CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau is not an easy man to impress.
The veteran coach has lived and breathed basketball his entire professional life so it's not often Thibodeau goes out of his way to praise young players early on, especially rookies making their first appearance on an NBA stage.
But Nikola Mirotic is not your average rookie.
The 23-year-old has been playing professionally in Europe for years and has already started opening eyes in his first few days with the Chicago Bulls.
"I thought he had a really good first day," Thibodeau said after Wednesday's practice. "And then after watching the film it was even better than I thought."
The Bulls' front office has always been high on Mirotic since picking him up on draft day three years ago, and the early reviews of Mirotic's game have been strong from Thibodeau and his players.
"He's pretty good," Bulls center Joakim Noah said, before adding a little more praise. "He's really good. He adds a different dimension to the game and he's a lot more than just a shooter. He's a great shooter and he's done a lot of things that are pretty surprising. You don't think of stretch fours as guys who can block shots and run the floor and he's a hell of a player. He's pretty complete. I think he's definitely one of our secret weapons."
With veterans Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson already in the fold, it seems like a stretch to think that Mirotic can break into Thibodeau's rotation right away, but as a "stretch four" Mirotic has the ability to knock down long-range shots and space the floor for Derrick Rose and the rest of his teammates.
"He's going to surprise people by the way that he puts the ball down," Rose said. "Like if you fly at him he's really able to attack the rim and avoid charges. We saw it (Tuesday) he did a couple of moves where it was supposed to be a charge but he pumped his way around the opponent and scored the ball. We already knew he could shoot, but he's good."
For Mirotic, the basketball part of his new professional life seems like the easiest part of the equation. Most importantly. he's got to adjust to bringing over his wife and four-month old son to a new country as he tries to navigate his way through a new basketball league. As far as the basketball goes, he's learning quickly how demanding Thibodeau can be when it comes to playing defense.
“I know Chicago the last couple of years have been a good defensive team in the NBA," Mirotic said. "So I'm going to try to do my best job to work every day hard. I know that I'm not a very, very good defensive player, but I need to learn. I need to work. Every day I learn something new on defense. So I just need time. They help me every day. So I think I can get better. I'm growing every day.”
Thibodeau clearly sees that growth as well. He's not sure how many minutes Mirotic will get to start the season, but he does sound confident that Mirotic will make an impact at some point.
"The thing that I really like about his game is he knows when to shoot and he knows when to pass," Thibodeau said. "So he doesn't force things. When he's open, he shoots. (If) you're closing at him hard, he'll put it on the floor. He's guarded well, he'll make the play. So usually when a guy plays like that the team will function well."
Mirotic hopes he can fit in well with the rest of his team sooner than later. In order to do that, he knows he must continue impressing the Bulls' kingpin.
“He's a great coach," Mirotic said of Thibodeau. "He tries to do the best for you. If you can, he'll push you all the time. This is something very good and he knows very good what you can do, what you can't do. So you try to do the best for team, to using the best things you can do. I'm happy with him. I'm working hard to make him happy with me. So (I'm) excited."