Nikola Mirotic proving his value, in Chicago or elsewhere

When Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic engaged in physical altercations with teammate Bobby Portis in October, many assumed that it would have been the end of the Montenegrin’s time in the Windy City.

Fast forward a few months, though, and Mirotic is in the midst of arguably the best three-game stint of his career.

Since he returned from injury on December 8th, the forward has been averaging 19.5 points per game and 5.8 rebounds. He has been lights out from three, as well: he has made 12 of his 23 attempts through four games. That percentage – 52.2 percent – is the highest in the league among players who have shot at least 20 three-point shots all season. No other Bulls player averages more than 40 percent from behind the arc this year.

Mirotic’s+17 plus-minus rating is already the second-highest on the Bulls, with David Nwaba being the first. Considering Mirotic isn’t a great defender, that’s an impressive statistic. His 130.2 offensive rating already leads the team. To put it in perspective, only Chris Paul has a higher offensive rating among qualified players. Mirotic also has 17 rebounds in the past two games.

Oh, and the Bulls haven’t lost a game since he came back.

The Bulls, who were 3-20 before Mirotic came back from injury, have won four games in a row. They went up against three mediocre teams and a Boston Celtics team that didn’t have Kyrie Irving, sure. But those were three games that they arguably should have lost. The fourth-year stretch four has brought about a spark on offense that had been severely lacking prior to his return.

Is it likely that Mirotic will keep up this pace? Probably not. After all, rookie Lauri Markkanen sat out in Mirotic’s two best games this year. Having him return will likely result in the veteran’s losing minutes. However, it’s clear that Mirotic is finally hitting his stride as a shooter, just one season after having a down year from three.

Whether or not the Bulls will keep him is anyone’s guess. Although they have played well as of late, let’s not lose sight of the fact that they are still rebuilding. Chicago needs to stock up on draft picks, and it’s clear that Mirotic would have some sort of trade value when he becomes eligible to be traded on January 15th. In today’s age of “small ball”, having a big man who can stretch the floor is always a welcome addition. Surely a handful of teams would like a chance to add one in Mirotic.

On the other hand, one could argue that it would be smart for the Bulls to keep him around as a long-term building block. Even though he is one of the older players on the team, he’s still quite young. Only three players on the team are older than he is, and he’s just 26 years old. Keeping him on the team would ensure that they have a reliable veteran option for years to come.

Plus, Mirotic is great to have around for the development of Lauri Markkanen. The two of them have fairly similar styles of play. With Mirotic around, Markkanen would have a great player to learn from as he develops his skill set.

Regardless of whether or not Chicago trades Mirotic this year, he has been playing very well this season. That helps the struggling Bulls out no matter what.

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