The experimenting at power forward will continue Thursday in Indianapolis as the Bulls will start Nikola Mirotic with the first group against the Pacers.
Mirotic struggled in the preseason opener, missing six of his seven shots in 19 minutes. Considering Mirotic’s ability to shoot from the perimeter, it’s logical to think the Bulls will give him every opportunity to seize the position, although pairing Taj Gibson with Robin Lopez could give the Bulls a formidable backline tandem defensively in terms of rebounding and rim protection.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Mirotic’s showing wasn’t an indication of how he’s performed in camp. Entering his third season, there’s still question if Mirotic is a dependable player on a nightly basis or someone who will do just enough to tease a team.
“I think the biggest area he has made strides is defensively,” Hoiberg said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. I think he’s playing more within himself on the offensive end. His shot selection has been very good. And really, besides the other night, he has shot the ball extremely well.”
For the Bulls to work, with the new players and Hoiberg’s scheme, Mirotic is just as critical on some levels as say, Rajon Rondo or even Dwyane Wade. And with power forward being the deepest position, Mirotic has plenty of competition for minutes, like Bobby Portis.
“Last year I didn’t really play that much, but this year I’m looking forward to playing a lot,” Portis said. “I don’t look at it as a competition thing with Taj and Niko. I look at it as a thing of me just going out there and being myself from day 1.”
Portis had a shaky stretch in the first half against the Bucks, but Hoiberg said he played better in the second half. Finding his value aside from being an aggressive scorer will be his battle this season, as he took eight shots in 26 minutes.
“I didn’t shoot the ball well but I still played hard as I could, I was still tenacious, and I still brought a lot of energy to the game,” Portis said. “Just not scoring is one thing. Scoring is not one thing that I want to rely on. I want to go out there and be a full basketball player. I want to be a two-way basketball player in this league.”
Hoiberg won’t be ramping up minutes just yet, as the Bulls play Saturday at home then there’s a long break before their final five preseason games.
“We still want to get our young guys an opportunity,” Hoiberg said. “Paul Zipser will see some minutes tomorrow. We will continue to ramp up and get our guys ready for the regular season.”
Zipser is the Bulls’ second-round pick and will play both forward spots. It doesn’t appear he’ll have a real shot at playing time this season with the roster set.