2017-18 Pelicans Season in Review: Nikola Mirotic
NBA experience: Four seasons (one with Pelicans)
Games played/started: 55/14 (30/11 with Pelicans)
The fourth-quarter buzzer had just sounded at Oracle Arena minutes earlier – signifying the end to New Orleans’ excellent 2017-18 campaign – but the team’s postseason starting power forward was already thinking about training camp in the fall.
“First of all, I am very proud of this team, the way we fought as a team all season since I got here,” said Mirotic, a February trade acquisition. “It was amazing. We never gave up. This team is about to do something special. I believe that. What we did is just the beginning of something that we hopefully can do next year.”
Among the many reasons for the Pelicans to be excited for ’18-19 is that they’ll get a full season from the native of Montenegro, who was a godsend in April and the playoffs. Mirotic put together one of the finest stretches of his NBA career when New Orleans needed it most, helping the club reel off nine consecutive wins that bridged the regular season and a Round 1 sweep over Portland. En route to establishing himself as a key piece with his new team, Mirotic thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“This was the most fun I’ve ever had in the NBA,” he said of his three-month tenure in the Crescent City. “I felt so comfortable here, with the community, with the team. I really felt at home. Now that the season is over, I can say I was lucky to be traded to the Pelicans. It was the best move that could happen to me and my family. We are extremely happy with where we are right now. We love New Orleans and are just looking forward to being better and helping this team improve. I’m really thankful for the trust they had in me.”
New Orleans was teetering on the edge of playoff contention when Mirotic was added in a trade with Chicago, but – as was also the case for him with the Bulls early in the season – he did a lot of winning after arriving in NOLA. He averaged 25.8 points during his team’s 5-0 close to the 82-game schedule, which clinched the Pelicans’ first playoff berth since ’15. His 30-point eruption in Game 3 of the Portland series served as an exclamation mark for how far both he and New Orleans had come in a brief amount of time.
“It was a great season,” he said. “We know what we are capable of. We sent a good message to the league that the Pelicans are coming. I’m very excited for our future.”
VOICE OF THE FAN
As part of our look back at the season, we checked in with Pelicans fans to get their feedback on 2017-18. Sixth in the series: How surprised were you, if at all, by the impact Nikola Mirotic made during the team's second-half surge into the playoffs and a first-round sweep over Portland? Some of the responses were addressed in the podcast portion of this season review, but here are a few others:
Surprised by his defensive and rebounding impact. Much better in those areas than I thought. He was a single-use guy in Chicago but really showed he is a complete player in Nola.
Mirotic played roughly the same amount of regular season games for New Orleans (30) as he did for Chicago (25), but his rebounding numbers went through the roof with the Pelicans. Seven of his top eight games of the season in that category were in a New Orleans uniform.
The blocks and the consistent rebounds surprised me and the rest was what I hoped for.
In his total of 64 games (counting playoffs) split between two teams, Mirotic’s squads were 26-7 when he had at least one blocked shot, but 13-18 when he was block-less.
I was surprised by his consistency later in the regular season, and especially in the 1st round. Much better on D than I had read about when we got him.
New Orleans used him off the bench for much of his first two months on the roster, trying to determine his ideal role. As a late-season starter, his production spiked, with him shooting better from the field (49.1 percent) and three-point range (39.8 percent) as a first-stringer than as a reserve (42.8 and 36.9).