What to expect from Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic

What to expect from Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic
July 15, 2014, 8:00 am
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Mark Strotman

As Doug McDermott tore up the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night for 31 points in the Las Vegas summer league, it revealed some clarity as to how the 22-year-old rookie will complement the Bulls' core this season. The career 46 percent 3-point shooter at Creighton made 5 of 9 shots from beyond the arc in his second pro game, and even if he only reaches his floor in Year 1 it's clear he'll improve a Bulls team that was near the bottom of the league last season.

The Bulls know what they'll get from McDermott this season - at the very least a competent 3-point shooter with some versatility - but the same can't be said for rookie Nikola Mirotic.

The 23-year-old rookie reportedly agreed to a three-year, $17 million deal over the weekend that will bring him to the NBA three seasons after the Bulls traded for him in the 2011 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-10 Serbian has spent the last five seasons playing with Real Madrid in Spain, where he won the Spanish King's Cup (akin to the NBA Finals in Spain) in 2012 and 2014 and was named the league's MVP in 2013.

[WATCH: Doug McDermott drops 31 in Bulls' summer-league victory]

This past season he averaged 12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.0 steals in 77 international games. He also shot 41 percent from beyond the arc a year ago.

"To be honest he has improved a lot. He's been one of the more promising players in Europe, said TWC Deportes' Alberto De Roa, who spoke on SportsNet Central last night. "Especially, he has improved as a shooter. He's one of the best shooters in Europe, no matter the position, no matter the size, and that's probably his best skill right now."

So how will that translate to the Bulls? Like all rookies who haven't played a minute in the NBA, there's no way to know how a player's game will translate to the world's best basketball league. Unless your name is LeBron James or Anthony Davis, that "bust" factor is always a possibility (see: Jan Vesely, Thomas Robinson and Alex Len, and that's just a glance at the last three drafts).

But there's optimism surrounding Mirotic. Though just 23 years old, he's played professionally for four seasons, has 97 games with Real Madrid under his belt and countless others in international tournament play. More impressively, he's shown progress in that time and the Bulls believe in him enough (and wanted him enough) to hand him a $17 million deal, roughly $5.5 million more than top pick Andrew Wiggins will make in the first three years of his deal with the Cavaliers.

[SUMMER LEAGUE: Tony Snell continues to improve, takes on leadership role]

Mirotic will join a rookie class full of talent, wight he likes of Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum and Julius Randle littering the league with new, bright, young talent. But consider that ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla told the "Waddle and Silvy Show" last week that Mirotic would have been a top-4 pick in last month's draft, presumably the next best prospect after Wiggins, Parker and Joel Embiid.

It's impossible to predict how Mirotic will perform, but when asked for a potential NBA comparison, De Roa likened him to another stretch-four.

"I think a worst-case scenario would be a Ryan Anderson," he said. "A player who is a good rebounder, can do stuff in the (paint) but mostly his danger is going to come from the outside."

That may be a bit of a stretch, considering Anderson averaged 19.8 points on 41 percent 3-point shooting, 6.5 rebounds and 0.8 assists in his injury-plagued 23-year-old season. Still, as a rookie Anderson averaged 7.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and made 36.5 percent of his 189 3-point attempts as a rookie. That may be a good starting point for Mirotic, whose 3-point shooting and depth at power forward will earn him minutes.

But just how many minutes? Tom Thibodeau isn't apt to playing his rookies all that much, and McDermott certainly comes in with impressive credentials of his own. In a best-case scenario Mirotic is the second man off the bench after Taj Gibson (or Pau Gasol) who provides outside shooting for the only team in the NBA last year that didn't have a power forward or center with a made 3-pointer.

"If he can get open and make shots, that's good. If he can play defense under Tom Thibodaeu's fist, then that's good, too," 670's Mark Grote said on Monday's SportsTalk Live. "It's going to take a little while to adjust."

See what else the SportsTalk Live panel had to say about what to expect from Mirotic and McDermott in Year 1.