Mirotic’s skill set a nat­u­ral fit for Bucks

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Sports - Matt Ve­lazquez

Nikola Mirotic was at the New Or­leans Pel­i­cans’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity on Thurs­day morn­ing ready to go through his day as nor­mal. He had heard ru­mors and whis­pers about the pos­si­bil­ity he would be moved be­fore the NBA’s trade dead­line that day, but not enough for him to ex­pect any­thing.

Then came a phone call from Pel­i­cans gen­eral man­ager Dell Demps. Upon an­swer­ing, Mirotic heard the words he thought might be com­ing — he had been traded. The only ques­tion was where he’d be go­ing.

Demps then sur­prised Mirotic, telling he’d be headed to Mil­wau­kee to join the Bucks.

“I was re­ally ex­cited,” Mirotic re­called at his in­tro­duc­tory press con­fer­ence Satur­day at Fis­erv Fo­rum. “I knew it was ideal for me, a good op­por­tu­nity. Ac­tu­ally, the best record in the NBA, so couldn’t be hap­pier to be part of this team.”

Mirotic, a na­tive of Mon­tene­gro who turns 28 on Mon­day, spent Thurs­day mak­ing lo­gis­ti­cal ar­range­ments be­fore ar­riv­ing in Mil­wau­kee on Fri­day while the rest of the team was in Dal­las. In Mil­wau­kee, he met with Bucks gen­eral man­ager Jon Horst and got ac­cli­mated to his third new city in just over a year hav­ing been traded from the Chicago Bulls to the Pel­i­cans last Feb. 1.

Ev­ery­thing he heard from and about his new team led him to be­lieve that he found a land­ing spot where his skills as a 6-foot-10 multi-di­men­sional scorer — par­tic­u­larly a three-point shooter — would fit well.

“They want a shooter, some­body who is go­ing to spread the floor, es­pe­cially with Gian­nis (An­te­tok­oun­mpo) go­ing to the bas­ket,” Mirotic said. “There’s much more I can do, ob­vi­ously. This year has been my best year for re­bound­ing. I am just not a shooter. Most of the guys think I can just shoot the ball, but there’s much more to my game. It de­pends how they’re go­ing to use me; I just want to do what’s the best for the team. I’m sure I’m go­ing to ad­just fast and be ready to play.”

Mirotic had his first meet­ing with his team­mates, coach Mike Bu­den­holzer and the Bucks coach­ing staff on Satur­day when he went through some prac­tice and shoot­ing work. The ses­sion

wasn’t ex­ten­sive con­sid­er­ing Mirotic has been deal­ing with a strained right calf mus­cle for nearly three weeks.

But what Bu­den­holzer saw was enough to im­press him. He was en­cour­aged by Mirotic’s calf and over­all health, though not enough to play Mirotic in Satur­day’s loss to the Or­lando Magic. More than any­thing, the Bucks want to be cau­tious with Mirotic’s health and only play him when he is back to full health.

Mirotic said his calf is feel­ing great and he could be ready as soon as Mon­day when the Bucks visit his first team, the Chicago Bulls, at 7 p.m. at the United Cen­ter. Un­til then, Bu­den­holzer will face the tough yet wel­come task of find­ing a spot for Mirotic in Mil­wau­kee’s ro­ta­tion.

The Bucks’ 10-man core ro­ta­tion in­cludes An­te­tok­oun­mpo, Brook Lopez, Er­san Ilyasova and D.J. Wil­son in the front­court and with that group, the Bucks have gone 15-4 since Ilyasova re­turned from a bro­ken nose in early Jan­uary. Mirotic, who is av­er­ag­ing ca­reer highs with 16.7 points and 8.3 re­bounds this sea­son and has con­nected on nearly 36 per­cent of three-point­ers in his ca­reer, is in Mil­wau­kee be­cause the Bucks be­lieve he can add to their ro­ta­tion and will cer­tainly get min­utes to prove it.

“He’s just a re­ally ver­sa­tile player, so it’s just ex­cit­ing to think about the dif­fer­ent ways we can in­cor­po­rate him of­fen­sively,” Bu­den­holzer said. “I think there’s a tough­ness to him that’s maybe un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated. De­fen­sively, I think he’ll stick his nose in. He’s shown to be a lit­tle bet­ter de­fender than many peo­ple give him credit for, so just with he and Gian­nis and whether it be Brook or Er­san or D.J., there’s just a lot of ver­sa­til­ity there in how we can use these guys and still be re­ally good on both ends of the court.”

Whether or not he plays on Mon­day, Mirotic is no stranger to be­ing traded at this time of year. Last year, he joined the Pel­i­cans for the stretch run and made ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions in the playoffs, av­er­ag­ing 15.0 points over two rounds while shoot­ing 43.1 per­cent on three­p­oint­ers.

He hopes to be the miss­ing piece the Bucks need as they head to­ward the playoffs, which will be Mirotic’s fourth post­sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence in five sea­sons. It will take some time to ad­just and fig­ure out ex­actly how he can fit in Mil­wau­kee’s puzzle, but he plans to use the team’s up­com­ing road trip and all-star break to get up to speed as much as pos­si­ble. “I think it’s great be­cause I need to ad­just to the team, I need a lit­tle bit more time,” Mirotic said of the forth­com­ing stretch. “In this off time I can stay here in Mil­wau­kee and I can prac­tice. Also, my fam­ily is here with me, so we can find a new house. There’s a lot of things to do and just get ready for the end of the sea­son.”



Nikola Mirotic has been deal­ing with a strained right calf mus­cle and did not play Satur­day, but might play tonight against the Bulls.

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