your turnovers are usually one of two reasons: You’re either trying to do too much, going one-on-one, or you’re trying to thread the needle. Sometimes the simple play is the right play. Hit the first open man in front of you and let him make the play. It’s not a show, it’s a competition, and we have to understand that.’’

Still, Thibodeau likes what he has seen from Mirotic and wants to continue to see those things from him.

‘‘This is his first go-around, and he’s learning,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘The second time around, teams are going to play him differently. He’s got to understand that. Just keep the game simple, make the right play.

‘‘You’re not going to be perfect; nobody is. But you want to make more good plays than your opponent.’’


Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t invent the idea of purposely fouling poor free-throw shooters on the opposing team, but he practices it more than others. And while the NBA must address whether it wants it to continue, Popovich is aware of how it looks.

‘‘I’m torn in the sense that free throws are a part of the game, and . . . you try and take advantage of it,’’ he said. ‘‘If they have people that don’t shoot free throws, you try and take advantage of it. The goal of the exercise is to win.

‘‘Does it look bad? Does it look ugly? It looks awful.’’


Twitter: @suntimes_hoops

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