NEW YORK Though hes too humble to say it, the vibe Kirk Hinrich gave off was one of, You guys didnt think I still had it, did you?
Hinrich, a true professional, chuckled when he was asked about his hot night shooting the ball 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three-point range, as well as nine rebounds, eight assists and just two turnovers in Friday evenings Bulls win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
I made a couple early and my teammates found me for some easy ones, but it always feels good when shots go in, he said, as if the question was the most elementary thing ever. They just presented themselves and I was able to knock them down, and they kind of continued to present themselves as the game went along.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau wasnt so charitable to the assembled media when asked about Hinrich.
Finally, you guys recognize that. The guys been playing well all season. Hes got our second-highest plus-minus. You guys keep talking about what hes not doing. All I see is him playing well, the coach said. If you look at how he shot the ball over the last 10 games, prior to tonight, he was shooting 47 percent from three. You guys say hes not shooting well. Hes doing a great job running our team. Thats what I do know.
Regardless of his numbers, its clear that on a nightly basis, Hinrich isnt the same Captain Kirk Bulls fans remember from his younger days, before he was beset by so many injuries and had an extra dose of athleticism and quickness, which he used to become an effective penetrator, manufacture more offense for both himself and teammates, and was an upper-echelon defender at his position. Those traits are no longer givens, especially when watched alongside some of the more explosive point guards in the game today, but his determination, team-first mentality, unselfishness and most significantly, toughness cant be denied, which is why Thibodeau puts him in the same boat as the indispensable Luol Deng, Hinrichs former and current teammate.
Well, they both have a lot of mental and physical toughness and thats what makes them so valuable to our team, Thibodeau explained. Sometimes you cant always measure what they do for the team statistically, but you know the team is performing well when theyre on the floor and thats how you judge them.
Saturday night, Hinrich will face the last team he played for, the Hawks. But he isnt looking at the game with sentimental feelings, understandable after he was unceremoniously traded to Washington by the Bulls in the summer of 2010, then subsequently traded to Atlanta, where he was only a part-time starter.
Its just another game for me. Theyre playing very well right now and were going to have to play really good, Hinrich said of the Hawks, who feature former Bulls top deep threat Kyle Korver. Theyre a very talented team. I think they did a good job of adding pieces in the offseason that fit how they play and Im not surprised at all.
Coincidentally, the player who eventually seized the starting point-guard role in Atlanta was Jeff Teague, the older brother of Bulls rookie Marquis Teague. Hinrich expressed his respected for the elder Teague, who appears to be in the midst of a breakout season, now that hes a bigger part of the Hawks offense with Joe Johnson in Brooklyn.
Jeffs an explosive athlete and he can really score in bunches, Hinrich said. Hes a tough guard.
For Marquis, Saturday will be the first time hell play against his brother in an organized game, period, let alone the NBA.
Its going to be fun, man. Well just go out there, battle it out, he said, adding that the two havent been in contact leading up to the matchup. Weve played pickup against each otherwe both kill each other. Its nothing.
He knows my game like I know his, though. Its the same. Weve been watching each other our whole lives, so were just going to go out there and play hard.