Mirotic’s tire treads have somehow gripped onto that very rare, fast, lubricated track toward Euroleague greatness, to the point where even leveling off at really good would be viewed as a huge disappointment. Most valuable prospect, no more; it’s MVP time for Mirotic, who was a consensus preseason All-Euroleaguer over at Euroleague Adventures.
Coming into this week he’d been good, but not necessarily better.
But before harping on the stagnation in the scoring department between last year and this, remember that the Euroleague is a competition dominated by grown men. Registering double figures at his age is uncommon; doing it for a Real Madrid team loaded with Europe’s elite— Rudy Fernandez, Jaycee Carroll, Sergio Llull, Marcus Slaughter and old man Felipe Reyes—is exceptional.
Consider this: among those 22-and-unders eligible for this year’s Rising Star Award, Mirotic is one of just four that currently rank among the Euroleague’s top 70 scorers.
Guard Jaka Blazic is scoring 11.8 for Union Olimpija (36th), Knick-turned-Blazer Kostas Papanikolaou is averaging 10.6 for defending champs Olympiacos (48th), and Partizan’s Leo Westermann comes in 70th in points per game with 9.9.
Mirotic’s 12.4 ppg has him sandwiched right between the überquick Bo McCalebb and Russian Olympic hero Vitaly Fridzon at 30th.
Pretty decent company for a man who only recently could have legally enjoyed a Nisicko Tamno on U.S. soil. (Google tells me Nisicko Tamno is one of Montenegro’s more popular brews.)
As AJ Mitnick has trumpeted on this very site, judging a Euroleaguer—especially a young one—by his numbers alone is risky, and won’t often be a reliable gauge for his prospects as an NBA contributor.
Ricky Rubio only reached double digits in assists twice in 63 Euroleague games. In 41 games as an NBA rookie, he did it 14 times. Every example won’t be that extreme, but it’s safe to say Minnesota fans and NBA skeptics alike forgot all about his underwhelming Euroleague stat line by the time he’d recorded his first handful of double-doubles.
But much like Rubio, fans in Chicago will have to wait to enjoy Mirotic’s mastery. His contract with Madrid runs through the end of the 2015-16 season, and Real Madrid would rather collect a Euroleague title or two than the two million Euro buyout owed to the Spanish club in the event of Mirotic’s departure.
The shifty Spanish shooting guard and Houston Rockets asset will be 30 by the time the deal runs out, giving he and Mirotic another three seasons—and possibly longer—to scorch both the Euroleague and the ACB (or Liga Endesa, or Spanish League, or…no, just those three).
And last season, Mirotic started to heat up right as the shadows subdued Madrid’s Gran Via into a collective shiver. Mirotic’s December numbers from last season: 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 62 percent on his threes.
It was good enough to earn him monthly MVP honors, and take him from rising to star.
Will this December be the month he puts a super- in front?
A Handful of Top 16 Tickets
Unicaja Malaga, Barcelona Regal, CSKA Moscow, Zalgiris Kaunas and Besiktas JK Istanbul have all stamped theirs, while 11 are still up for grabs.