NBA Trade Deadline: What Nikola Mirotic Brings to the Milwaukee Bucks
It was all quiet on the Western front during trade deadline day in the NBA. Well, maybe a little bit of noise was made; but compared to the Eastern Conference, there was little more than a whimper out West. The perceived arms race to finish runner-up to the Golden State Warriors (or, to put it more generously: “to win the East”) is heating up, with the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Toronto Raptors all beefing up their rosters for the stretch run.
Milwaukee made its move on Thursday afternoon, acquiring Nikola Mirotic from…wait for it…the New Orleans Pelicans. No, the Pelicans never made any deal with Los Angeles Lakers or any other team involving Anthony Davis; but they did ship Mirotic to the Bucks in exchange for Stanley Johnson, Jason Smith, and four second-round draft picks (with three of those picks coming via other teams).
At 27 years old, Mirotic is in the midst of a breakout season in the NBA. The Montenegro native, who entered the league in 2014-15, is averaging career-highs in points (16.7 ppg) and rebounds (8.3 ppg) through 32 games—22 starts—with New Orleans. He is also sinking 2.7 three-pointers per contest, tying him for ninth in the NBA in that department.
Mirotic has missed the past two weeks due to a calf injury, but he should be just about ready to go for his new team. The 2011 first-round draft pick had been in fine form before going down, reaching double-figures in four consecutive contests–including 29-point performance during a 147-140 loss at Golden State on Jan. 16. Mirotic went 6-for-10 from three-point range in that game and during that stretch of four outings he was 17-for-35 from the land of plenty.
“We are thrilled to add such a talented player in Nikola Mirotic to our roster,” general manager Jon Horst stated. “He is a skilled, two-way player who fits extremely well into our system. He shoots at a high percentage from beyond the arc, rebounds and defends at his position, and provides depth to our front court.”
Of course a general manager is going to speak highly of any new acquisition, but Horst is not wrong. On a team that features MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, the goal is to stretch the floor with shooters and enable the star player to take advantage of open lanes to the basket. The Bucks had already been able to dial long distance with impressive frequency. In fact, they are averaging 13.3 made three-pointers per game—good for second most in the association behind only the Houston Rockets (15.4). However, they are a more modest 12th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (35.5). As those numbers suggest, Milwaukee forks up treys with almost reckless abandon (second in most attempted, third in most made). Mirotic’s presence not only means even more attempts and makes from deep, but it also means opposing defenses have to respect another outside threat and take a set off eyes off the Greek Freak.
All you really need to know is that Mirotic’s Twitter handle is @threekola (factoring in both his name and his favorite shot, for those who aren’t social media savvy). He also posted “#FearTheDeer” on Twitter, expressing enthusiasm upon learning of the trade.
At 6’10” and 260 pounds, Mirotic can play anywhere from the three (because of his shooting and relative quickness for his size) to the five. Fellow forward Ersan Ilyasova also stands at 6’10”, but he weighs in at 235. Unlike Ilyasova, Mirotic can come off the bench for either Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, or Khris Middleton. Lopez has been out of his mind from three-point land this season, but now Milwaukee won’t lose any shooting when Lopez needs a break and Mirotic is on the floor with Antetokounmpo. The same can be said if Mirotic plays the three while Middleton rests. Although the Bucks may not be able to compete with Philadelphia’s starting five, they can now match anyone in the depth department. And no team in the East has this kind of combination of a superstar and sweet-shooting supporting cast.