As hard as Kirk Hinrich may try, there's no replacing Derrick Rose. The Chicago Bulls did well to lure Hinrich back to his old haunt in free agency this summer (with a little help from Rose), but shouldn't expect similar results.
Yes, Derrick missed 27 of a possible 66 games last season, and yes, the Bulls compiled a more-than-respectable 18-9 record in his absence. But (not surprisingly), Chicago has fared far better with Rose in the lineup since Tom Thibodeau took over on the bench—94-26, for a winning percentage of .783. It would be hard-pressed to win at a clip close to the .757 mark with which the team has led the NBA over the last two regular seasons.
Not that the Bulls don't still have the horses to field a competitive team in the Eastern Conference while Rose works his way back from a devastating ACL injury. The Bulls need to allow Captain Kirk to play to his strengths (what few of them remain) and, more importantly, that they don't expect him to serve as the crux of their attack, as had been the case with Rose.
Make no mistake about it—Rose was the center of the Bulls' basketball universe, to the extent that he remains so even while he's busy pumping iron and posing for Adidas. Rose was by far Chicago's leader in usage rate over the last two years by a hefty margin, ranking sixth in the NBA in 2011-12 and third the season prior, per Hoopdata.
Run the offense? Derrick does that. Attack the basket? Derrick does that. Get to the free-throw line? Derrick does that. Take the last shot? Who else?
Rose's success as the go-to guy in Chicago stems in large part from his superb physical skills—speed, strength and athleticism—and a killer crossover. Whether he's taking on one defender or a fistful of them, Rose is so quick with the ball that few of his peers can keep pace with his change of direction, much less his powerful drives to the hoop once he's gone Linda Ronstadt on 'em.
Surely the Bulls could do worse than to ask Rose to shake-n-bake his way to the basket and finish as the No. 1 option in their offense.
And when the opportunity to dish should present itself, Rose has the vision to find the open man and deliver the ball on a dime.
To be sure, Chicago's Rose-centric offense wasn't always so aesthetically pleasing, though it was surprisingly effective. In fact, the Bulls ranked fifth in offensive efficiency last season (with 104.5 points per 100 possessions) after coming in 11th (with 105.5) in 2010-11.
According to NBA.com, Chicago's offensive output rose to 107.6 points per 100 possessions with Derrick on the court in 2011-12, which would've been good enough for second in the league overall. Without him, the Bulls' efficiency dropped (quite predictably) to 102.1, which would've slotted them at 16th.
The disparity was even more pronounced the year prior, when the Bulls averaged 107.5 points with Rose (ninth) and a mere 98.9 (dead-last) without him.
Clearly, Chicago's better off when Derrick can play. You don't have to be a rocket scientist (or even John Hollinger) to figure that out.
It's also evident that the Bulls learned how to mitigate the impact of Rose's absence last season, at least to some extent. Their success in 2012-13 will likely hinge on their ability to pull the same trick, but with a bargain-basement bench and Hinrich at the controls.
It's not exactly a recipe for success, unless the rest of the Bulls' core—Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer—can step up to the plate in the meantime.
Even at his apex in 2006-07, Hinrich was only third among Bulls (who played close to a full slate) in scoring and usage rate.
In his time, though, Hinrich was an effective scoring point guard. He was never particularly quick or athletic, but his stroke was pure, be it off the dribble or in spot-up situations. His ability to handle and distribute the ball made him a threat in the pick-and-roll game.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, the Hinrich of old (in the video above) has given way to an old Hinrich.
Injuries and the natural effects of age (he'll be 32 in January) have since sapped him of the modicum of speed and athleticism he once enjoyed, leaving behind a player who'd perform better as an off-guard than as the primary floor general on a playoff team. As ESPN's John Hollinger recently pointed out, Hinrich fared well as a shooting guard with the Atlanta Hawks after the All-Star Break last season, when his shooting percentages jumped to .448 from the field and .384 from three.
By the same token, Hinrich's point-guard skills have clearly deteriorated. Without the sheer physical ability to penetrate off the dribble, Captain Kirk can't create shots for others as effectively, nor can he put pressure on opposing defenses quite so readily himself.
This isn't to say that Hinrich can't see the court or pass the ball anymore; there's plenty of evidence to the contrary.
On the whole, though, his efficiency as a distributor has waned since Chicago sent him packing in 2010. In that time, his assist percentage has plummeted while his turnover percentage has steadily (and unsettlingly) increased.
Still, as grim as the outlook with Captain Kirk at the controls may be, there's reason for optimism in the Windy City.
Offensively, the Bulls have enough going for them—up front and off the bench—to make Hinrich's job easy. So long as he can pass the ball into the post to the likes of Boozer, Noah and Taj Gibson and hit Deng, Richard Hamilton, Marco Belinelli and Vladimir Radmanovic in stride for jump shots, the Bulls' offense should still be passable.
But offense isn't the Bulls' bread and butter under Thibs. Their specialty, rather, is stifling defense.
In that regard, Hinrich should be passable, if not positive, with regard to what Chicago does. According to 82games.com, Kirk limited opposing point guards to a player efficiency rating (PER) of 11.9, and held up even better against shooting guards, who posted a collective PER of 11.0 against him.
Not that Chicago should count on Kirk to shut down quick point guards the way a healthy Rose might have.
Instead, Hinrich's job is (or should be) simple: Limit mistakes, play within himself and make the occasional play. In essence, Hinrich is best suited to being a "game manager", not unlike a middling NFL quarterback who plays next to a Pro Bowl running back and opposite a Super Bowl-caliber defense, a la Alex Smith with the San Francisco 49ers.
If Hinrich can do that much, and the Bulls' frontcourt can carry a greater share of the burden on both ends of the floor, then Chicago should be able to weather the storm until Rose returns.
At that point, it'll be some time before Derrick is back to being the high-flying, herky-jerky MVP contender he once was, if he'll ever be that player again.
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