By Eurohoops team/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Nikola Mirotic added one more personal award on his resume, as Barcelona is proving to be one of the main contenders to go all the way.
After a perfect month that he began and ended with game-winning shots on the road, forward Nikola Mirotic of FC Barcelona is Euroleague Basketball’s choice as MVP for February in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. Few players have ever had a go-to month quite like Mirotic’s February, when his last-shot heroics ensured that Barca qualified early for this season’s playoffs. With four victories in February – three of them on the road, and all against teams positioned for the playoffs at tipoff time – Barca extended its current streak to seven wins total, the team’s longest in almost five years. None of it would have been possible without Mirotic, who had the EuroLeague highest average performance index rating for the month, 25.5 – not to mention the best timing for his biggest shots. As a result of his stellar virtuosity, Mirotic has now become the first player to win the MVP of the Month honor four times in the award’s 16-season history.
Although statistics and performance index ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team’s performance. The award for February covers the four games that all teams played from Round 23 through Round 26. Mirotic, who was also the MVP for December, becomes the third player ever to become MVP of the Month twice in the same season. The first was his teammate Ante Tomic, who did so for Barcelona in February and March of 2014. The second was Shane Larkin of Anadolu Efes Istanbul, who won in November and January of the current season. Before this season, Mirotic had been MVP for December in 2012 and for October in 2014, both while playing for Real Madrid.
To start February, Barca fell behind red-hot Valencia Basket, winner of seven of its previous 10 games, by 58-42 in the third quarter before mounting a comeback. His 2 assists and 5 points down the stretch got Barca within a point, whereupon Mirotic took responsibility for deciding the matter, making an exquisite up-and-under scoop shot with time running out that gave the visitors a 76-77 victory. Mirotic led all scorers in Round 23 with 26 points, earning MVP of the Round honors with a PIR of 32. Next, in its only home game of the month, Barca fended off AX Armani Exchange Milan 84-80 with the help of 15 points from Mirotic, 7 of them during a third-quarter turnaround for the winners. On the road at Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in Round 25, Mirotic scored 16 points in a Barca rally from 11 behind after halftime to win by the same amount, 81-92. He finished with game-highs of 20 points, 9 rebounds and 23 PIR. Mirotic finished February as spectacularly as he had started it. His shot on the buzzer to beat CSKA 80-82 in Moscow – a fadeway jumper from the same baseline as his earlier game-winner in Valencia – avenged an earlier, 29-point loss in Barcelona to the defending champions and, at the same time, clinched his team’s return to the playoffs this spring. Mirotic again led both teams with 23 points, 8 rebounds and a PIR of 32.
In addition to leading the league in PIR and hitting two game-winners, Mirotic averaged 21.0 points and 6.0 rebounds during February while making 18 of 26 two-point shots (69.2%), 9 of 21 threes (42.9%) and 21 of 24 free throws (87.5%). He currently ranks second in the EuroLeague in average PIR (22.2), third in rebounds (7.0) and fourth in scoring (18.9). Barca’s next hurdle is clinching a top-four position for home-court advantage in the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Mirotic will receive his MVP for February award at an upcoming home game in Barcelona.