You know those other guys on the list, and while there might not be a franchise player among them, they have all shown that they can start in the NBA.
And had the award been around for the taking in 2001, it would have belonged to Gasol, who made the All-Euroleague Second Team after averaging 18.5 points and 6.0 rebounds for Barcelona as a 21-year-old.
Although the NBA has become an increasingly fertile breeding ground for ultra-young phenoms, the top tier of the Euroleague is still an Old Boys Club. Mirotic is one of just two players on the team under 25. The other is 18-year-old Guillermo Hernangomez, who has played just 4:59 all season for Los Blancos.
The point is, it takes a very special player to contribute for a Euroleague team at such a young age, especially for Madrid, a club with more banners than any team on the continent.
Mirotic is big, European and his stroke is woven from silk. So he’s soft, right? Wrong.
As Simon Jatsch, European basketball’s favorite blend of Billy Beane, Brad Pitt and John Hollinger, notes in this wonderful piece entitled The Evolution of Nikola Mirotic, the Montenegrin has watched his toughness metrics soar this season compared to his last two award-winning seasons with Madrid.
He is attempting more free throws per shot, crashing the offensive glass at an elite level, finishing off pick-and-rolls and exploiting defenses wary of his outside shooting by catching the ball closer to the rim and creating higher value shots for himself.
In the Spanish League (ACB), he ranks third in scoring (17.6), 11th in rebounding (6.2) and is tied for eighth in blocks (1.0).
Pleasing to both the critical eye and overly punched calculator alike. A rarity these days, and one worth holding onto.
And whether it is for Gasol or anyone else, the Bulls should think long and hard about whether they want to watch Mirotic tear up the NBA in Pelican blue the way the Hawks are still watching Gasol dominate in Laker gold and España red, wondering why their end of that 2001 draft day trade is an assistant for the Kings.
Here’s the part where I tell you Mirotic had his worst game of the year this past week in a 76-70 loss to Cantu. He scored just two points on 1-of-5 shooting after going 14-of-21 for 35 points in the previous two weeks combined. But it was of little consequence for Real Madrid, which already has locked up at least second place in Group A with one game left in the Euroleague’s regular season.
A win against Union Olimpija in Week 10, along with a Panathinaikos loss to BC Khimki Moscow, would ensure first place in the group. If Panathinaikos beat Khimki, then the Greens will be in first position heading into the Top 16.
Beating Madrid was huge for Cantu. The Italian side now has a chance at the Top 16 if it can beat Fenerbahce Ulker in the season’s finale.