Glance at Monday night’s Bulls-Pistons box score and it shows Dwyane Wade had five assists.
Before the game, the veteran guard posted his most important one.
“(Wade) came to me and said, ‘Niko, we’re going to try to find you in the corner because it’s an easy 3-pointer you can make so it gives you confidence,'” Nikola Mirotic related after practice Tuesday at the Advocate Center. “And he found me. It was the first 3-pointer I made. That was good of him.”
The Bulls are a completely different offensive team when Mirotic and Doug McDermott make shots and provide spacing. Both scored 13 points in the blowout victory over the Pistons, combining to shoot 4-for-9 from 3-point range.
Mirotic, who had been benched for the previous two games for the first time in his three-year NBA career, sank three 3-pointers.
Now the trick is building on such a performance. And Mirotic knows it.
“I need to find a way to be consistent. That’s what I’m missing,” he said. “I just need to enjoy basketball, play my basketball. Sometimes I put too much pressure on myself.
“I know what I can do. I know my strengths. I know my weaknesses. The most important thing, do what they ask me to do. Space the floor, shoot when I’m open.
“Sometimes I know I can do something different, but it’s what the team needs.”
That last line might mark the first time Mirotic has acknowledged publicly that he’s more effective when he’s not limited to spot-up shooting. Flash back to March 2015, when Mirotic led the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring as a rookie. He made plays off the dribble and in the post.
The problem is, with primary ballhandlers such as Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, Mirotic’s role for this team is mostly to be a floor spacer. Asked if making plays off the dribble makes him a more effective spot-up shooter, Mirotic took the high road.
“I feel this is the perfect place for me,” he said. “I feel I can improve as a player and I’m very happy to be part of this team. I’m just now hoping and working to improve each day. It’s on me. I know I can do it.”
The Bulls need any kind of contribution from Mirotic and McDermott they can get. Coach Fred Hoiberg said teammates did a better job Monday of seeking out McDermott in transition. Increasing his 3-point attempts has been a focus in practice.
“Still trying to get my rhythm and legs from the injury and have come a long way,” McDermott said, citing 12 games he missed because of a second concussion. “Our best games of the year are when we share the ball. Our bench feeds off that.”
Mirotic admitted he took the benching hard. Hoiberg can relate.
“You’re talking to a guy that got taken out of the lineup a lot,” Hoiberg said. “You just keep working and be ready when your name’s called. Niko did a good job with that, and our guys did a good job of finding him after he hit a couple shots to keep him going.”
Added Mirotic: “I spent a lot of hours working and my mind was clear. When I came back to the court, I played simple basketball. Don’t rush. I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone, just try to enjoy. I put the pressure away and prepared myself.”
At any point during his struggles, did Mirotic’s mind drift to the unthinkable. You know, shaving his magnificent beard?
“Never,” Mirotic said, smiling. “I know the power’s in the beard.”