December 2011 may go down in history as the month that Nikola Mirotic completed his upgrade from prominent role player to a bonafide ace. The Real Madrid forward has long been seen as a promising talent, hence his choice as the 2011 Rising Star Trophy winner. But in four games in December, Mirotic dominated like never before in leading his team to a perfect record with wins over three other Turkish Airlines Euroleague Top 16 teams to clinch first place in Group C and a No. 1 seed in the Top 16 Draw. For his outstanding performances in leading his team to outstanding results, Mirotic has become Euroleague Basketball's choice as bwin MVP for December. In a month that saw the Whites go through upheaval with injuries as well as players coming and going, Mirotic remained solid as a rock and he led the team in both scoring and rebounding. Among those performances, he recorded his first career Euroleague double-double, set career highs in index rating, scoring and steals and earned weekly MVP honors for the first time. His 18.5 points per game in December have come with uncanny shooting accuracy – 16 of 25 two-pointers (64%), 8 of 13 threes (61.5%) and 18 of 20 free throws (90%). Moreover Mirotic averaged 6.8 rebounds per game even though only once before did he ever grab more than 7 rebounds in a single Euroleague game. The level of play Mirotic displayed in December is reserved for the true elite and this month may signify that Mirotic has officially reached that status.
The bwin MVP of the Month honor is now in its eighth season. 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 December was decided based on the four regular season games that all teams played between Wednesday, November 30 and Thursday, December 22, the final date of the regular season. Euroleague Basketball partner bwin is the sponsor of the MVP of the Month award. Just as the best Euroleague player each month combines performance and leadership for success, so does bwin's sponsorship communicate its conviction to be the best betting brand in European basketball.
Mirotic and Madrid opened December in second place in Group C heading into a pivotal road game in Milan, Italy, against EA7 Emporio Armani in which the young forward was to duel one of Europe’s leading power forwards, three-time Euroleague champion Antonis Fotsis. After 40 minutes, Mirotic amassed 11 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double, Fotsis was held scoreless in a game he started for the first time in over five years and Madrid went home with a 65-72 victory. A week later Madrid hosted Maccabi Electra in the Spanish capital in a showdown for first place. Mirotic took charge from the start with 12 first-quarter points and 10 more in the second as his team raced ahead en route to an 88-64 victory. He finished with a career-high 26 points on 4-of-5 three-point shooting plus 8 rebounds, an assists and 3 steals en route to a performance index rating of 33, which earned him Week 8 bwin MVP honors. Week 9 featured a chance to wrap up first place in Group C against Partizan mt:s. And Mirotic against came out ready with 8 first-quarter points as Madrid went ahead for good and rolled to a 101-83 victory. His final line was 21 points with just 2 missed shots and 10-for-10 shooting from the charity stripe plus 8 rebounds. A Week 10 matchup against Anadolu Efes was for protocol only, but with the chance to attack the rims at Sinan Erdem Arena, the site of the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four, Mirotic came ready. This time Madrid trailed early, so Mirotic scored 7 of his team-high 16 in the third quarter – including the game-tying basket – as the Whites rallied for a come-from-behind 66-75 victory.
Mirotic finished the regular season as Madrid’s leader in free throws made (33) and second in points scored (126), rebounds (43) and fouls drawn (31). It is interesting to note that despite his brilliant December, Mirotic ranks among the top 20 in the Euroleague this season in just one statistical category: performance index rating, where he is 19th with an average of 14.9 per game. Two things can be deciphered from that. One is how great of an all-around contribution Mirotic makes to winning. The second is that in the weeks and months to come, it is safe to expect to see his name climb higher and higher on all lists. Mirotic will soon get a chance to celebrate his new award when he receives the bwin MVP for December trophy at a Top 16 game in Madrid.