When Kirk Hinrich rejoined the Bulls over the summer, it was a fact that he'd be expected to replace Derrick Rose as the team's starting point guard. But who knew that the veteran would also make up for the loss of Omer Asik as a shot-blocking force?
Obviously, that's a bit of stretch, but Hinrich's impact on the defensive end--he's blocked five shots in four preseason contests, impressive numbers for a 6-foot-3 guard, to go along with 1.5 steals per outing--and steadiness on offense has already earned significant praise from his new coach and teammates.
"Setting the tone for us, both offensively and defensively. Keeping us organized, recognizing what's going well, who's going well, what the defense is doing. Anytime you get the defense to overcommit in one area, to take something away, there's going to be something open on the back side. He has a good ability to read that and defensively, terrific," gushed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "Terrific. Multiple effort, hard on the ball and he sets the tone for your defense."
Chimed in Carlos Boozer: "I love playing with him. He has a great, great sense of the game, man. Great flow, great feel, does a great job of making plays for all of us. Great defender, he has phenomenal hands."
Backup point guard Nate Robinson has already made strides as a floor general in the exhibition slate, but Hinrich is proving to be indispensable and could be on the way to joining former and current teammate Luol Deng as member of Thibodeau's exclusive club for players who don't get much rest during games. Coupled with the fact that the backup shooting guard spot is up for grabs and it's easy to envision the versatile Hinrich playing alongside Robinson in certain situations.
But Hinrich's value as a playmaker, after years of playing off the ball--first, upon Rose's arrival in Chicago; then after being traded to Washington, which had then-rookie John Wall; and finally, in Atlanta, where All-Star swingman Joe Johnson often dominated the ball and the Hawks were grooming Jeff Teague, older brother of Bulls rookie Marquis, as the team's future point guard--has been overlooked. Not quite as proficient an outside shooter as many believe him to be--though more athletic, as witnessed by his defensive presence and forays to the rim--Hinrich's floor generalship, beyond his 6.5 assists a night in the preseason, has been more impressive in light of all the new faces he's playing with.
Though he was familiar with Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, who was only a rookie when they were paired up, as well as fellow free-agent signee Vladimir Radmanovic, who was with him in Atlanta, Hinrich has had to adjust to the preferences of new backcourt partner Rip Hamilton, a former Central Division rival in a past life, and Carlos Boozer, a fellow All-American in the high school class of 1999. Thus far, not only has he been a good fit with his new teammates, but it's clear that he and Thibodeau are cut from a similar cloth.
"From knowing them over the years, my main focus is just trying to run the team and I'm improving at that. That's it, that's my focus. I'm not really worried about anything else, except running the team and playing solid," Hinrich told CSNChicago.com. "I've got great teammates, they're fun to play with.
"I'm really enjoying it right now. For whatever reason, some places, you fit. I thought I fit in really well in Washington with the system; we just weren't very good. It's just one of those things," he continued. "I thought it was a good fit for me and that was a big reason I decided to come here."
Still, Hinrich isn't satisfied with the early returns, for himself or the team as a whole. As the preseason winds down, he expects the Bulls to ramp up their play.
"We've got a couple more preseason games to try to tighten some things up and get ready," he explained. "We've just got to keep trying to tighten everything up so we're ready when it goes up for real.
"Not playing in spurts, more consistent on both ends," added Hinrich. "It seems like in some of these preseason games, we've kind of taken our foot of the gas in the second half and we just can't do that."