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updated: 12/27/2016 6:49 PM

Chicago Bulls’ big-picture success depends on Mirotic, McDermott

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  • Chicago Bulls' Nikola Mirotic had arguably his best game of the season Monday against the Indiana Pacers. He scored 20 points against the Pacers, and is now averaging 13.2 points and 6.4 rebounds.

    Chicago Bulls' Nikola Mirotic had arguably his best game of the season Monday against the Indiana Pacers. He scored 20 points against the Pacers, and is now averaging 13.2 points and 6.4 rebounds.
    Associated Press

 
 

No matter how you dissect the Bulls' shortcomings, the big picture is relatively simple.

Based on the way this roster was built, team success depends on Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott becoming quality NBA players. They don't need to be all-stars, necessarily, but consistent contributors at the very least.

As it stands now, those two are basically the No. 6 and 7 players in the rotation. The rest of the bench is filled with first- and second-year guys who don't seem ready to provide much help.

The situation was evident in Monday's 90-85 victory over Indiana. Mirotic stepped up and helped save the Bulls, scoring 20 points on a night they needed his help.

Of course, the befuddling question is why haven't Mirotic and McDermott done that more often. Injuries have been an issue for McDermott. He missed Monday's game with a shin injury and has played in just 18 of 31 games this season.

Mirotic is in his third NBA season and his inconsistent play has yet to level off. In the last five games, since he was benched for two contests. Mirotic has produced five straight double-digit scoring games. He's averaging 13.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and shooting a respectable 38.2 percent from 3-point range.

Before getting benched, Mirotic hit just 6 of 31 attempts (19.4 percent) over a stretch of eight games.

"Of course I need to be more consistent. That's what I'm trying," Mirotic said after Monday's contest. "I'm not happy with this right now. I need to keep building from this point. I know there's a lot of things I can improve."

This issue has been going on for a while. During his rookie season, Mirotic was on fire during the month of March, averaging 20.8 points. Last season, Mirotic found his shooting touch after the all-star break, hitting 44.5 percent from behind the arc.

Bulls management figured this was all a sign of things to come and didn't try to upgrade the bench with some veterans. But Mirotic has hit career-lows in most every category but rebounds.

Against Indiana, Mirotic helped in a variety of ways. He grabbed 4 offensive rebounds, knocked down a 21-foot jumper in the final minute and some solid defense helped force a game-clinching steal by Dwyane Wade.

"When his shot falls, that's obviously a great sign for us," coach Fred Hoiberg said. I also think Niko is doing a great job on defense, pressuring the ball and getting his hands on it. He has been a spark for us off the bench."

How long this can last is the question. Mirotic seems to lose confidence quickly, but Monday was another reminder of what he could bring to the Bulls as a mobile, 6-foot-10 player with a variety of skills.

McDermott is considered day-to-day with his shin injury. He delivered double-digit points in three straight games before finishing with just 5 in San Antonio on Christmas Day.

McDermott has produced 8 double-figure scoring games this season and in all but two, he had double-digit shot attempts. With the Bulls' lack of outside shooters, it's hard to understand why they can't find McDermott more shots. Maybe it needs to be the top priority on every game plan.

The return of guard Michael Carter-Williams after 27 games off with wrist and knee injuries may pay dividends. He went 0-for-5 from the field against the Pacers, but can help in a variety of ways.

"It was great to have him back," Wade said of Carter-Williams. "Missed that guy. He's a versatile defender, can guard multiple guys, can run the offense for you and take pressure off me. His presence was felt."

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