When you survey the Bulls’ historic leaders, his name is all over the place. He’s the franchise leader in three-point field goals and three-point attempts, third in steals and assist percentage, fourth in assists, sixth in minutes played, seventh in games played and field-goal attempts, ninth in points and win shares and 10th in field goals.
He was also an integral part of the team that played one of the greatest series of the post-Jordan era, the first-round slugger against the Boston Celtics in 2009.
While he is unequivocally a key piece of the Bulls' past, his value to the Bulls' present is not quite as clear cut.
He’s averaging 7.9 points and 4.8 assists per game this season. His numbers haven’t really been impacted at all by Derrick Rose’s injury and stepping into the role as the starter, either. He’s averaging just 7.6 points and 5.1 assists since then and shooting just 25.9 percent from deep and 30.6 percent from the field.
Waiver-wire pickup D.J. Augustin has out-performed him, averaging 9.8 points and 5.7 assists per game while shooting 40.7 percent from the field and 37.0 percent from three coming off the bench.
So there are reasons to question whether Hinrich is worth keeping around next year.
The other side of the argument is that box scores don’t tell the whole story. When you look at what happens with and without him, it's a pretty compelling difference.
For whatever reason, the Bulls are slightly better (NBA.com subscription required) when Kirk Hinrich is on the court. They get outscored by 1.4 points per 100 possessions when he is playing, and 2.5 points when he’s not.
By contrast, when Augustin is on the court, the Bulls get outscored by 8.0 points per 100 possessions, and when he’s on the bench, they outscore their opponents by 2.0 points. It's inexplicable but true: The Bulls are “better” while Hinrich is on the court.
The Bulls are 12-14 when he’s played this year. They are 1-4 when he hasn't. Last season, they were 38-22 when he played, and 7-15 when he didn’t. That’s a two-year winning percentage of 58.1 when he’s played and 29.6 percent when he hasn’t. The Bulls are literally almost twice as likely to win if he plays, even though his numbers, for lack of a better word, suck.
“Gritty” has become the word to describe Hinrich and the way he plays. He’s a fighter. In the game that stopped the Miami Heat’s 27-game winning streak last season, there were two plays that symbolize what he does.
On one play he wrapped up LeBron James to commit a blocking foul that kept James from getting an easy dunk. The play itself wasn’t anything significant in terms of changing the outcome of the game. It was, however, the play that James mentioned at the end of it.
Hinrich standing in the way of a bull-rushing James, who had at least 50 pounds on him, was a courageous move. And it set the physical tone for the game.
The other play came near the end of the game when Hinrich ripped the ball from Chris Bosh, throwing him to the ground and securing the game in the process.
So yeah, “grit” is a good word. The question is: how much is “grit” worth?
Like, literally, how much?
Hinrich is making $4.1 million this year, which is really expensive grit, even if it does mean beating the Heat and ending their streak.
That’s the question when it comes to considering whether Hinrich sticks around in a Bulls uni next season. Will he take the minimum to stay? If he is, it’s worth keeping him around.
But there are other considerations for the Bulls financially. Luol Deng is going to hit free agency. Carmelo Anthony could be interested in coming to the Bulls (a sign and trade would have to occur to realistically make that happen), per Marc Berman of the New York Post. Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls’ draft-and-stash European superstar-in-waiting, is expected to come over this summer.
There is real money that needs to be paid elsewhere. “Grit” needs to take a back seat to actual play.
Should the Bulls bring back Kirk Hinrich next year?
The Bulls have a roster built on heart, grit and fortitude. Without Rose, though, that’s almost all they are.
Bondo is great for repairing body damage to a car, but you can’t build a frame with it. Essentially, the Bulls are a “Bondo” team. All those intangible are great, but they need to be supplemented with great players.
Any dollar that can be spent elsewhere must be spent elsewhere. Therefore, any dollar spent on Hinrich above the veteran's minimum is a dollar too much.
If he’s willing to play for the minimum, I think the Bulls will, and should, keep him. He knows the system and plays great defense. Those are virtues you want in a minimum-level player. But, they aren't worth more than that in a 34-year-old who doesn't produce much in the way of offensive numbers.