As Bulls get healthy, rookie Mirotic continues to shine
CHICAGO – Positivity comes in trickles out of the Advocate Center in an injury-riddled month of basketball.
Slowly but surely the good news is coming out a little faster when it comes to whose in an whose out.
Jimmy Butler (Elbow) and Taj Gibson (Ankle) were both full participants during the Bulls Thursday’s practice. Each has a shot to return in the Bulls upcoming stretch against the Raptors on Friday, Pistons on Saturday and then the Hornets Monday night.
“After each day it’s been getting better and better. They said for one bad day, you’re going to have two positive days,” said Gibson, who is listed as questionable for the game against Toronto at the United Center on Friday. “I felt great today and we’ll just see about tomorrow and the next day.”
Per usual Tom Thibodeau was non-committal on exactly when he or Butler might rejoin the lineup but he was straightforward with the guy that’s helped replace them and others over the past month.
“His skill set and the fact that he can play two positions has really helped us,” said Thibodeau of Nikola Mirotic-a rookie who has enjoyed cluster of strong games in the month of March.
The multifaceted forward is averaging 20.8 points and 8.2 rebounds during his 32 minutes of play over the last ten contests. In a win Wednesday over the Pacers hit 8-of-15 shots from the field for 25 points along with nine rebounds in a 17-point Bulls win. That followed a strong 27 point outing on the road against the Thunder on Sunday.
"His opportunity to play more with all the injuries was good, the opportunity to grow," said Thibodeau of Mirotic. "He's learning the league. Now he's seeing teams for a third or fourth time so he's understanding who his opponent is, what the team is trying to do, what they're trying to do to him.
"He's done a really good job."
Mirotic's emergence is something they might have hoped for when they acquired his right in a draft night trade in 2011. He remained with his Spanish professional team Real Madrid through the 2013-2014 season before finally signing a deal with the Bulls this past offseason.
For most of the season Mirotic was only a bit part in the Bulls team as he never averaged more than nine minutes a game until March. Starting with the Clippers game on the first of the month-when injuries started to pile up for the team-Mirotic has become a major part of the Bulls' fight for seeding in the Eastern Conference.
While his offensive numbers jump out at the casual observer, Gibson praised Mirotic's work on defense as being the biggest improvement since his minutes increased.
"He can score the ball very well but he's just been going after it in practice on defense," said Gibson of Mirotic. "You can tell how Thibs and other guys are talking to him now, he's getting a lot of encouragement and it's good because we're going to need everybody to make this last push."
When perhaps, for once, good news will outweigh the bad.