Why Kirk Hinrich Is Perfect Point Guard to Fill Derrick Rose' Void with Bulls
Derrick Rose has never been one to recruit his NBA peers to play for the Chicago Bulls. He kept quiet during the summer of 2010, when the Bulls were pursuing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and never inquired with Dwight Howard, who would've been a perfect fit under Tom Thibodeau in the Windy City.
So when word broke at Bulls media day that the youngest MVP in league history had actually emerged from his danceless, emotionless rehab hole to reach out to a fellow pro, it figured that those inquiring would stand to attention.
Who was the lucky recruit, you ask? Who did Rose enlist?
As Rose told Aggrey Sam of CSNChicago.com:
“Is Kirk [Hinrich] the first person I recruited? Yeah, I think Kirk’s the first person I recruited.”
That's right—for his first act, Rose put on the "full-court press" for Hinrich, a man with whom he shared a backcourt during his first two NBA seasons.
Not the most inspiring (or inspired) pick, to be sure, but an important one for the Bulls nonetheless. The team had to find a point guard to hold the fort while Rose recovers from a torn ACL. In Hinrich, they managed to snag a veteran leader who was offered more money by the Milwaukee Bucks, and who's eminently familiar with the core of the current team, including Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng.
But mostly with Rose.
After all, it was Hinrich who took him under his wing and showed Rose the ropes as a rookie. He knows Rose's game as well as anyone, and while he hardly has the physical ability to replicate the superstar's on-court contributions—very few in this league do—he's still capable of filling in ably for Rose and keeping the Bulls' heads above water until their fearless leader returns.
Hinrich's best days as a pro came in a Bulls uniform. The former Kansas Jayhawks star averaged 13.4 points, 5.8 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 34 minutes per game and shot 37.9 percent from three-point range between 2003 and 2010. Chicago offloaded him to the Washington Wizards in June of 2010 during their rush to clear cap space before the likes of LeBron, D-Wade and Joe Johnson officially hit free agency.
Age and injuries have since taken a significant toll on Hinrich's contributions. He missed 18 games and struggled in the early going of the 2011-12 season while working his way back from shoulder surgery. Hinrich posted the worst statistical campaign of his career therein (6.6 points, 2.8 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 34.6 percent from three) for an Atlanta Hawks squad that was bounced by the Boston Celtics during the first round of the playoffs.
In Hinrich's defense, his play improved considerably after the All-Star break—44.8 percent from the field, 38.4 percent from three (h/t ESPN's John Hollinger)—once he returned to a starting role. Keep in mind, too, that Hinrich was stuck playing alongside high-usage guards like Joe Johnson and Jeff Teague, while his own usage rate careened to a career-low 13.9 percent.
Hinrich can expect to have the ball in his hands much more frequently in Chicago—maybe not a Rose-like 30.5 percent (seventh-highest in the NBA in 2011-12), but something closer to the 19.8 percent he once enjoyed with the Bulls.
Whether Hinrich should be in charge of the ball that often is another topic of lively debate in Chi-town. On the one hand, Hinrich fared much better on both ends of the court last season at the off-guard position. At 31 (soon to be 32, on January 2), Hinrich is no longer quick enough to keep up with the NBA's best point guards, though he still has the requisite grit to hound shooting guards and the outside stroke to be effective off the ball.
On the other hand, the Bulls need a leader with some toughness at the point, and Hinrich is nothing if not that. Said Rose in praise of Hinrich:
What do you make of Kirk Hinrich's return to Chicago?
“Kirk is someone that I can see myself playing alongside of him for a long time. There’s nothing more than, when you’re a hooper, and you know that someone on the court is going into a battle with you and he’s not giving up if he knows that you’re going to keep battling, and I’m someone that’s going to keep fighting until the end and he’s the same way, so why not have him on the team?”
Indeed, Hinrich is the sort of player whose intangibles will never wane, even if/when his body betrays him. Jannero Pargo, a former teammate of Rose and Hinrich's with the Bulls, put it even more succinctly in speaking to Shams Charania of RealGM:
“Kirk brings leadership, the type of effort you need to win. He’s a very tough defender and plays the right way. Offensively, he’s a very good shooter. I think he’s going to bring a lot to the team, especially under Thibs’ system.”
It's possible, then, that Hinrich might even be a better match with the Bulls now than he was when Vinny Del Negro was the head coach. His toughness and leadership will be of tremendous value to Tom Thibodeau, whose Bulls teams have maximized an approach based on heart, hustle and hard-nosed defense to succeed in spite of significant injuries—those to Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer in 2010-11, and those to Rose, Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton in 2011-12.
Chicago will need a heaping helping of those same qualities to overcome Rose's absence and the thrifty replacement of nearly its entire "Bench Mob" in the season to come. At the very least, Hinrich will contribute on the floor what Thibs brings to the table from the bench, and should have little trouble pleasing his coach in that respect.
And if Captain Kirk sees an uptick in his statistical production, then the Bulls may well find themselves in the mix for a better-than-expected seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
As for D-Rose, Hinrich's return will hopefully show him the sort of impact that a simple recruiting call can have on his own future as well as that of his team.
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