Nikola Mirotic was once again in a playful mood before the game against Utah on Wednesday.
“Should I make another prediction . . . 4-0?’’ Mirotic joked, referring to the fact that the Bulls had won the first three games he played in this season. Mirotic missed the first 23 games recovering from the practice altercation with teammate Bobby Portis.
He then opted simply to head back in the lounge area and finish a sandwich, the only quiet moment for Mirotic since he has returned.
But what has spoke volumes about the fourth-year player is just how important his addition turned out to be, and not just for the obvious reasons, either.
As coach Fred Hoiberg pointed out, there’s a reason Mirotic won the starting job in the preseason.
“Well the biggest thing with Niko is it’s his overall game,’’ Hoiberg said. “I know a lot of people look at the way he’s scoring the ball right now, leading us in the [Monday] game [against Boston] with 24 points, but the things Niko does, he does a lot of little things that don’t show up in the box score. He’s in the right spot defensively, he’s in a stance, he knows where to be, he understands the game plan.
“So his ability to get us points in the paint and also make the right play once he gets into the paint, and more importantly, the impact he’s making on the defensive end, that’s the biggest thing that I think Niko did in the preseason to give him a leg up.’’
Rookie Lauri Markkanen was given the starting spot when Mirotic was unavailable, and as of now, there is no intention of taking that away from the seventh overall pick in the draft. Mirotic started Wednesday when Markkanen missed his second consecutive game with back issues.
That doesn’t mean Mirotic won’t be finishing games for Hoiberg, especially if he stays as hot as he has been.
“Just his overall understanding of the game,’’ Hoiberg said. “Just continue to do those things.’’
There’s no question that point guard Kris Dunn is still a work in progress, but what Hoiberg likes is Dunn’s attention to detail.
Not only does the second-year player watch game film every night after games, but he also comes in the next morning to discuss what he saw with Hoiberg.
“He is a student of the game,’’ Hoiberg said. “The best thing about it, when you call him out in film sessions — we had a couple clips after the Indiana game where we lost, the last six minutes where we had a collapse, you just show plays, ‘What do you see here, Kris?’ ‘I gotta make that play, I gotta make it.’ Then the next game he did make it.
‘‘Just his overall willingness to learn from mistakes and get better because of it.’’
Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.