Long time Chicago Bulls fans know Kirk Hinrich well. The team drafted Hinrich in 2003, and in his second year, he led them to the playoffs for the first time since Michael Jordan’s departure. After spending time with the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks, Hinrich returned to his original team last year. Bulls fans got to see a Hinrich who hadn’t changed much since his first time around in Chicago — he knocked down threes, played defense, and passed the basketball. He also missed 20 games during the regular season and eight playoff games. If Hinrich stays healthy come playoff time this year, the Bulls will have a proven, effective leader coming off the bench.
Hinrich’s production started to go down after the Bulls drafted Derrick Rose. Rose’s first season was also the first season in which Hinrich averaged less than 10 points, six assists, and 30 minutes per game. Hinrich always seemed okay with this, and his versatility is really one of his best assets. He is a combo guard, though he is better at running the point, and he isn’t really weak in any one area. Three-point shooting was always one of Hinrich’s strengths, but it’s become his main offensive weapon in his later years. Hinrich actually shot better from behind the arc than he did from two last season.
Defense is another of Hinrich’s specialties, and he has posted a good defensive rating and plenty of steals throughout his career. Having a skilled, effective defender on the bench behind Rose will be huge for the Bulls, as it will allow him to rest without giving up a lead or letting a game get away from them. Bulls and Miami Heat fans likely remember Hinrich sacrificing his body to LeBron James, essentially tackling him on a fast break last season when the Bulls ended the Heat’s 27-game winning streak. It is that kind of dedication and smart, physical play that makes Hinrich a pesky defender, especially for a 6-foot-3, 190-pound guard.
Last year, Hinrich averaged 5.2 assists per game, his most since before Rose was drafted. This makes sense as last year was his first year since then playing mostly point guard, but it’s relieving to see Hinrich can still set guys up nicely.
Bulls fans also got to see something else familiar from Hinrich last year. He was better in the playoffs than he was in the regular season. In reaching the final four twice and the NCAA Championship game once in his time at the University of Kansas, Hinrich displayed his knack for playing against the toughest competition on the biggest stage. He will get a chance to do so again this year, as the Bulls are favorites to go deep in the playoffs. Hinrich will be a key player for the Bulls this year, and if he and they can stay healthy, they have a great shot at winning it all.