After transforming himself from little-used teenage reserve at the start of the season to a decisive force in his team's drive to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four, forward Nikola Mirotic of Real Madrid has been voted the 2011 Rising Star Trophy winner in a ballot of Euroleague head coaches. Mirotic has shown great potential since Madrid signed him five years ago, but few could have expected the kind of Euroleague impact he started having right before his 20th birthday on February 11. With 16 points in 17 minutes in late January, Mirotic sparked a huge comeback that propelled Madrid to a key group victory in the Top 16. From that point forward, he scored in double-digits during five out of six games, with his three-point shot deciding Game 1 of the playoffs. Madrid went on, thanks to the homecourt advantage Mirotic helped earn in the Top 16, to win the only Game 5 of the playoffs and reach the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four. The youngest regular on the Madrid roster had everything to do with that. On a per-minute basis, Mirotic finished 10th among all Euroleague players in performance index rating, while ranking in the top 20 in both scoring and blocked shots. He was also the most accurate three-point shooter among all Euroleague players in the Top 16. Mirotic won the award despite stiff competition from a strong crop of rising stars. Nonetheless, his efforts to help Madrid reach the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four for the first time in 15 years convinced Euroleague head coaches that Mirotic was their choice for the 2011 Rising Star Trophy.
The Rising Star Trophy recognizes the best Euroleague player who was under the age of 22 on July 1 of the summer before the season started. Mirotic was one of several young stars of whom this year's Euroleague head coaches thought highly. He edged out Power Electronics Valencia forward Victor Claver, who finished second in the voting. Last season’s runner-up, Jan Vesely of Partizan mt:s, finished third, while Lietuvos Rytas big man Jonas Valanciunas was fourth and Bojan Bogdanovic of Cibona Zagreb and Nihad Djedovic of Lottomatica Roma tied for fifth. Mirotic, Vesely, Valanciunas and Djedovic are all eligible for the award again next season. The Rising Star Trophy is one of several end-of-season honors awarded by Euroleague Basketball. Already this week, the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy, won by Igor Rakocevic of Efes Pilsen, and the Best Defender Trophy, which went to Panathinaikos playmaker Dimitris Diamantidis, were made public. Still to be announced are the nominees for the All-Euroleague team. The All-Euroleague first and second teams, plus the Euroleague MVP, will be revealed at the EFES Pilsener Euroleague Awards Ceremony on May 7 at the Final Four in Barcelona. Two other awards, the Aleksander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy and the Euroleague Club Executive of the Year, are post-season awards.
Although he had made his Euroleague debut with a two-minute appearance back on March 4, 2009, shortly after turning 18, Mirotic didn't register score in the competition until his dunk shortly before halftime in this season's fifth game, on the road in Charleroi, Belgium. The next time he saw Charleroi, in the regular season finale at home, Mirotic starred with 19 points and 6 rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench to lead Madrid in a rout. That performance was a hint of things to come in the Top 16, when Madrid trailed Montepaschi in Siena by 10 points entering the final quarter. Mirotic scored 13 points in those 10 minutes, finished the game with 16 on 4-for-4 three-point shooting plus 3 blocks, and put his team atop its group. Later he starred with 13 points and 9 rebounds at Partizan as Madrid clinched first place in Group G. He finished last Top 16 having made 8 of 14 three-pointers, or 57.1%. As Madrid rolled into the Playoffs, Mirotic was fully established as a versatile threat both inside and outside. His three-point shot with 20 seconds left in Game 1 was decisiving in that game, as was his assist to Ante Tomic late in do-or-die Game 5. Mirotic finished the season averaging 7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game in 14 minutes per game over 18 appearances. His per-minute averages speak for themselves: ninth in performance index rating (0.59), 16th in scoring (0.48 points per minute), 17th in blocked shots (0.03 per minute) and 19th in offensive rebounding (0.08 per minute). Mirotic would have ranked high for the full season in both three-point shooting (44.4%) and foul shooting (84.6%) accuracy had he played enough. For more proof, in nine games when he played 15 or more minutes, here were Mirotic's averages: 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1 block, 58.4% two-pointers, 57% three-pointers, 85.7% free throws. Seven of those nine games were in the Top 16 and the playoffs.
Mirotic is the seventh winner of the Rising Star Trophy. Regal FC Barcelona’s Ricky Rubio, another player who remains eligible next season, was the 2010 winner. The 2009 trophy went to Novica Velickovic of Partizan, who is now Mirotic’s teammate in Madrid. Before him was Danilo Gallinari of Armani Jeans Milano in 2008, Rudy Fernandez of DKV Joventut in 2007, Andrea Bargnani of Benetton Treviso in 2006 and Erazem Lorbek, then of Climamio Bologna, in 2005. Mirotic will be presented with the Rising Star Trophy at the EFES Pilsener Euroleague Awards Ceremony on May 7 in Barcelona.