While celebrating the return of Zach LaVine, I blithely wrote this sentence in my last blog: “If Niko [Mirotic] is traded, I’m confident this young group of guys will be able to make up for his absence.”
Second thoughts are second nature to me, needless to say that sentence has been a burr in the old brain saddle for a couple days now.
The “group of guys” I was referring to, of course, are the Bulls young core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Bobby Portis. Here’s the problem with the above statement, it’s not true. If and when Niko Mirotic leaves the Bulls, he will be SORELY missed.
Niko Mirotic is integral to the success of this Bulls team. The 18 points he dropped on the Miami Heat in the 4th quarter of Mondays game was the deciding factor in the Bulls 119-111 win. Niko is one of the best scorers on the Bulls roster, and he is one of the most dependable defenders as well.
Niko doing work against Miami… pic.twitter.com/dCZRRpNuFC
— Rok Deez (@rokdeezblog) January 17, 2018
His ability to play both offense and defense at a fairly consistent level has made him the key to closing out tight games. His energy and experience in late game situations has been enough to push the Bulls over the hump. It’s no coincidence that the Bulls have been a winning team since Mirotic returned from his broken face. The numbers tell the same story.
(I’m about to take a dive into the advanced stats pool. I’m pretty sure I know where I’m going, but I don’t swim in this pool very often, so… here thar be monsters?!)
NBA.com has a very fleshed out statistics page for each team and player throughout the entire history of the NBA (or at least for as long as stats have been kept). It’s pretty neat. One of the stats that they keep track of is called Net Rating (NetRtg). Net Rating for a team is the point differential per 100 posessions, and for a player it is the point differential of the team (per 100 posessions) while that player is on the court. Confusing? Probably, suffice it to say, if a Net Rating is a positive number that’s a good thing, and if it’s a negative number it’s a bad thing.
I checked the net rating for all the Bulls players, specifically in the 4th quarter, Niko by far had the best on the court net rating…
Only 3 players on the Bulls have a positive on court net rating in the 4th quarter of games: Mirotic, Bobby Portis, and David Nwaba (Please ignore Ryan Arcidiacono, his single minute of 4th quarter action is too small a sample size to give an accurate rating. Also, you’ll notice that Zach LaVine will not appear on any of these charts, he has yet to play in a 4th quarter this season.). Every other Bulls player is in the negative.
Things get even worse when Niko ISN’T on the court during the 4th quarter…
The Bulls lose 11.6 points every 100 possessions Niko doesn’t play in the 4th quarter.
All together, Niko is worth about 20 points every 100 possessions in the 4th quarter. Why? If he plays then the other team won’t get their 11.6 points, and, when Niko plays he adds another 8.6 points every 100 possessions. So, taken together, that’s about 20 points or so that he is responsible for on and off the court, also known as the 4th quarter on/off net rating differential (I might have just made that up)…
Interestingly enough, Niko’s +20.2 points differential in the 4th quarter holds up well when compared to some of the leagues super stars: Kevin Durant is only a +14.7, and Steph Curry is barely a positive at +0.04. James Harden is +9.8, Lebron James is +6.1, Russel Westbrook is +3.1, and Kyrie Irving is a woeful -2.4! Of the eight super stars I checked, only Klay Thompson and Chris Paul had better 4th quarter on/off net rating differentials than Niko. Klay boasts a +23.3, and CP3 has a whopping +33.7!!! Outrageous!!!
Okay, okay, enough with the numbers. All of the charts and comparisons are meant to paint a simple picture; a portrait of Niko Mirotic’s importance to the Bulls in late game situations. If and when he leaves the team, taking his +20.2 points per 100 4th quarter possessions with him, the Bulls will have the hard task of making up the difference. The team will struggle to win close games if players like Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis can’t fill Niko’s 4th quarter shoes.
So I take back what I said in my previous post; I’m not convinced the young Bulls core can make up a Niko sized hole in the roster. He is too much a part of this teams late game success, and he contributes too much overall to be dismissed out of hand. That being said, if you really want to tank this season, it’s well past time to trade Niko.
And now for something completely different.
— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) January 13, 2018
The Worst Records in the NBA:
1. Atlanta Hawks 12-31 .279
2. Orlando Magic 13-31 .295
3. Sacramento Kings 13-30 .302
4. Memphis Grizzlies 14-28 .333
5. Dallas Mavericks 15-30 .333
9. Chicago Bulls 17-27 .386