Is Nikola Mirotic overrated? Why he failed to win the EuroLeague again

2022-06-12 10:22

For the second year in a row, the highest-paid EuroLeague player failed to bring the title to Barcelona. Nikola Mirotic dominated the regular season and won the MVP award, but the most important trophy still remains in Istanbul.

Can he bring FC Barcelona to a place in European basketball they haven't been since 2012? BasketNews' Augustas Suliauskas examines Nikola Mirotic's game and Barcelona's performance this year.

Mirotic's offensive talent was never in question. A complete package at the power forward position with a bunch of different attack options gives headaches to any opposition coach. Combining the skill with his basketball IQ and Sarunas Jasikevicius' elite set play drawing skills, Barca have a unique variety of options with Mirotic.

Nikola Mirotic

Nikola  Mirotic
Nikola  Mirotic
MIN: 24.43
PTS: 16.92 (66.67%)
REB: 5.21
As: 1.39
ST: 0.87
BL: 0.29
TO: 1.74
GM: 38

Besides pick-and-pops and an extended range that he offers, Mirotic gives Jasikevicius options to run schemes for him that you would usually see played for guards. Handoffs to flare screens and pick-and-roll into handoff action are just two of the many options the Barca forward can execute offensively.

Shooting is only a small part of what he brings to Barcelona. He is a triple threat on offense, knowing how to score from almost anywhere on the court. Playing back to the basket, the power forward has so many moves you can't really tell which one is coming next.

You might get hit with a spin to the baseline and a layup, spin, fake, and then a step-through move or a one-legged Nowitzki-style fadeaway.

One of Mirotic's biggest strengths is how he seals the position under the basket and reads the defender's position. He has mastered the transition high seal, where he stops around the free-throw line and doesn't allow the opponent to get in behind, opening up a huge space in the paint. Nick Calathes and Nikola Mirotic have mastered the combination from various spots on the floor.

Until now, we have talked about the scoring opportunities that come from set plays, great positioning, and teammates. The forward can also create his own shot, though, especially in the mid-post area, where he likes to attack facing up. A series of jab steps, great footwork, and a high release point is a mix that few in the Euroleague can stop.

Moreover, Nico does it all super efficiently, and the numbers are there to back it up. Looking at individual points per possession rankings by Instat, he is #3 in all EuroLeague this season at a special 1.27 IPP rate.

For context, anything above 1 is considered good. He is just behind Donta Hall and Bryant Dunston, who live by scoring easy baskets.

Other Euroleague top stars like Mike James, Vasilije Micic, and Shane Larkin hover around 1 point per possession, and even though it's an elite number for guards, it makes Nikola's 1.27 even more incredible.

So where does this talk about being overrated all come from? Mostly, it all started after a poor performance last year in the quarterfinals series. If Nikola has a weakness, it is handling contact inside.

And when Will Thomas and others offered a bunch of it, and it became harder to get favorable calls in the playoffs, we saw a completely different version of what should have been the MVP of the regular season last year as well.

Post-ups weren't working, and Barca struggled mightily since they have by far the biggest usage rate of posts up in the entire league. They needed all 5 games against the 8-seed, and Mirotic's performance was taken as the biggest reason for it.

And while Barca needed 5 games to get through the quarterfinals as the first seed this year again, Nikola's game didn't suffer as much as it did last year. 

Mirotic answered to the physicality much better in this series and found a greater balance between attacking in post-ups, face-ups, or simple spot-up shots.

He and Jasikevicius weren't forcing his back to the basket game that much. Instead, relying on the same schemes and situations that were successful throughout the year.

A tiny 3-point loss in the semifinal against Real Madrid definitely couldn't be blamed on the MVP since he shined with 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists. It is more a combination of personnel, luck, and injuries.

Teams know the best way to play Barca is switching all to break their intelligent sets and then clog the paint, helping from inconsistent shooters they have on the court. It makes life much tougher for a team that utilizes post-ups more than anyone else.

Even if Calathes makes one from behind the arc, teams will still help from him and go under the screens. Jasikevicius tries to hide this problem uniquely, sending his point guard near the rim into the opposite dunker spot on post-ups, eliminating teams not reacting to his presence.

However, that doesn't solve the problem every time since other teams like to help from Dante Exum, Brandon Davies, and others that like to drive on kick-outs more too.

Euroleague's Final Four single-game elimination format so far hasn't been that friendly to Barcelona either. Plus, they missed another high-scoring guard in perimeter this year, with their arguably second-best player Cory Higgins returning from injury straight to the semifinal after being out for a major part of the season.

Barcelona needs a couple of small details to go their way to win the title next year, and all the talk about Mirotic being overrated will go away in a second.

All in all, no other power forward in the EuroLeague can do as much as him and do it so effectively. This is primarily why Nikola Mirotic is still rated as the top player in the tournament.

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