ESPN hoops writer says Jimmy Butler is most improved, Niko Mirotic is top rookie

SHARE ESPN hoops writer says Jimmy Butler is most improved, Niko Mirotic is top rookie

In this March 18, 2015, file photo, Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic, right, celebrates with center Joakim Noah after scoring a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Chicago. Mirotic still sometimes makes a rookie mistake. Not the kind that often trips up first-year players. There are no complaints from the Bulls about his defense or his work ethic. The problem is that Mirotic has the green light and doesn’t always take it. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

ESPN NBA reporter Marc Stein offered some picks for NBA postseason awards Tuesday, and the Bulls came away with the lion’s share.

Stein tabbed Jimmy Butler as the league’s most improved player and Nikola Mirotic as the rookie of the year.

Butler has been Stein’s pick for the award since Christmas:

The fact that he wound up losing 17 games to injury because of those persistent elbow woes did tighten things up at the finish line, because Draymond Green made his own significant leap this season as a contender for both the MIP trophy as well as Defensive Player of the Year honors, playing his way into a new financial stratosphere just like his Chicago counterpart. In the end, though, ‎Butler did too much for us to ignore. The way he hiked his scoring average from 13.1 PPG to 20.0 PPG, to become an All-Star for the first time because he also made himself a 46.2 percent shooter this season after shooting 39.7 percent last season, ‎nudged him past Green on this scorecard.

Mirotic edged out Stein’s vote over Andrew Wiggins:

Wiggins remains the 2014-15 rookie likely to have the most successful career. And chances are he’ll win this race comfortably. Yet there’s no escaping the fact he currently sports a PER below the league average (13.85), which (at least for me) detracts some from his undeniable ability to score and the fortitude he was forced to muster at such a young age, after being traded before he ever played an NBA game and then was forced to play out his debut season on an injury-ravaged and rebuilding Timberwolves squad. [snip] I understand some voters believe Mirotic, at 24, shouldn’t even be considered a rookie compared to the likes of poor Wiggins (who turned 20 in February) — given the considerable pro experience Mirotic brought to the NBA from his time at Real Madrid, on top of his age, not to mention the fact that he’s surrounded in Chicago by much better help. ‎Yet I tend to believe Mirotic, even if we had to wait until March, did wow us with more regularity than any other rookie. I’d argue that his mega March for the Bulls, while Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler were out injured, sets him up with the most worthy ROY résumé on the board. To produce the way he did, mustering eight 20-point games off the bench and leading the league in fourth-quarter points for the entire month, suggests that his comparatively pedestrian production from November through February (7.2 PPG in 17.1 minutes a game) stems at least partly from the fact that he wasn’t getting as much burn as he should have.

A Bulls player has never won the most improved player award. Derrick Rose was the team’s last rookie of the year in 2009.

Awards voters are required to make their votes by 2 p.m. Thursday.

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