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Nikola Mirotic was worth the wait for the Bulls

The rookie forward is proving he could be a key piece of the Bulls' future with his recent play.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Waiting for players stashed overseas can test a fanbase's patience. Instead of watching clips of Dario Saric's play in Europe, 76ers fans could be enjoying the tenacity of Elfrid Payton on a nightly basis. If the wait was always worth it, everyone involved would be fine with it but that's not always the case. Fran Vazquez, the 11th overall pick by the Orlando Magic in the 2005 draft, has never made it stateside and is now 31 years old. Yet sometimes all the risk and delay in gratification pays off big, like in the case of Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic.

Mirotic is having arguably the second best season of any rookie behind Andrew Wiggins, which is impressive enough. Now with Taj Gibson out, he's proving he can handle a larger role. In the last five games, he's averaging 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and a block per game. His efficiency from the field has plummeted as his usage percentage has climbed but he's gotten to the line at a fantastic rate and made the most of it by converting on average seven of his nine free throw attempts per game. While he hasn't done enough to usurp Gibson's place in the rotation when he returns, Mirotic is proving that he can be more than just a three-point shooter at the NBA level.

The key to Mirotic's success is his versatility. While his shot has been off recently, he can make defenses pay for leaving him alone beyond the arc or in pick and pop situations from mid-range. The problem for whoever guards him is that if they overplay his shot, he can pump fake, put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. If teams try to put a smaller guy on him to negate his ball-handling ability, he can post up and be effective despite a tendency to unnecessarily fade away on jumpers. If they go big, he can attack off the dribble if they crowd him or pull up if given room. His varied skill set could make him a go-to option at some point in the future.

Mirotic post up

Defensively, things haven't been as promising but the 24-year-old rookie has not looked out of his depth either. At this point he's a neutral defender who can be taken advantage of in some match-ups but shows enough awareness to hold his own in most. He won't ever be the anchor of a great defense but no one should ask him to considering his significant offensive talent. As long as he plays with someone who can do the things he can't, he doesn't hurt his team. This season the Bulls' defense has been very good with the Gibson-Mirotic duo on the floor and great when Mirotic shares the court with Joakim Noah. It's when Gasol and Mirotic play together that the defense suffers.

Coincidentally, the addition of Gasol and Mirotic's inability to thrive next to him is the biggest hindrance to his career at this point. Gasol is getting 34.7 minutes a game. That leaves fewer than 14 minutes for Mirotic to be on the court with one of Gibson or Noah, not enough time to show his worth despite being the only floor-stretcher the Bulls have. With everyone under contract for one season after this one, the only way Mirotic gets the playing time he needs is if someone is traded in the offseason or Tom Thibodeau completely changes his minute distribution.

The Bulls and their fans were patient in waiting three years for Mirotic to make the jump to the NBA and will surely have no problem waiting two more before he gets a bigger role. For now, they are getting to see firsthand the evolution of a player who could be part of their core for years to come. With Jimmy Butler likely staying put after his contract is up, Tony Snell showing signs of progress in his sophomore season, Doug McDermott and his still intriguing potential in tow and now Mirotic showing he can be an impact player, the Bulls's future looks bright.