The New Orleans Pelicans are like your favorite restaurant. They aren’t too expensive and luxurious that you can’t eat there whenever you want, but they are tasty enough to keep you coming back for more.
Anthony Davis is the man behind the magic, the cook if you will. He whips up the food that keeps your stomach full. Jrue Holiday is the waiters and busboys, setting and clearing the tables and bringing you your meal. He isn’t quite on the level of the cook, but he is an essential part of keeping the establishment’s cogs turning, without him you are left to go and get your own meals and clean up your own mess, which would ruin the experience.
Then there is Nikola Mirotic, the decor. Unlike the food quality and the service, he isn’t really the reason you love the restaurant, but you still immediately notice him when you walk in. He isn’t the most important piece of the puzzle, but he is the glue that fills the gaps between those crucial details that you adore.
After arriving in the Big Easy from the Chicago Bulls via a mid-season trade, the 27-year-old has been a revelation. Unlike the popular perception of big men who can shoot triples at a high rate, especially of the European variety, his game reaches far past that of the typical ‘stretch four’.
He was a major key in the Pelicans’ second-round playoff run last season, and in the 17 games in his first full season for the Pels he is averaging an impressive 19.1 points and 10.9 rebounds, all while converting a mediocre 35.4 percent of his 3-point tries. Instead of being boxed into the role as a shooting big, and in turn dying on that hill when his shot isn’t falling, Mirotic chooses to impact the game in a myriad of ways.
In lieu of constantly setting up camp behind the arc, Nikola Mirotic expands his offensive role deep into the post. The formidable frontcourt trio of Mirotic, Anthony Davis and Julius Randle have struck fear into opponents this season, but only the 6-foot-10 Montenegrin does so in the form of post-ups.
Davis gets the ball delivered to him on the block the most, but the generational talent has been surprisingly inefficient so far this season. The Brow is receiving eight post-ups per game, but he is only making 32.8 percent of the field goals he garners from them. Randle is a bully down low, and his 45.9 percent clip on 4.1 attempts per night is less cruddy than Davis’ numbers, but connecting on less than half of your shots from the block is still less than ideal.
Mirotic, on the other hand, has been involved in fewer post-ups (because he is the most reliable 3-point threat of the three) but he has been a flamethrower when he does venture off the 3-point line. With his ability to come off screens and find cutting lanes with an underrated quickness, it’s easy to forget just how big and bulky Nikola Mirotic really is.
He uses his quick moves to slip past defenders when he faces up, and his girth to back down opponents and work his way closer to the cup. While he is capable of finishing in a variety of different ways, Mirotic’s go-to move is the simple but effective hook shot, which his 6-foot-10 size allows him to get off with ease.
For the season, Mirotic is converting 62.5 percent of the field goals that come from his 2.2 post-up opportunities each night:
When he isn’t posting up and feasting on defenders that way, Mirotic is an expert at finding cutting lanes to sneak into. That is one of the biggest reasons that Jrue Holiday is currently ranked second in the league for assists per game (9.2). With Holiday’s vision in finding the open man and Mirotic’s finely tuned ability to get himself open in advantageous positions, the pair fit together like macaroni and cheese.
It’s clear on offense that the big man has a ton more to offer other than jacking up triples, he is an all-around threat that must be constantly watched by defenders. However, perhaps the most striking way that Mirotic stands out from the prototypical stretch four is his ability to rebound his position exceptionally.
At a tick under 11 per game, Niko is currently ranked 14th in the rebounding leaderboards. He is currently the only one of those top 14 players have splashed home over two 3-pointers per game. Most of the bigs in the league that dominated the rebounding ranks can hit the occasional long-ball these days, stretching the floor is the way the league is trending, but only Mirotic (and maybe the injured Kevin Love) can do both at an elite level. Now that’s unicorn status.
When he came into the league, Nikola Mirotic was the typical power forward who does little else but space the floor and get long-range buckets. Now in his fifth year since making the leap from Euroleague basketball to the big leagues, the 27-year-old is so much more than just a floor spacer.
Mirotic everything you want from a modern-day power forward. He is a true jack of all trades. It’s time to start looking at him that way.