Bulls' draft pick Mirotic opens up in interview

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Bulls' draft pick Mirotic opens up in interview

Unlike his fellow 2011 first-rounder Jimmy Butler, who played just up the road at Milwaukee's Marquette University in the Big East Conference, not much is known about Bulls draft pick Nikola Mirotic.

The 6-foot-10 forward revealed he was pleased by the Bulls' decision to draft him in a recent interview by Spain-based basketball news outlet HoopsHype.com.

"I was thrilled by the Chicago option. I had talked with them and I was thrilled and attracted by this possibility. So I stayed in the draft because of Chicago," said Mirotic, who told the site he learned of the Bulls' interest "maybe two to three weeks before the draft."

"You can never be 100 percent sure, but I kind of knew they were going to pick me."

Since the draft, Mirotic hasn't second-guessed his decision to remain in the draft.

"I was very happy. I spoke with Bulls director of international scouting Ivica Dukan, whos Croatian, and I was very thrilled. I think its a team thats growing and has a lot of young players. Time will tell exactly when I go over there or if I go. Right now, Im happy and I want to reach my goals here," he continued. "They have a great history and they are building a great team. Of course, I like the coach and the manager is Croatian and Im familiar with him. So my decision to stay in the draft was perfect.

"I re-signed for five years with an NBA out. Well see what happens. I still cant tell if Im leaving in two, three, four or five years. Im thinking about this year right now. I cant tell how long Im going to stay," added the Real Madrid forward, who did not play on Spain's gold-medalist EuroBasket squad, as the champions opted to use Thunder forward Serge Ibaka as their team's allotted naturalized citizen. "I would like to make that jump to the NBA."

As for his NBA readiness, Mirotic takes on a humble approach, despite having garnered rave reviews for his continued development over the past year and change.

"I see myself as a power forward, but one that can play outside and shoot the three, go to the hole," said Mirotic, the MVP of the FIBA Under-20 European Championships for titlist Spain.

"Its been a super important and key year for me because Ive made a lot of progress. Ive done things real well. But this has to be just the beginning for me. I know I can keep improving. Im working on it and I expect bigger things for myself," the 20-year-old, whose parents hail from Montenegro and Spain, continued. "Last year I worked real well and current Lakers assistant coach Ettore Messina helped me. This year, theres a lot of expectations on me. I have to keep improving in several areas--most notably defense and some tactical stuff. Time will tell, but I hope I can help Real Madrid any way I can.

"I always think team first. Our goal is to contend for every title. We didnt start in the best possible way at the Supercup, we couldnt win it, but we have the ACB League, the Cup, the Euroleague," he added. "As for myself, I dont know what to tell you. Being 20, you cant just focus on improving one or two things. I have to improve in every area."

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”