I finally got around to watching the two Real Madrid games against the NBA, uninterrupted. Like some Bulls fans, I have had my calendar circled for some time to see our investment go up against the NBA, in an NBA environment.

Who is he? With the 23rd pick of the 2011 NBA draft, the Bulls selected Nikola Mirotić. A young forward from Spain by way of naturalization from Yugoslavia, Mirotic has been a rising star on the biggest Euro-League stage(ACB League), on arguably the best team currently outside of the NBA. Mirotic was the best under-20 player in FIBA play for two years before he left the junior ranks, earning tournament MVP for the 2011 European Championships(setting a tournament scoring record).

The NBA has invited international exhibitions for the NBA’s pre-season as a way to help cross-market lesser known teams and give opportunities to play well known teams outside of North America.

Nikola is a member of the Baloncesto, Real Madrid. A team that has been around longer than most NBA teams and carries a lot of history. While most over-seas play is a joke in comparison to the US, gems that come up in Spain’s elite(FC Barcelona perhaps being the most notable) have proven to be very good investments for the NBA over the last decade. Marc and Pau Gasol, Ricky  Rubio, Anderson Varejão were all scouted out of the ACB.

This last week, Real Madrid played in two “friendly” matches against the Grizzlies and the Raptors.

Against the Memphis Grizzlies, he posted 14 points and 7 boards in almost 29 minutes of play. Against Toronto, he posted 17 points, 12 boards, and added 3 blocks. Real Madrid lost both.

The good and the bad.

Mirotic has an NBA shot. He has been compared to Dirk Nowitzki, Andreas Bargnani, Toni Kukoc and every other typical euroleague shooter that has come to the NBA. But at this stage, he may be ahead of all of them with his shooting consistency and range. Clutch free-throw shooter, is a .900 FT shooter in Europe, he should be just as good, if not better in the NBA.

He is a solid defender and makes use of his 6’10”, 225lb frame. He might be better than Bargs at this stage when it comes to defense, but Nikola still has a lot of room to improve before he is at Boozer’s level of defense(considering that Boozer’s defense is not particularly good), let alone where we would need him to be to remain contenders. He gets lazy blocks(grounded, doesn’t leap to contest many shots), making him a liability against teams with a mild post presence.

Mirotic has a decent passing game for a raw forward, but he lacks the ability to facilitate extra passes. Because his court vision is so limited, he will rely on his shot and isolation to move the ball. This problem could be huge, considering that he will be good enough to draw defenders to him, but get trapped easily. As a Bulls fan trying to stay optimistic, I hope he’ll be able to improve enough with some better coaching and with a few more miles on the court to legitimize his potential as a NBA starter, and not just a streaky big guy that rots on a bench in close games.

All-around, he is not euro-soft and welcomes contact. He did get called for 6 fouls against the Raptors, however, none were any more sloppy than any other ‘rookie’ in the same role.

With four years remaining on his Real Madrid contract, the Bulls would have to buy him out to bring him to the team before 2016.  Carlos Boozer’s contract is up one season beforehand, with speculation that Mirotic is best left developing while we get our books straight. It is possible that he could be bought-out as early as the next off-season.

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