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NBA AM: Mirotic Deserves Rookie Of The Year Love

While Andrew Wiggins and Nerlens Noel dominate the ROY discussion, Nikola Mirotic continues to fly under radar.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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Where’s the love for Nikola Mirotic?

When it comes to the Rookie of the Year award race this season, Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins has received the majority of the headlines. Wiggins’ ascent in the rankings was helped by the early season-ending knee injury to talented Milwaukee rookie Jabari Parker and a relatively slow start by Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel.

While Wiggins, averaging 16 points and 4.4 rebounds on the season, has been the most consistent rookie throughout the campaign there’s an ongoing trendy movement tossing Noel’s name into the Rookie of the Year discussion. Rightfully so, as Noel has proved to be a legitimate box sheet stuffer in all major categories since the All-Star break averaging 13.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.

But hidden in all of the Noel and Wiggins talk has been the emergence of Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic during the stretch run. Unlike Noel and Wiggins, who are both on lottery bound teams, Mirotic had to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to showcase his skills on a squad with legitimate title aspirations.

Rookies rarely contribute on a large scale to franchises with their eyes set on hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy and it seemed as if Mirotic would be destined to the same fate after averaging just 17 minutes in his first 54 appearances.

However, the NBA is undoubtedly a “next man up” league and when the Bulls suffered injuries to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, Mirotic found himself being placed in a prime part of head coach Tom Thibodeau’s nightly rotation.

Since the All-Star break, Mirotic is averaging 17.3 points, seven rebounds and one block per game in 27 minutes of action. Again, rookies rarely contribute on teams poised to win 50-plus games with plans to play deep into the spring.

Further, during the month of March, Mirotic is averaging 20.6 points and 7.7 rebounds in 14 contests. On the flip side, Noel and Wiggins are also turning up the production as their regular seasons come to an end. But, Mirotic is getting it done on a banged up Bulls unit with more on the line each and every night.

Ultimately, Wiggins may have generated too much of a lead for Mirotic to overcome with a frenetic finish but it’s hard to ignore the Windy City’s future being a bit brighter with Mirotic finally hitting his NBA stride.

Clippers’ Jamal Crawford refuses to believe injury could derail season

The Los Angeles Clippers are one of the teams expected to truly contend for an NBA Finals berth this season, but their playoff success will undoubtedly hinge on whether the club is at full strength. For the past three weeks, shooting guard Jamal Crawford, the team’s third leading scorer, has been sidelined with a right calf injury.

While the Clippers have won five straight and seven of their last 10 contests, Crawford is an integral part of the team’s core and not having him on the floor when the games matter most isn’t the ideal situation.

There’s no timetable set for Crawford’s return and the veteran admits he’s been chomping at the bit to return to the court and join his teammates.

“It’s hard not playing,” Crawford said, according to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. “But I just look at it as each day is a little closer to coming back. The team is playing well and I see my family a little more, so I’m trying to look at the positives.

“It’s just a slow process because this is a sensitive area. This is probably the weirdest [injury] because you just don’t see it happen in basketball.”

For the season, Crawford is averaging 16.4 points, 2.5 assists and two rebounds per game on 40 percent shooting from the floor.

Hey, whatever happened to former NBA forward Troy Murphy?

When the curtain closes down on most players’ professional career, they ultimately fade into oblivion. Some guys find success. Others struggle to adjust away from the bright lights. Most of these former athletes fall out of our collective consciousness when the ball stops bouncing so it’s always interesting to see what guys are up to as they transition out of competitive sports.

Former NBA forward Troy Murphy, the No. 14 overall pick of the 2001 draft, is now a student at Columbia University pursuing a Sociology degree, according to a report from the New York Times’ Andrew Keh.

For Murphy, he is still finding a way to “compete” in the classroom as he pursues an undergraduate degree he didn’t finish at Notre Dame – opting to enter the NBA Draft as an underclassman.

“For me it was: I’m going to prove I can beat this guy,” Murphy said. “I’m going to shut him down or outscore him or outrebound him. Now, you have these professors who are some of the best, and you want to test yourself. You want to prove you can get an A in the class.”

Murphy played 12 seasons in the league and recorded five campaigns where he averaged a double-double. In 729 career regular season games, Murphy averaged 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in stints with Golden State, Indiana, Los Angeles (Lakers), Brooklyn, Boston and Dallas.

After years of structure, Murphy finds himself embracing the new uncertainty of his post playing career.

“My life has always been planned out,” Murphy said. “You got a schedule in August, and you knew on St. Patrick’s Day you’d be playing in Cleveland, or you’d have an off day. It’s exciting not knowing. Not knowing is intriguing.”

According to the report, if things go as planned, if Murphy is able to complete the necessary credits and core requirements, the former NBA forward will obtain a bachelor’s degree in sociology this December after finishing his fourth semester at the university.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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