The Bulls have searched a long time for the right player to join MVP point guard Derrick Rose in the backcourt, and Hamilton seems in theory to be a great fit. He has a championship pedigree from his days with the Detroit Pistons, proving that he could fit in with the team-first, defensive mentality Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau wants his players to have.
However, his first year in a Bulls’ uniform did not yield the results Bulls’ fans were hoping for. Granted, the 2011-12 season was shortened by the lockout, and both Rose and Hamilton were injured for a good part of the season. Settling in with a new team is hard enough, even without such adverse circumstances.
While it is unlikely that the Bulls will attempt to release or trade Hamilton, relegating him to a bench role does not seem to be out of the question. Despite his impressive accomplishments in Detroit, it has been awhile since Hamilton has been a key contributor on a contender. It is still unclear if he has what it takes left in the tank to be that guy again.
In order to answer this question, we must look at a variety of factors. A thorough analysis of his first season in Chicago and of the other players who could replace him as the starting shooting guard is vital to make a judgment on the issue.
Hamilton’s 2011-12 season is a tough one to judge. While he did display the skills that made him great at times, most of the time he looked old and injured. The biggest problem he really had was his own health.
His averages of 11.6 points, three assists and 2.3 rebounds were low for him, but they were not low considering that he is a 34-year-old veteran who has been brought in to play a supporting role for a championship contender. If he is healthy, Hamilton makes the Bulls better with those numbers.
However, his health is a significant concern at this point in his career. Hamilton played in just 28 games during his first season with the Bulls, as shoulder, groin and thigh injuries kept him out of the action.
He complemented Derrick Rose very well while he was able to play, being the extra shooter and championship-proven veteran presence that the team desperately needed. None of that means anything if he cannot stay healthy, though.
The Other Contenders
The general consensus right now is that Marco Belinelli will be Hamilton’s backup to start the season. Eight years younger than Hamilton, Belinelli is not a bad player to have as your shooting guard.
He started 55 of 66 games last season for the New Orleans Hornets, averaging 11.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. Belinelli is obviously a decent player, but he is not the difference-maker that a healthy Hamilton is.
Nate Robinson is also a possibility. Robinson signed with the Bulls in the offseason after experiencing a rejuvenation of his career during the 2011-12 season with the Golden State Warriors. His averages of 11.2 points, 4.5 assists and two rebounds were the highest of his career since the 2009-10 season, his last with the New York Knicks.
Robinson is probably not a serious option, though. His 5’9” frame cannot guard anyone, especially not the 6’5” and taller shooting guards that the Bulls will face. He was brought in to be an offensive spark plug in Rose’s absence, not a starting shooting guard.
Although it would seem unnecessary since Hamilton has played well with Rose, Kirk Hinrich is also a possibility, but only after Rose has returned. Before then, he will be manning the point guard spot, and he is their best option in that situation by far.
He has the size and defensive ability to play the role of shooting guard as well. I do not think he will start, as he is a valuable bench player, but he could play alongside Rose in spots.
Of these players, Belinelli has the best shot at unseating Hamilton for the starting spot. He has nice size and scoring ability, and he has proven that he can be a very solid role player with another team. Considering Hamilton’s age, Belinelli could very well be the starter regardless within the next two to three years.
As long as Hamilton is healthy, he will be the Chicago Bulls’ starting shooting guard. He provides exactly what they need to complement Rose on offense: a big guard who moves well without the ball and works for open shots. He also meets the requirements they have defensively, as he is long at 6’7” and works hard on that end of the floor.
The biggest reason that Hamilton will retain the starting spot though is his experience. Hamilton helped lead the Detroit Pistons to an NBA championship, two NBA Finals appearances and six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances. He understands what it takes to win with balance, teamwork and defense, which are precisely the building blocks this Bulls’ team is built on.
Richard Hamilton will remain the starter during the 2012-13 season. He plays well alongside Rose and is what the team needs. Rip may be getting up there in age, but he is still one of the best wings in the game when his body allows him to be. Hopefully it will in 2012-13, for both his sake and that of the Bulls.