In Part 2 of this countdown I ranked three players who will make over $7.5 million next season. The two assets I cover in Part 3 won’t even be on the roster next season. Actually, they might never player for the Bulls. But if they do ever come to Chicago, they could pay huge dividends.
GROUP C: “2020 All-Stars?”
5.) Nikola Mirotic
Chances are you’ve never heard of Mirotic. If so, you should probably remember the name.
The Bulls acquired the Montenegro native during a 2011 Draft day trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Considering all Chicago gave up was Norris Cole, Malcolm Lee and cash, it’s safe to say the Bulls got the better end of the deal. Mirotic has quietly become one of the best professional players outside the NBA. He’s already won two Euroleague Rising Star trophies, becoming the first player to do so, and was just named the ACB (Spanish League) MVP for the 2012-13 season.
Mirotic is as efficient of a player as you’ll find. The sweet-shooting power forward has never had below a 20.0 PER in any season in the Euroleague or ACB in 170 career games between the two leagues. He’s also never averaged less than 17.6 points per 40 minutes thanks to his knockdown shot.
Mirotic made 1.1 3-pointers per game in the ACB this past season at a 41.9 percent clip in 39 games. Those numbers are remarkable for anyone, but especially for a 6-foot-10 forward. Although Mirotic shot only 32.5 percent from downtown in the Euroleague, I wouldn’t panic. He shot 43.9 percent for threes the season before in the Euroleague while sporting a ridiculous 23.9 PER, ranking 10th in the league (min. of 10 GP and 10 MPG). His jumper, which closely resembles that of Dirk Nowitzki’s, is also effective inside the arc. According to In-The-Game, Mirotic shot 44.4 percent on 2-pointers outside the immediate basket area during Euroleague play this season (avg. for Euroleague power forwards was 37.9 percent). Most of these jumpers were set-up on his own as only 25 percent of his 2-pointers outside the restricted area were assisted (avg. for Euroleague power forwards was 43 percent). His field-goal percentage at the rim (64.3) and free-throw percentage (85.1) were also well above the Euroleague averages for power forwards (61.3 and 74.4 percent, respectively). Mirotic isn’t just a spot-up shooter, either.
Mirotic bodes well in all of the athletic categories (drawing fouls, rebounds, blocks and steals). He has averaged at least 8.5 rebounds per 40 minutes every season but one in the Euroleague and ACB. He averaged a career-high 9.6 rebounds per 40 minutes this season in the ACB. He also averaged 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes in the Euroleague and 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per 40 minutes in the ACB this season. Defensive ace he’s not, but he at least has the tools to become a decent defender in the NBA one day. He also drew fouls at a high rate for a shooter as his FTA/FGA was 0.45 in the ACB and 0.40 in the Euroleague. The season before he had a ridiculous 0.51 FTA/FGA, proving he’s much more than a typical European big man.
There’s no denying Mirotic could turn into an effective NBA player whenever he decides to come over. That is if he ever makes the move to the NBA.
You’re probably wondering why Mirotic hasn’t played for the Bulls if he was drafted in 2011. Well, it’s because he signed a contract with Real Madrid in 2011 that extends through the 2015-16 season with a $2 million buyout clause according to Draft Express. There is no chance Mirotic comes over next season, but Gar Forman sounded confident that the international star will sign with the Bulls next summer. After next season Mirotic’s rookie scale salary for being drafted at No. 23 would finally end. That way the Bulls could negotiate a contract in the range of around the mid-level exception. With Luol Deng’s contract coming off the books to go along with the likely amnesty of Boozer, the Bulls will have newfound cap room. If you need a Euro-stash success story to feel confident about Mirotic’s future in a Bulls jersey, look no further than Omer Asik.
A 2nd round pick in 2008, Asik didn’t play for the Bulls until the 2010-11 season. Asik thrived as a 24-year old rookie and improved even more during his sophomore season before the Bulls let him walk via free agency. Mirotic would also be a 24-year old rookie if he signs with the Bulls next summer. With all the experience he is gaining overseas, his transition to the NBA should be seamless if he ever decides to leave Spain. He might not be the next Nowitzki, but I see a lot of Ryan Anderson in him. If he ends up being even close to the player Anderson is for the Pelicans, he should immediately play a big role in Chicago.
4.) Protected Charlotte Pick
In any fantasy trade proposed by NBA experts or Bulls fans where Chicago acquires a superstar the protected Charlotte pick is almost always included, and with good reason.
The pick, which was acquired in the Tyrus Thomas trade, is top-10 protected in 2014, top-8 protected in 2015 and unprotected in 2016. So basically there is a very good chance this pick will turn into a future lottery selection. Even Gar Forman said after the Thomas trade that “we feel the future first-round pick will be important as we continue to build. It’s a chip we’ll be able to use whether to acquire a player or via trade down the road.” If any Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge trade comes to fruition, there’s a very good chance this pick will be dangled in the offer.
If the Bulls choose to hold onto the pick instead, here’s a look at their chances of receiving it before 2016.
The Bobcats would need to receive the 11th pick or later in the 2014 draft for the Bulls to get the pick. Charlotte has not drafted that late since 2009 when they took Gerald Henderson at No. 12. The team selecting at the 11 spot the last five years has averaged 35.4 wins (excluding the lockout-shortened season). The Bobcats last won 34 games during the 2010-11 season and won 44 games the previous year. This past season Charlotte mustered only 21 wins, so the Bobcats would have to improve their record by around 13 or more victories for their pick to go to the Bulls next year. That kind of improvement is very unlikely, but the 2014 draft is stacked if the pick falls in Chicago’s lap.
The Bulls would need Charlotte to draft at the No. 9 spot or later to receive their pick in 2015. The past five teams that held the ninth pick averaged 31.8 wins (once again excluding the lockout-shortened season). The Bobcats last drafted at the No. 9 spot or later when they drafted Kemba Walker with the ninth pick in 2011. For the Bulls to receive this pick Charlotte would need to improve its win total by around 11 victories in a two-year span. If the Bobcats land Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 draft, this type of improvement will actually be expected. Chicago receiving the pick in 2015 is basically the worst-case scenario. The 2014 draft is expected to be outstanding if the Bulls end up drafting at the No. 11 spot or later, but the 2015 draft is unlikely to pack as much punch.
The best-case scenario for the Bulls is receiving the pick in 2016 because it’s finally unprotected. Although there doesn’t seem to be any can’t miss prospects, it’s too early to tell. Unless Charlotte lands Wiggins in 2014 and/or Jahlil Okafor in 2015, their 2016 pick should at worst be in the top-12 selections. ESPN Insider’s Future Power Rankings, which ranks teams by the best three-year outlooks, predicts the Bobcats (or maybe Hornets by then) to be the worst team in the league for the next three seasons. If the Bobcats are still as awful as they are now by 2016, this pick should probably be ranked even higher on this list.
Even if the Bulls never end up drafting with this pick, teams will be asking about it in any trade for the next three seasons.