Much like Toni Kukoc over 20 years before him, Nikola Mirotic is a European prospect who was coveted by Bulls management and frequently discussed by fans.
There are plenty of unanswered questions about Mirotic’s game, but on the surface it appears that the kid can play. In five seasons with Real Madrid, Mirotic averaged 10.8 points per game and 4.5 rebounds. Those numbers don’t exactly jump out at you but when you factor in that he shot 49 percent from the field as a jump shooter, you know exactly why GM Gar Forman wanted Mirotic to join the offensively challenged Bulls so badly.
Mirotic won multiple championships in Spain in addition to being named the Euroleague Rising Star in back-to-back seasons. The Montenegrin was also named the MVP of the Spanish League in 2013 and the Spanish King’s Cup MVP in 2014.
“What we feel we’re getting in Nikola is a guy that’s a real fit,” Gar Forman said. “He’s a big that’s really skilled. He’s a spacing 4 that shoots the three very well. He’s versatile and can play inside and outside. He’s got a high basketball IQ. He’s got a motor. He’s got the type of makeup and character that we look for in players.”
SLAM spoke to the Bulls rookie-to-be about why he left Real Madrid, the prospect of playing with former All-Stars Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol, and his goals for his first season in the NBA.
SLAM: How does it feel to finally be in Chicago?
Nikola Mirotic: I’m excited to be here, to be part of this great historical team. Finally I’m here. This is my first time to be in Chicago so to see every paper journalist here for me is a great feeling. I’m happy to be here and I want to start the preseason to do my job and my job is to play and work hard.
SLAM: What led to your decision to leave Real Madrid?
NM: I think it’s a perfect time and moment to do one step is this year. I think that I can improve more things here in Chicago. I did a lot of things in Madrid. I won five titles so now I think it’s the moment to do the great job in Chicago. I think it’s a perfect group for me to improve and learn a lot of things, so I’m excited to be here.
SLAM: How does your game fit with Derrick Rose?
NM: For me it’s a big pleasure to play with him, Noah, and somebody with experience like Pau Gasol. I think I can adapt good on the team. I think I can help them to play better and to open the court. I’m young so I know I have a lot of things to improve, especially my body. So I think we can do a great season, just we need to start good. I’m happy and I want to meet my new teammates, I’m in a great city, so I’m happy.
SLAM: Is strength something you need to improve on most?
NM: Maybe, yes. I think I’m a smart player. I like to create a lot for the team but I know that I need to be strong, especially mentally. I know that I have to do a lot of things to improve, but I’m ready. I know that my coach and my teammates will help me, but it’s important to do the job step by step. I’m ready and I want to help them.
SLAM: What’s the best part of your game?
NM: I tell you before that I like to create for the team. I like to put the ball on the floor. I like to run the court. I like to play pick and pop to the three-point line. This is the strongest thing in my game. Sure, I know that Chicago is a great defensive team so I need to help them in the defense. I need to improve so I think that I can help them a lot.
SLAM: Are you prepared to come off the bench?
NM: I don’t know. It depends. It depends how coach wants to use me. I’m ready to accept my role on the team. In Madrid I’m always starter. For sure this is different. This is NBA. I don’t care if I start or don’t start. I have to do my job and I play, so that’s it.
SLAM: What have your conversations with Pau been like so far?
NM: I meet him yesterday. I think he can help me a lot in the beginning. He’s a player with a lot of experience. I think I can help a lot with this team. I’m happy to be here with Pau Gasol. I think for both it’s good—happy for this.
SLAM: What’s your goal for your rookie season?
NM: To be best player every day. To improve myself. To help the team win a lot of games with shooting—that’s it. I think that everybody needs to think how we can help the team to play better, so I’m just thinking this and I’m ready for this new challenge.