In the latest reminder that the NBA is a global game, Marko Simonović made his NBA debut Monday, albeit in a Summer League contest.
The Chicago Bulls’ 2020 second-round pick, who confirmed he has signed for the upcoming season, did so on the same day that Dirk Nowitzki and a Mavericks contingent watched Luka Doncić agree to a $207 million contract extension in Doncić's native Slovenia.
After Simonović looked solid and unfazed while tallying 13 points and five rebounds, the native of Montenegro revealed he looked up to the German-born Nowitzki while growing up.
As he grew older, Simonović began appreciating the game of Nikola Jokić, who played for the same club as Simonović did, albeit before him, in Jokić's native Serbia.
“Dirk Nowitzki was really amazing for me. It’s one of my idols,” Simonović said via Zoom from Las Vegas. “I tried to practice how he played. I listened to what he said. I tried to practice how he practiced. I think he’s one of the best players ever from Europe to play in the NBA.
“Now in the last two, three years, I always follow Nikola Jokić. This is an amazing guy... how he shares the ball, how he’s smart on the court.”
Oh, and the man who drafted Jokić to the Nuggets and Simonović to the Bulls? That’s Lithuanian-born Artūras Karnišovas, who also dealt for Simonović's countryman Nikola Vučević at the March trade deadline.
Got all that? It’s a lot. And so is trying to transition to the NBA when you don’t turn 22 until October and everything is new.
“First time in the States, first time in Chicago, first time in Vegas,” Simonović said. “I love Chicago.”
And Chicago could grow to love Simonović, even if taking the route from second-round pick to most valuable player that Jokić traveled is an unrealistic expectation.
How about, at least for now, solid rotation player for a franchise that already has trimmed Thad Young and Daniel Theis from its frontcourt and could be doing the same with Lauri Markkanen?
“I think next season I can help the team,” Simonović said. “I’m a guy who runs the court. I’m a big man, but I like to run. I like to share the ball.
“My goal is to run fast, to be faster than the other bigs, to run better than them. But I think I can shoot from 3 points, share the ball, rebound the ball. That’s my part.”
Simonović played that part on Monday against the Pelicans. He showed great aptitude for running the court in transition, didn’t shy away from contact and knocked down four of six shots.
“He knows how to play,” Damian Cotter said.
Cotter is an assistant coach for Billy Donovan and serving as head coach for the Bulls at NBA Summer League. He also is a native of Australia — there’s that global game impact again — who knows what it’s like to transition to a new culture and country.
“Going through this myself four years ago, the basketball is different,” Cotter said. “I feel like Marko has steadily improved every time he stepped on the floor. He ran the floor well (Monday). He has got to be a little bit better with his communication defensively, but that’s going to take time. He’s only been here three weeks.
“He’s skilled. He’s going to have to learn to deal with athletes going forward. As he gets more confident with the system, he’ll start talking better.”
Simonović began playing basketball at age 7 and left home as a teenager to play professionally in Italy. He said he may have family members or a support system come live with him in Chicago at some point. But for now, he’s living on his own. He’s surrounded by his new family, his teammates and coaches, playing the global game he loves.
“My goal is to be better every day, to work hard,” Simonović said. “This is everything new for me. I’m coming from Europe and everything is different. But I feel really good and people tell me I look good.”