The jury is still out on what forward Nikola Mirotic can be for the Bulls.
The 25-year-old remains an enigma, scoring a team-high 28 points in 37 minutes in the win Tuesday over the Pacers after totaling 17 points in the previous three games.
And that was after a 35-point showing against the Knicks last week in which he shot 9-for-13 from beyond the three-point line.
What does Mirotic need to do to be more consistent?
“That’s a good question,’’ he said. “After I made nine threes against New York, the next day I didn’t play well. I made zero threes. So I think it’s more of a challenge. I need to challenge myself to prepare better for the games. Know the players I have to guard.
“I’m still in the process of playing in so many games, especially back-to-backs. I think my game will come, but I need to find a way to play more games like this because I know that my teammates need me. When I have games like this, most of the time we win, so I’m going to really work hard on myself, try to get better.’’
They actually don’t win most of the time, but they are better when Mirotic scores. The Bulls are 11-8 this season in games in which he scores 15 points or more.
Mirotic will make $5.5 million this season and $5.7 million next season before becoming a free agent. When the Bulls finally were able to get him to come over from Europe, the idea was he could be part of their foundation.
The team expected a lot from him entering this season, believing coach Fred Hoiberg’s offense would give Mirotic a lift.
That hasn’t necessarily happened.
Granted, Mirotic had an appendectomy in January that led to a second surgery to remove a hematoma, forcing him to miss more than a month. But Mirotic was inconsistent well before that happened.
“Disappointed? No,’’ Mirotic said of his season. “But I know that I can play better, of course, because I know what I can do. But I need to find a way to not have this up and down I had this season and last season. I had my problem with my surgery, but I’m sure that I will improve, especially the more time I’m here. Right now, I need to try and be a regular, everyday [player] because I trust that I can do it.’’
His teammates trust him, too.
They’ve noticed that Mirotic has led them in scoring in two of the last five games. He was especially strong against the Pacers, adding 10 rebounds and playing serviceable defense.
“Huge,’’ Derrick Rose said of Mirotic’s performance against the Pacers. “Shooting with no conscience, playing hard, boxing out, rebounding the ball. Just playing aggressive, and that’s how we need him to play.
“You just gotta wait for him, man. When someone has surgery — it can be any type of surgery — it takes time to get back into a rhythm, and it’s more mental than physical.
“Right now, who knows what type of player or what type of games he’s going to have from now on.’’