(Originally published on The Bulls Zone)
One of the most common terms in NBA circles these days is the idea of a “stretch four.” This term implies that the power forward can shoot three pointers and thus stretches the defense to provide open space in the lane for the rest of the team to operate. This term may be new, but the concept isn’t. Former NBA players such as the great Larry Bird, Detlef Schrempf, Derrick Coleman, Sam Perkins, and even Toni Kukoc would’ve been classified as stretch fours if that were a common term in the 80s/90s. With the current Bulls, many experts, fans, and bloggers refer to Nikola Mirotic as a “stretch four” with the insinuation that he’s essentially Ryan Anderson: He just stands around the arc and lights it up. Bulls fans, that’s simply not true.
I watched several Real Madrid games featuring Nikola Mirotic before he joined the Bulls last season and the idea that he should just roam the perimeter like Mike Dunleavy is silly. If that’s all you’re wanting Nikola Mirotic to do, then you’re grossly misusing him and wasting his talents. I wrote about why fans should be excited for Mirotic two years ago and included videos that showcased his vast offensive arsenal. If you’ve been following Eurobasket, you’re seeing a different – and possibly more comfortable – Nikola Mirotic in this tournament. Spain has enabled Mirotic to post up more frequently after a rough start and it’s paid dividends. This is a throwback to his days with Real Madrid. Here a couple of examples I used two years ago:
And here are several plays where Mirotic scored in the paint. In the following clip, you’ll see Mirotic post up three times: Scores on a jump hook, a sweet pass to Pau which draws a foul, and an and-one. You will also see Mirotic running the court, getting in the lane, and scoring. Good things happen when Mirotic gets in the paint and doesn’t loaf around the three-point line aimlessly waiting for a pass:
Mirotic is also excellent at drawing fouls. Per basketball-reference.com, Mirotic was third on the team in total free-throw attempts and fourth on the team in free-throw attempts per game. Allowing Mirotic the opportunity to post up will also enable him to get to the free-throw line where he is a capable shooter at 80%. In Eurobasket 2015, he’s averaged 4.4 attempts per game and shot 80% there as well.
Allowing Mirotic to do more than just roam the perimeter has also been a benefit in Eurobasket. He looks more comfortable on the court and his percentages are miles higher than his percentages during his rookie season: He is shooting 58.9% from the field in Eurobasket (40.9% last year for the Bulls) and 38.1% from three (31.6% for the Bulls). Obviously there’s a difference in the level of competition, but it’s an encouraging sign nonetheless. Also, as I wrote about recently, Mirotic will be playing for a more flexible offensive coach who should have a sense of utilizing each individual players’ strengths. If Hoiberg gives Mirotic the opportunity to post up more frequently, it could pay huge dividends for both the Bulls and Nikola Mirotic.
However, Mirotic shouldn’t just be limited to posting up. During Eurobasket, we’ve seen the guards for Spain driving and kicking to an open Mirotic for some easy threes. Here is one example from Eurobasket. In the following video, Sergio Llull penetrates and draws in the defense, kicks it, and the ball swings around to a wide open Nikola Mirotic who buries the three:
It’s not difficult to see how the Bulls could adopt some of this into their offense. Obviously, Derrick Rose is capable of attacking the rim and drawing in opposing defenses. Jimmy Butler is as well. Mirotic has also been playing with Pau Gasol during this tournament and no doubt some of their chemistry will carry over into this season. Joakim Noah is one of the best passing big men in the NBA. The tools are there for the Bulls to find good looks for not only Mirotic, but Dunleavy, McDermott, and Snell. Again, I have confidence in Fred Hoiberg‘s ability to create an offense that utilizes these strengths and increases the Bulls’ efficiency on the offensive end.
The potential for Nikola Mirotic to be an All-Star is there, but it’s all a matter of playing him to his strengths. He’s not Ryan Anderson. He’s not going to just hang out and launch threes all game long. He’s a much more versatile scorer than that and to not utilize those talents would be a foolish mistake for the Bulls.
You can follow Brandon Pence on Twitter at @thebullscharge