Is Rip the Heat stopper?

619558.png

Is Rip the Heat stopper?

I must admit, initially, I wasnt overly excited about the Bulls decision to sign Richard Hamilton as their new starting shooting guard.

Sure, hes a huge upgrade over Keith Bogans, but my biggest concern was over how much gas he had left in the tank after 12 NBA seasons, and multiple lengthy playoff runs in Detroit. And, oh yeah, his well-publicized feud with Pistons coach John Kuester last season that resulted in Hamilton being exiled from the team for a few weeks.

We all knew Rip was a great player in Detroit: three All-Star selections, six-straight conference finals and an NBA championship in 2004. But could he still play at that high level now, especially considering hell turn 34 in February?

Judging by what we saw in his Bulls debut, the answer is yes. It looked like Hamilton had been with the Bulls for years, operating smoothly and efficiently in the half-court offense, hitting open jumpers and finding the open man when he was double teamed coming off screens. Having Rip in the lineup should be a big help to Carlos Boozer, who figures to get several easy baskets when the defense jumps out on Hamilton.

Rip might be starting his 13th NBA season, but hes in phenomenal shape, and was able to get out on the fastbreak and run on the wing with one of the fastest players in the league, Derrick Rose.

The challenge for Tom Thibodeau and his staff will be not burning Hamilton out during the condensed 66-game regular season. Sure, landing one of the top seeds for the Eastern Conference playoffs is important, but it seems almost inevitable the Bulls will be looking at a best-of-seven series against the Heat somewhere down the line. If Thibodeau can limit Hamilton to 25-28 minutes a game during the regular season, then Rip should be fresh for a battle with Dwyane Wade and company come playoff time.

Hamilton is no stranger to playoff series with Wade, LeBron James, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce over the last 8 years, and hes more than held his own. Rip is one of only a handful of players to average over 20 points in more than 100 career playoff games. And, writers in Miami will tell you hes given Wade fits with his tireless running around screens on the offensive end, and 6-7 length on the defensive end.

So, is Hamilton the missing ingredient to get the Bulls past Miami and into the NBA Finals? Only time will tell, but judging on past performance he certainly gives the Bulls a better chance to match up with Miamis perimeter stars. When the Heat send double teams at Rose, Hamilton will be on the wing waiting to make them pay. Hes also not afraid to take the big shot with a playoff series on the line.

Long term, the Bulls might have been better off pursuing younger shooting guard options like O.J. Mayo, Arron Afflalo, Marcus Thornton or Nick Young, but none of those players has any meaningful playoff experience.

Lets face it, the Bulls title window is open right now. Given the uncertainties of a shortened season, why not add another proven veteran and go all in for an NBA title? The Bulls have some future assets like Charlottes No. 1 draft pick and the rights to European star Nikola Mirotic that might allow them to make a big-time trade, and reload in a couple years.

So for now the motto is: "Lets Rip and Run to an NBA title."

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Rangers tonight on CSN

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Joe Maddon breaks down Wade Davis vs. Aroldis Chapman as Cubs ramp up for another World Series run

Rick Hahn: White Sox 'still thoroughly, deeply engaged' in trade talks as meetings close

Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook out vs. Rangers

Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls

Bears, Lions have been totally different teams in fourth quarters

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Cubs unveil championship Trophy Tour