Before Zaza Pachulia tried to kill him the other night, Bulls rookie forward Nikola Mirotić was having a nice little year.
With another breakthrough month in March for one of Chicago’s favorite bearded Spaniards, Mirotić won Rookie of the Month for the second time this season.
He averaged 21 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a block throughout March, all while serving as the Bulls’ virtual closer with Derrick Rose out. And if March were the only month that counted, Mirotić would have probably been a goddamn All-Star.
Instead, the grizzled 24-year-old has forced himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation – making a legit case that he deserves the award over Andrew Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Naturally, Wiggins has been the wire-to-wire favorite. Such is life as the first overall draft pick who also put up huge numbers for a dogshit team all year long.
That last part is the strongest point of the Mirotić argument. He outplayed Wiggins down the stretch for a team shuffling between the 3rd and 4th seed rather than the 3rd or 4th pick (and eventual No. 1).
— Cassidy Hubbarth (@CassidyHubbarth) March 29, 2015
It’s not like Wiggins doesn’t deserve it. The dude is going to be a monster for a long time. But when you look at the award’s history, Nikola Mirotić didn’t have much of a chance from the get-go.
Assuming Wiggins wins, he’d be the 20th first overall pick to take home the award since it became a real thing in 1953. More significantly, Andrew Wiggins would become just the fifth ever winner not born in the United States.
Similar to Kyrie Irving, Tim Duncan, and Patrick Ewing – Wiggins found college stardom after migrating to the United States.
Ironically, the only former Rookie of the Year winner that didn’t play competitively in the US prior to taking the NBA by storm is Mirotić’s frontcourt bro and fellow Spaniard, Pau Gasol. So if Mirotić were to win, he’d be just the second foreign prospect ever to win the award.
His sporadic playing time certainly doesn’t help, as March and April were the only two months he averaged more than twenty minutes a night. But that said, his status as a foreign product is what hurts him the most.
Why? Because voters and fans are favorably pre-disposed to players like Wiggins. We already know about them from their college days. They’re familiar.
Since 2005, the last year that high school seniors were allowed to jump straight to the NBA, seven of the nine Rookie Of the Year winners were players who left college after two years or less.
If (when) Wiggins wins the award, he’ll make it eight out of ten.
Nikola Mirotić’s season has certainly been good enough to break this trend. But if history tells us anything, he doesn’t have a shot.
In fact, Mirotić never had a chance to begin with.
(Featured Image courtesy of GD’s Latest Highlights)