BROOKLYN -- Being a brainless player can be a compliment or put-down depending on its context, considering it keeps some players glued to the bench when coaches can’t trust their instincts.
For Nikola Mirotic, he’s being urged to turn the brain off and just play, receiving some extra prodding from the man who’ll likely benefit from his mere presence on the floor, Derrick Rose.
“I hate when he hesitates. Hate when he hesitates,” Rose repeated for emphasis after the Bulls’ blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, where they clinched homecourt advantage for the first-round series that starts this weekend.
Mirotic found himself open on a few occasions and didn’t feel comfortable letting loose early. Perhaps the thought of being unselfish was in his head but when the decision was made to flip the switch to “off”, that’s when
Mirotic got off and earned the admiration of a 50-50 crowd at Barclays Center Monday night.
“In the first half, they (teammates) were telling me, ‘Niko, don’t think, just shoot the ball. You’re wide open. Don’t pump fake’,” Mirotic said.
He was. The Nets defense couldn’t keep up with the Bulls’ ball movement and while trying to keep a handle on the Bulls’ guard penetration, left a gaping hole on the perimeter in the form of Mirotic.
“Gotta shoot. Gotta shoot,” Rose said. “That’s the way the offense is, If you’re open three times, if the game is telling you to shoot, we’re not gonna get mad. Shoot the ball.”
The game dictated that shots were given to Mirotic and finally, he accepted the challenge in the third quarter, hitting three straight to finish the period—only missing a corner triple at the buzzer.
“They’re right. I just need to shoot because when I think, I miss the shot,” Mirotic said. “So when I don’t think, I make the shot. I made the first one, the second one and there you go, keep shooting.”
Mirotic led the Bulls with 26 on the evening, hitting six of his eight field goals from long range. Considering he came from overseas with such a well-earned reputation as a shooter, hitting 31 percent from three seems a little puzzling on its face.
But he had the ability to create more overseas, and now he’s just getting used to recognizing when he’s open on the catch, and just letting it fly. Chances are, he’s heard you yelling at your screen when he hesitates in such matters.
“The shots were more handoffs, and like catch and shoot,” Mirotic said. “The movement sometimes being gone, so they’re not easy shots. But when you start making shots I’m making, they start learning me, start to play better defense on me. It’s not easy.”
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After having the freedom to create when Rose was out with injury, he’ll have fewer of those opportunities en masse—but with Rose on the floor, they open things up for each other. Rose found driving lanes that hadn’t been available in the past two games, which he’s attributed to playing more with Mirotic.
“I want to play with him a little bit more,” Rose said. “But the people I’ve been playng with, Taj (Gibson) Pau (Gasol), (Joakim Noah), I think we’ve done a great job. With Niko on the floor it’s another dimension, the way he spaces the floor. “
And now as the league has started to zero in on what Mirotic likes to do, he’ll have to ramp up the intensity for the upcoming postseason—while turning down the volume in his head.
“It’s normal, a really big adjustment. A lot of ups and downs,” said Mirotic of his fluctuating confidence. “I’m working hard the last part of the season. I’m working hard to prepare myself for the playoffs. Sometimes I play more, sometimes I play less. The chance is here so you have to play your part.”