Don’t look now, but Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich has once again become a viable scoring threat.
The veteran floor general has reached double figures in 10 of his 14 games since the All-Star break and compared to early in the season, when he struggled with his shooting, he’s a much-improved outside marksman, as evidenced by knocking down five out of six three-pointers in last Thursday’s home win over Houston. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t surprised by the development.
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“That’s sort of who he is. If you look at his career, you see that at the end of the year, he’s always going to shoot 38 or 39 [percent] from three. So I think the big thing is he’s been healthy. He’s one of those guys, too, that I think he’s going to play hard,” the coach explained after Monday morning’s Bulls shootaround at the United Center. “He’s going to play for the team. He’s going to make sure that your scorers are getting their shots. He’s going to take the ones that are thrown back to him, where there’s a double team and it’s been kicked to him. He takes the right shots and that’s where his value is, in just the way he can run your team and I think he had a lot to do with us being organized the way we are, and I think once we got into a rotation, I think he’s got a good rhythm going now.”
All-Star center Joakim Noah concurred about the player nicknamed “Captain Kirk”: “He’s great. He just means so much to this team. Someone who has been here for so long, and his energy and defense, and even what he brings to our offense is so undervalued. People don’t realize what ‘Cap’ brings to this team. He gets the ball where it needs to get to, his defensive presence, just a great locker room guy. I love ‘Cap.’”
Durant the Bulls’ primary focus vs. Thunder
Thibodeau discussed the Bulls’ strategy of attempting to contain Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant in Monday’s game against the Thunder at the United Center.
“The problem lies in you not overcommitting so you leave everyone else open. I think those guys are so hard to guard individually. You have to try to make them work for their points and know you can defend them perfectly and they still can score,” he said. “We’ll try to give him some different looks. He’s at the point in his career where there’s nothing he hasn’t seen. And he has the ability to get a shot off in so many different ways. And then you also look at his ability to pass. He can really hurt you with the pass as well. If you’re running multiple defenders at him and the ball is shot, you’re going to be vulnerable on the board for the second shot. The way they score the ball, they’re hard to guard.”
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Noah chimed in: “Yeah, Kevin Durant is very impressive. He’s the best scorer in the game. They didn’t play very well [Sunday] so you know we’re going to get their best tonight. That’s what good teams do, they bounce back, and we’re definitely going to get their best tonight.
“No,” he deadpanned when asked if he wanted a shot at guarding Durant. “It’s going to take our whole team to try and contain this guy. He can really score and it’s going to take a great effort to try and slow him down a little.”
Not just Durant and Westbrook
Durant is obviously Oklahoma City’s primary scorer, but the fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook and the Thunder’s role players are also important to the team’s success.
“Well, you’ve got two guys that can break your defense and they do it in a lot of different ways. Obviously the transition, off the dribble, pick-and-roll, isolation. Durant, you’ve got catch-and-shoot, you’ve got post-up, pick-and-roll, the isolation and then he’s got the high release that’s very difficult to get to. But they’re a lot more than just those two. They’re a deep team. They’re balanced,” Thibodeau explained.
“[Serge] Ibaka has All-Star talent. You overlook him, you’re making a big mistake. [Steven] Adams is a good young player. [Andre] Roberson is another tough, hard-nosed guy that’s played well for them. And then when you look at [Jeremy] Lamb and [Derek] Fisher and [Nick] Collison coming off the bench and now with the addition of Caron Butler, you’re talking about a very, very deep team. And they have the ability to go big or go small. [Hasheem] Thabeet comes off the bench as well and they’ve got a couple guys out that are terrific defensive players. Maybe the outside people don’t understand how good those two guys are in [Thabo] Sefolosha and [Kendrick] Perkins.”
As for Westbrook, the point guard missed the Thunder’s home loss Sunday against Dallas, but he is expected to suit up against the Bulls.
“Explosive. If he gets a crack, he doesn’t need much room at all. High energy. Coming at you. Fierce competitor. You’re talking about two very dynamic players,” said Thibodeau, who went on to compare Durant and Westbrook to Bulls Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. “The old Bulls team, that was the thing. You had Pippen and Jordan, who could break you down off the dribble and then of course Jordan was such a great post-up player and elbow isolation player. So that’s what I think made them so difficult and of course I think the rules back then, I think it was a lot harder on the defense because you couldn’t bring your bottom big over to the strong side and so, if Jordan got the ball at the elbow, it was almost impossible to guard him.”
Noah added about Westbrook: “He’s a great player as well, and they’re definitely going to come out here and play very good basketball, so we have to play with an edge and do what we do.”
Noah excited about Florida’s “March Madness” chances
Noah, a proud University of Florida product, was optimistic about the Gators’ chances in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, believing they have a chance to win the title, something he did twice in his own college career.
“Hell yeah,” he said about the squad, which finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the country and got a top seed in the tournament. “I’m really proud of the way they’ve been playing, the way they’ve been competing, and everything they’ve gone through. To see those seniors get an SEC Championship [Sunday], I was really proud to wear those colors. And they’re going to be competing in the tournament, that’s all you can ask for. I wish them nothing but the best.”