We’re already more than 20% into the NBA season with the Bulls having played nearly one third of their road games. Let’s check the early temperatures on the Bulls’ three rookies (we didn’t forget you, Cameron Bairstow!).
Nikola Mirotic – HOT
It’s early yet, but Mirotic has been a revelation for Tom Thibodeau with Taj Gibson on the shelf indefinitely due to a severe ankle sprain. While Niko was drafted in 2011 and is 23 years old, it’s rare to see a rookie take to the offensive side of the game so quickly. Mirotic has been a nightmare for bench forwards to guard thus far with his mix of pump fakes, quick threes, drives to the hoop, more pump fakes, and nice dishes. While he clearly will have to learn when to pump fake and when to launch a bomb, the depth of Mirotic’s skill-set has been wildly encouraging.
Thus far, he’s shooting 44% on 39.5% from distance, where he takes nearly half of his field goal attempts. Yet Nikola has still accrued a .413 free throw rate, a top-notch rate for a stretch four. He’s also shot 81.8% at the stripe, making him an extremely efficient scorer. Since Taj went down in Portland, Mirotic has played 27.6 minutes per game as the third big man. While consistency in Thibs’ defensive system will only come from lots of hard work and repetition, Mirotic’s averages of 1.0 steals and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes are through the roof. Of course he’s racking up 5.4 fouls per 36 as well, so there is plenty of room for growth.
Doug McDermott – COLD
As a four year college player and a coach’s son, McDermott was expected to be more NBA ready than the younger whippersnappers entering the league with him. Thus far, that simply hasn’t been the case. Dougie Fresh is shooting a paltry 23.1% from the three point line and has looked lost on both ends of the court more often than not. While he almost certainly is skilled at navigating screens and getting open on offense, his constant activity has created a storm of turnovers whenever he gets the ball. He’s simply not ready, or good enough, to be Kyle Korver, as sad as that may make Gar Forman. He has been surprisingly solid at getting to the rim and drawing fouls, though.
It’s obviously been a very small sample size, but Thibs is losing any trust he had in the rookie. McDermott only topped 12 minutes once on the circus road trip, in the blowout loss to Portland. McDermott will have to keep working in practice to earn Thibodeau’s trust back and make the most of the limited minutes that he’s still getting (pour one out for Tony Snell). You shouldn’t close the book on Doug, but there are many who never would’ve chosen to read this one to begin with.
Cameron Bairstow – What’s Cooler Than Being Cool?
Ice Cold! Not that we expected much out of Bairstow after last year’s misguided optimism over Erik Murphy, but he looks beyond terrible out there. When Cameron was inexplicably forced into starting duty with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson out of the lineup, he struggled to make an impact on either side of the floor. His jump shot is uglier than James Harden’s feet. He will be out of the league by this time next season.