It may take less than 24 hours for changes gleaned from the Chicago Bulls’ highly-publicized team meeting to take effect. According to Zach Lowe of ESPN, Fred Hoiberg is considering starting Nikola Mirotic at small forward against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.
Tony Snell has started 21 games at small forward this season, while Doug McDermott has opened the remaining four games on the wing opposite All-Star Jimmy Butler. Presumed starter Mike Dunleavy hasn’t played in 2015-16 due to complications from a late September back surgery.
This move would represent a major departure for the Bulls, who are a solid 15-10 but sport just a +. 8 net rating – the ninth-best mark in the much-improved Eastern Conference.
Mirotic started the first 18 games of the season at power forward before being moved to the bench on December 9th in favor Taj Gibson. After a solid start to 2015-16, the sophomore sharpshooter has struggled of late. He’s averaging 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds on 36.9 percent from the field and and 32.7 percent from beyond the arc in his past 11 games.
Replacing Snell in the starting lineup with Mirotic, though, could still jumpstart a Bulls offense that’s struggled to adjust to Hoiberg’s ballyhooed concepts. He’s a much more aggressive offensive player than Snell overall, who’s inability to put the ball on the floor, get to the free throw line, or make plays for his teammates has recently drawn the ire of Windy City fans.
But Mirotic certainly can’t replicate what the long-limbed New Mexico product brings to the table on the other end of the floor. Considering Chicago boasts the league’s second-best defensive rating, however, Hoiberg might be willing to live with a trade-off that boosts his team’s oft-inept offense.
As with any rotational shuffle in basketball, though, this potential one may have less to do with the players specifically involved than another. Rookie Bobby Portis received his first extended minutes of the season in a loss to the New York Knicks on Saturday night due to teammates’ tired legs, and immediately delivered on the promise that made him a fan favorite during the Bulls exhibition slate.
As a result, Hoiberg told reporters on Monday morning that the first-year big man will get a chance to earn a long-term role.
The Bulls host the Nets at 8:00 EST.