The Chicago Bulls have plenty of pieces in place to make a run at the NBA title this season.
Derrick Rose is back, Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott have joined the team and they continue to have one of the best in-game coaches in the league in Tom Thibodeau.
The big unknown, outside of Rose's ability to stay healthy, will be Nikola Mirotic.
The Bulls have held the rights to the 6-foot-10 big man for three seasons, in which he has developed by playing for Real Madrid. While playing there last year, the 220-pounder averaged 12.4 points in 31 games.
Mirotic certainly has value
While his transition to the NBA will continue to be questioned until he proves himself, Mirotic is certainly excited about the chance.
And there won't be a ton of pressure for Mirotic to be a star immediately as he's expected to come off the bench and get acclimated. He is, however, a big reason the Bulls were fine not overspending to acquire Kevin Love. Because, long term, Mirotic projects to be a similarly dominant player.
That's why, as ESPNChicago.com reported, the Bulls were offered a top 10 pick for Mirotic over the summer:
“I think he's a pretty high-level player,” Bulls GM Gar Forman told ESPN Radio in Chicago. “He's got a chance to develop into one. He's 6-foot-10, he's got a motor. He can play inside and out and he can shoot the 3-ball, so that's a good skill set to have as a young player."
Kukoc thinks he can succeed
Part of the question that many continue to have about European players is how they will transition to the U.S. There are plenty of shining examples, guys like Dirk Nowitzki and another former Bull, Toni Kukoc. Then, there's Darko Milicic, who the Detroit Pistons selected No. 2 overall in 2003 ahead of Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade and right after LeBron James.
For his part, Kukoc said recently that he believes Mirotic is set up to succeed:
"He knows basketball; he knows the fundamentals well," Kukoc told ESPNChicago.com. "And it's an advantage for him and the Bulls that he can play a couple positions, can shoot the ball as a fairly big man (6-10) and has some post-up game, though that's going to have to improve."
Transition has changed
While the past NBA players mentioned had a different time, NBA teams now prepare differently for European stars' acclimation.
"It was hard for [European players] back then because there were only a couple of us [in the NBA] and I remember Vlade [Divac] and Drazen [Petrovic] would spend time talking to many of us on the phone after each game and trying to figure out how close they were to establishing themselves in the NBA," Kukoc, who joined the world champion Bulls 21 years ago, said to ESPNChicago.com.
Kukoc also said that the basketball mentality in Europe is different, which will serve Mirotic well.
"The players in Europe are way more team-oriented than thinking about their own stuff," Kukoc told ESPNChicago.com. "We're differently programmed when it comes to that. When [Mirotic] said 'Whatever the coach wants me to do,' he didn't say it just to sound good. He really meant, 'If the coach wants me to come tomorrow, I'll come tomorrow because the coach said so.'"