As evidenced by earning the starting nod over Julius Randle, the New Orleans Pelicans had lofty expectations entering the 2018-19 season for Nikola Mirotic, “The Shaven One,” and he’s living up to the hype.
Mirotic and Anthony Davis formed a natural and devastating 4/5 tandem late in the 2017-18 season, and this pairing has only grown more effective here in the ‘18-19 season — much of it due to the ever-growing confidence by Threekola as he continues to excel on the offensive end of the court.
Should we have seen this coming? Of course, it was always a possibility. We knew that Niko’s time on the floor was certain to increase as he had never played more than 29 minutes per game over the lifetime of a season. An early indicator through nine contests: he’s hovering around 32 minutes.
We also knew that pairing him next to Anthony Davis was certain to translate. His shooting volume has increased by 5.2 shots per contest, and his efficiency right along with it, up to 51% from the field, and 37% from three point range. At 22 points, 11 rebounds on a 58% effective field goal percentage and 23 PER, he’s experiencing career numbers in every department.
When the two are paired together on the court, the Pelicans numbers have been downright staggering in 130 minutes. Per 100 possessions, the Pelicans score 32 more points on 10% better EFG, get to the line 15 more times, grab five more rebounds, pass out six more assists, 1.2 more steals and six more blocks!
For contrasting purposes, when Davis was paired next to DeMarcus Cousins in 2017-18 the two combined for but four points more per 100 possessions.
It’s certainly not the first time the Pelicans have attempted to unearth talent next to Davis, aligning his particular set of skills alongside bruisers at the center position to battle guys like Marc Gasol, Jusuf Nurkic and Rudy Gobert. The Pels tried their luck with Robin Lopez, Omer Asik, and even All-Star big man, DeMarcus Cousins before a devastating injury on January 26th against the Houston Rockets scrapped that plan.
But the pair of Nikola Mirotic and AD create synergy on both ends of the court that sing like harmony. The Pelicans are +15 in offensive rating when AD occupies the court (125.0), and +16 defensively (111.0). The Pelicans defensive rating dips a bit defensively with Mirotic on the court from 118.3 to 119.5, but the offensive rating skyrockets to 122 from 110.3. For reference, the Golden State Warriors currently lead the NBA in offensive rating at 119.7.
When the casual fan ranks Mirotic’s effectiveness in their mind, they often reference his deadly three-point stroke, but forget his bevy of moves underneath the basket that contribute to his 71% effectiveness within five feet of the basket.
Against a double team pinning him on the baseline, LaMarcus Aldridge and Bryn Forbes tried to force Nikola Mirotic back to the perimeter. Instead, he spun under his back shoulder, tip-toed the baseline and gathered around the other side of the basket with deft touch.
See the 1:10 mark below:
Nikola Mirotic Highlights vs Spurs - 22pts 1ast 16reb - 11-03-2018 pic.twitter.com/LdrBMgaNE2— Ice_Highlights (@Ice_Highlights) November 4, 2018
The New Orleans Pelicans are currently in the midst of a concerning slump, specifically on the defensive side of the court, but fans should take solace in the fact that general manager Dell Demps has perhaps uncovered the perfect long-term frontcourt mate for Davis in Nikola Mirotic.