By: Zachariah Blott
With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, we see that the Bulls have decided to hang onto Kirk Hinrich, the seventh-year point guard who’s been in a lot of trade talks of late. Many fans felt he was an expendable piece after Derrick Rose arrived last year, but on the contrary, the two PGs are together bringing the Bulls to new heights.
After rotating the two last year, with Rose starting and Hinrich backing him up, head coach Vinny Del Negro has been starting the two together for 2 months now, with staggering results. When both players are on the floor during the opening tip this season, which has been in every game since Christmas (minus one when Hinrich had the flu), the Bulls carry an impressive 20-9 record.
Before Christmas? The pair rotated for 21 games earlier this year, going 9-12 and headed straight for the lottery. Not only that, Hinrich missed 6 games around Thanksgiving, during which Chicago went a pitiful 1-5. It’s obvious that these two are working in tandem quite well… and if Del Negro has the good sense to keep them together, you might see a favorite or two in the East fall sooner than expected come playoff time.
How It Works
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that putting your two best passers in the game at the same time will increase ball movement. Since Del Negro has paired them up, Chicago’s ball movement has resembled that of Argentina’s post-Diego Maradona national teams.
Watch just a quarter of Chicago basketball and you’ll regularly see four, five, six passes during most possessions. The ball goes inside, it goes outside, there’s a drive and kick, a fake shot and a pass – it’s crazy. It’s like watching one of those teams at the YMCA made up of middle-aged guys who all know how to play the game. Their lack of athleticism should make them chum for the youngsters with expensive sneakers, but they end up beating three teams in a row with great passes, picks, and backdoor cuts.
The Bulls are simply moving the ball faster than opponents can slide their feet (remember your sixth-grade coach’s drills?), and they have a slew of quick and/or intelligent players who move well into cracks in the defense. Chicago has Hinrich and Rose whipping the ball around from all locations, and they have Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Brad Miller, and now Hakim Warrick using their know-how and hustle to open things up underneath or on the weakside. The result is an offense that creates a lot of opportunities from a lot of different angles.
More on Chicago’s PG revelations after the break…
Additionally, a big part of the reason Rose and Hinrich work as a pair is that they compliment each other’s abilities extremely well. Rose is a world-class athlete who drives and twists his way into the lane for layups or 360 degrees of passing possibilities. What he can’t do, however, is shoot worth a lick from outside (6 total triples at 24%). Hinrich is quite a deadly shooter (37%, many games with multiple bombs), but he doesn’t have the quickness to the hole that Rose possesses. The problems this creates for defenses are maddening: pack it in to stop Rose, and he’ll pass to Hinrich for a three, but crowd Hinrich and you risk Rose driving it 1-on-1.
With all the ball movement being created by the duo’s presence, and their off-setting skills frustrating opponents used to facing one type of point guard at a time, another result is other Bulls having a much easier time creating their own shots against distracted defenses. Deng has flashed more of his driving ability, and Warrick is always good for his career calling card: slashing to the hoop for big dunks. Rookie power forwards Gibson and James Johnson have displayed fluidity around the hoop, too, and have benefited from the team’s strong passing.
How It Began and Where It’s Headed
Shortly after Hinrich was selected with the 7th-overall pick in the 2003 draft, the former-Jayhawk took the starting job from Jalen Rose pretty much from Day One (Day Two, to be exact). Since then, he’d started nearly every game with extraordinarily consistent results.
In each of his first five seasons, Hinrich averaged right around 6.5 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 15 points, 38% from deep, 82% from the free-throw line, and about 1.4 steals per. The only number that changed significantly was his field-goal percentage, which went up. Hinrich missed only 10 starts in his rookie campaign, and only three more over the next 4 years.
Then Rose, a Chicago native, became the franchise savior as the number-one pick in the 2008 draft, and Hinrich became a full-time backup for the first time in his career. His $9 million contract looked to be a bit hefty for a reserve, so trade talks swirled into this season. Regardless of what Del Negro thought would happen with Captain Kirk in 2009-10, he decided to reinsert him into the starting lineup with Rose after a 10-17 start.
The changes are obvious. They won their first four games with the new lineup, and were 13-5 with it before February. Hinrich and Rose have both been more productive while working off each other. Rose was at a 45% FG clip before the switch, but with Hinrich drawing more defenders outside, he’s bolting his way inside for more layups and short bunnies, shooting 50%. His A/TO rate has improved from 5.6-2.8 to 5.9-2.7 now that he’s not expected to be the only playmaker. Hinrich’s turnaround is even more pronounced: all of his shooting rates are up (even free throws, from 70% to 80%), his A/TO rate is way up (3.8-2.0 to 4.9-1.5), as are his rebounds and steals.
Barring an epic collapse, which seems unlikely considering they play 15 of their last 26 games at home, the Bulls may have found themselves a way to make some serious noise in the postseason without the presence of a mega-superstar. Heck, they only have an All-Star on their squad because they play in the East, which desperately lacks point guards.
After a (hopefully) deep-run in May, the trade rumors will start up again as the Bulls try to attract Chicago-native Dwyane Wade or Joe Johnson to town with a max contract. Who knows? Maybe next year will mark the beginning of a successful Bulls run with a three-guard set.
Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.
Derrick Rose Photo Credit: Icon SMI