Several Utah Jazz fans and the organization itself have at one point showed interest in Nikola Mirotic. But the Eastern Confernce Finals proved it’s time to move on from pining after him.
It goes without saying that the Utah Jazz have been in pursuit of a reliable stretch-four player for quite some time. Such a figure would fit well in Quin Snyder’s offense and would provide the Jazz with much-needed spacing and an additional scoring weapon on that end of the floor.
In that long-held quest for an ideal playmaking power forward, the Jazz and their fans have had their eyes on several different players, some realistic, some not so much. However, two years ago there was a guy that the Utah Jazz were purportedly pursuing rather heavily and many Jazz fans were tantalized by the prospect. The man I speak of is stretch-power forward Nikola Mirotic.
The believed scenario was that the Utah Jazz were aiming to put together a deal that in essence involved sending Derrick Favors to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Mirotic who played there at the time. Instead, no deal ultimately went down and Derrick has remained with the Jazz ever since. Meanwhile, Mirotic has bounced around a bit, playing with the New Orleans Pelicans after being traded, then being shipped off a second time to play with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Throughout that time, a contingent of Jazz fans has still been intrigued by the possibility of bringing Mirotic into the team’s mix. After all, he has a reputation as a knock-down shooter from the perimeter and it was even formerly reported that he was interested in playing in Salt Lake City under head coach Quin Snyder.
Now that he’s set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, it would appear that Utah’s chances of adding him to their mix are better than ever. However, I would caution those that are still peckish on the Jazz bringing him in.
In fact, especially after what we saw in the Milwaukee Bucks’ Eastern Conference Finals performance against the Toronto Raptors, I’d say it’s time for Jazz fans to refrain from pining after Mirotic at all.
But before I get to that, let me backtrack a bit. There’s no denying that there are some positives Mirotic could still bring. Offensively he’s certainly gifted. He averaged 16.7 points per game this past season and 15.6 the year before. His scoring ability would undoubtedly be a blessing for a Jazz team that often fails to produce weapons on that end of the floor.
He’s also more than capable of catching fire and burning down the nets from three, which is why he’s so widely regarded as a 3-point extraordinaire. But therein also lies an issue with Mirotic – he’s extremely streaky and his actually percentages from deep don’t exactly line up with his reputation as a perimeter specialist.
This past season, he shot 36.5 percent from deep – not bad (and certainly better than anything Favors has been able to muster from the 3-point line as of yet), but still not all that prolific. The year before he went a promising 42.9 percent with the Chicago Bulls, but that was over a span of just 25 games and clearly wasn’t sustainable as he later dropped to just 33.5 percent in his final 30 games with the New Orleans Pelicans, which was an unquestionably poor mark.
Then there’s the ever-present question about Nikola Mirotic on the defensive end. He’s a remarkably poor defender that is often exploited by opposing teams. Sure, many will say that Rudy Gobert and the rest of Utah’s staunch defensive roster could make up for his shortcomings, but I think that’s only true to an extent.
Mirotic played with the best defensive team in the league in the Milwaukee Bucks and his defensive weakness was still taken advantage of time after time. This was clearly visible in the series against the Toronto Raptors, providing a beautiful segue back to the point mentioned earlier.
After seeing Mirotic in that series, I would think Jazz fans would want to move on from their desires of acquiring him. He played so poorly in Game 5, that he didn’t see the floor in the second half, as he posted zero points off of four shot attempts in nine minutes of play. From there, he didn’t leave the bench in Game 6 as Coach Bud opted to not even give him minutes.
Throughout the postseason, Mirotic was awful from deep as he went just 28.9 percent. But those struggles were even further magnified in the Conference Finals when he dropped to 19.4 percent despite his attempts leaping to 6.2 per game. And this highlights another problem about Niko. Not only is he as streaky as they come in terms of getting hot then going cold, but he tends to be a very poor decision maker in terms of his shot selection.
Yes, shooters should keep on shooting even when they’re cold, but regardless of whether a shooter is hot or cold they need to be smart about the shots they take. Mirotic often hurt the Bucks by taking shots out of rhythm, out of the offense or at times when he instead should have ceded the shot to another teammate who had a better look.
In other words, between his non-existent defense, his perennial streakiness from deep and his, to put it bluntly, unintelligent and detrimental offensive decisions, he became completely unplayable in the Bucks’ biggest game of the year, an elimination Game 6 that unfortunately for Milwaukee fans didn’t go their way.
Mirotic became unplayable in the postseason, which is the last kind of player the Jazz need to add. Considering the struggles guys like Jae Crowder, Joe Ingles and Kyle Korver had with disappearing this past postseason, and the issues Rudy Gobert has had in the playoffs against an elite team like the Houston Rockets, adding another guy who can’t come through in the postseason on the game’s biggest stage should be far from Utah’s mind.
In the Conference Finals, Mirotic posted the worst plus/minus of any one of his teammates by a wide margin with a horrific mark of minus-7.4. For the Jazz to rise to the next level, they need someone who checks far more boxes than Mirotic comes close to checking. They need a reliable shot-maker from deep who can also penetrate into the paint and create his own shot. They need someone who can at least play serviceable, if not great, defense.
And perhaps most importantly, they need someone who can rise to the occasion when the stakes are highest, something Mirotic utterly failed to do with a chance to help send his team to the NBA Finals. I get where the intrigue with Mirotic for Jazz fans stems from, but all told, his reality just doesn’t quite fit with the dream.
Of course, the challenge the Jazz face in free agency is that they tend to struggle to lure in any big names. If the Jazz strike out on top options such as Kemba Walker or Tobias Harris, then continue to fail on options B, C and D, do they then just try to do the best they can by going for a guy like Mirotic that may add at least somewhat of a new wrinkle?
I suppose it’s possible, particularly considering that he’s apparently been on their radar in the past. But Dennis Lindsey has made it clear that he isn’t looking to make moves just for the sake of making moves, but instead that everything will be well thought out and methodical to make the Jazz legitimately better without handicapping them down the road.
In my mind, the addition of Mirotic would be a mediocre move that would do more of the latter rather than the former. Because of his unreliability on either end of the floor, poor decision making and inability to rise to the occasion, Jazz brass should pivot entirely from their former interest in him and instead pursue other targets.
And Utah Jazz fans would do well to follow suit, leaving desires of Nikola Mirotic to Utah well behind, much like the Bucks left him squarely on the bench during the final six quarters of the Eastern Conference Finals.