MVP for December: Nikola Mirotic, FC Barcelona

Jan 03, 2022 by Print

Sustaining simultaneous individual and team success is so difficult in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague that only three players have ever been chosen as the MVP of the Month twice in the same season. Now, as Euroleague Basketball's choice for MVP of December, do-it-all forward Nikola Mirotic of FC Barcelona becomes the earliest such double-honoree in any single season, following on his claiming the same award in October. The final month of 2021 loomed as a major test for the league leaders, especially after two veteran starters were injured long-term, but Mirotic helped Barcelona pass with flying colors as the only EuroLeague team to register five victories in December. To make that happen, Mirotic led all EuroLeague players in both average performance index rating and scoring for the month as Barca aced one crucial showdown after another, including back-to-back dates with its legendary archrival and its victimizer in last season's championship game. Mirotic was his team's go-to star every step of the way. If Barca had to share first place when December started, Mirotic made sure that his team now occupies an exclusive perch at the top of the standings to start the new year.

The MVP of the Month honor is now in its 17th season. Although statistics 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 during the month in question. With the December honor, Mirotic is the first player to win the award twice in two different seasons. He had previously done so in 2019-20, joining previous single-season, two-time winners Shane Larkin and Ante Tomic. Mirotic has now been MVP of the Month a record seven times; five players are tied behind him in second place with three such awards each.

To open December, Mirotic scored 18 points, grabbed a game-high 8 rebounds and matched his career best with 5 assists for a 23 PIR as Barcelona nipped defending champs Anadolu Efes Istanbul on the road, 93-95, in Round 13. Both Cory Higgins and Nick Calathes were injured, as they would be all month, but Barca still ended its four-game losing streak against Efes and tasted revenge for last season's championship game defeat. A week later, Mirotic lit up a EuroLeague clásico as no one before him when Barca turned back visiting Real Madrid 93-80. His career-best 31 points and 39 PIR – which was one short of Barca's club record and the best of any EuroLeague player this season – were both the highest such numbers by anyone in 29 continental games between the archrivals this century. Mirotic added his season high of 10 rebounds for a double-double, to boot. His quietest December game came next; 10 points and 7 rebounds in a 69-76 road win in Round 15 at Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade. Still on the road 48 hours later, his game-high 20 points and 32 PIR paced Barca to an 82-85 victory at Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. Barca's fifth win in a row was unforgettable, a 20-point fourth-quarter comeback on its own floor to beat UNICS Kazan in overtime, 111-109, as Mirotic hit 13 of 13 free throws en route to team highs of 28 points and a 26 PIR. Despite Mirotic's 19 points and 20 PIR, Barca dropped its last December game 95-75 at Bitci Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz.

At month's end, Mirotic had averaged 21.0 points a game with excellent shooting – 61.8% on two-pointers, 50.0% on threes and 93.8% on free throws – to go with 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists for a PIR of 25.3 per game. What's more, Barca stopped three of the competition's hottest teams, beating Efes, Real and UNICS when they had four-, six- and three-game winning streaks, respectively. All despite missing two starters. It all came down to Nikola Mirotic's leadership, which Barca fans are sure to applaud massively when he receives his December MVP award at an upcoming home game.