Yes, Gasol certainly is a top-level frontcourt player, but the Bulls believe that Nikola Mirotic is a future star in this league. Comparisons have already been made to former Bulls forward Toni Kukoc and current Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki. And the Bulls are expecting him contribute early on in his NBA career, giving him three year contract this summer worth $17 million.
With the transition from international basketball to the NBA not being always as easy as some may think (see Ricky Rubio), the Bulls are hoping that Gasol, a former Spanish player who was able to make the transition seamlessly in 2001, will be able to fast track Mirotic’s understanding of the NBA game and how he can build on the success he had in the Spanish League.
I expect to see Gasol and Mirotic working together constantly during practices this season in an attempt to bring Mirotic up to speed as quickly as possible. Mirotic’s ceiling is sky-high (a reason the Bulls wouldn’t trade him for a top ten pick in this year’s draft), and with Gasol presumably set to end his career in Chicago, he very well may take it upon himself to make sure Mirotic is an adequate replacement when he decides to hang up his sneakers.
Don’t get me wrong; Gasol’s talent on the court is essential to the Bull success this season, and moving forward. The 13-year veteran brings a championship pedigree, top notch passing and vision on the block and elbow, and the ability to score the basketball in multiple ways. The flexibility he brings to the Bulls rotation will have a major impact this season with possible post parings with Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Cameron Bairstow, Mirotic, and possibly even rookie Doug McDermott in small lineups.
But there is certainly more at work here than just Gasol’s on court production. The pairing of the two for public events and photo opportunities has already begun.
This season is full of story lines in Chicago, but the Gasol/Mirotic connection should not be overlooked. By mid-season, we could see something special happening offensively with the duo on the court together.