Feb 25, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Chicago Bulls shooting guard Kirk Hinrich (12) in action against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

In Defense of Kirk Hinrich

Last week, Pippen Ain’t Easy editor-in-chief Ronald Agers wrote a piece concerning Carlos Boozer and the excessive hate he receives. Despite much criticism in the past, he went on to argue in favor for Boozer and declared his support for the starting power forward as the NBA Playoffs loom, creating The Legion of Booz.

There’s one thing, or player rather, my colleague referred to in the text other than Boozer: Kirk Hinrich. He mentioned

Kirk Hinrich who had two games recently that he had faced challenges putting the ball in the basket from the field or the foul line. Nobody gets on him. Why?

Hinrich has his issues on defense, why doesn’t he get criticized like Boozer?

In a later article, he added,

Kirk Hinrich must have heard I was talking trash about him and dropped 16 points on 7-9 shooting. Hey Kirk, I’ll leave you alone when you do this more than twice a month. Just sayin!

Before I get into further detail with my problem with the previous claims, I need to clarify one thing: I’ll never deny my love for Kirk Hinrich. I’m his biggest fan (yes, that’s a fact), and he’ll always be my favorite basketball player.

Despite that, I won’t deny he’s had his struggles these past few season. Was I stubborn about admitting it at times? Yes. Did it take some time for me to accept that? Absolutely, but I eventually came around and accepted it. The thing is, though, I never gave up hope.

When Hinrich made his return the summer of 2012 and the season began, I remained hopeful that his injuries would pass even when they just kept piling up. I remained hopeful that his horrendous shooting would take a turn for the better even when it seemed like it never would. Then the playoffs came along.

The first game of the postseason wasn’t anything special at all for Hinrich, but, in the next three games, he was more aggressive and scored in double figures. ‘Captain Kirk’ even had a double-double of 18 points and 14 assists in an hour of play in the Bulls’ triple overtime win over the Nets. Unfortunately, his season ended there due to, of course, another injury: a ruptured calf.

Even after that, I was still hopeful this current season could be different.

In terms of injuries, Hinrich has been better with a concussion that limited his preseason and only a sore back and hamstring keeping him out for nine games in the regular season. As for scoring production, the first half of the season just looked like the pre-playoffs Hinrich from last season.

That still didn’t stop me from giving up hope, but it certainly seemed like I was the only one who had any left for the former Kansas Jayhawk.  This is one of my problems with the aforementioned claim that nobody gets on Hinrich for his shooting struggles, because — trust me — a plethora of people did. I won’t call out any specific people for obvious reasons, but there was and still is plenty of criticism being geared towards Hinrich.

The displeasure with Hinrich and his inability to score has prompted criticism began last season and has persisted into this current one. When he would have good scoring nights, they tended to be during nationally televised games. This eventually led to the idea of #NationalTVKirk.

But to say no one gets on Hinrich’s case for his shooting woes is completely and ridiculously false. It certainly may seem like Boozer is the recipient of the most criticism on the Bulls, but that’s partially due to his contract and people’s issues with his inability to live up to it and expectations of basketball fans.

I don’t have any actual statistics on the matter, but I’d say the hate for Hinrich has become nearly equivalent to that of the hate for Boozer — if not equal. In fact, on New Year’s Eve 2012, negative feelings for Hinrich were reflected onto me just because I was  a fan of his.

At the time, my Twitter username was “hinrichbullsfan,” so it was really obvious what basketball player and team were my favorite. On that day, the Bulls lost to the Charlotte Bobcats 91-81. This was when the Bobcats were still the laughing stock of the NBA, and it also ended an 18-game losing streak for Charlotte. I pretty much had no life outside of school and watching Bulls basketball, so like the basketball fanatic I am, I expressed my sadness about having to end 2012 on such a low note.

I don’t know what, or if, I was looking for some kind of response from it, but the one I received was simply unacceptable. Simply put, I was told by a fellow Bulls fan that I didn’t deserve to have a good ending to my year because I was a Hinrich fan.

This isn’t to say all of the Hinrich haters acted like that, because that would be a lie. It clearly took a turn for the worse for some people, though, which just shows how the criticism evolved.

Maybe it’s just my fanaticism for Hinrich that makes the hate seem vaster. Perhaps I’m so supportive of “Captain Kirk” that I exaggerate negative comments thrown his way. Either way, there is absolutely no way he’s been able to get away with what seemed like a never-ending shooting slump, not to mention the extensive string of injuries.

It does, however, seem like people aren’t as hard on Hinrich as of late, and rightfully so.

Prior to the All-Star break, Hinrich averaged 29.2 minutes a game. In that time, he averaged 8.3 points on 36.4 percent from the field and 28.8 on threes.

Following the All-Star break, though, Hinrich’s offense seemed to be rejuvenated. He’s averaged 28.2 minutes a game and been more productive scoring wise. His point average has increased over two points to 10.6 while his field goal and three-point percentages have risen to 43.6 and 45.6 percent, respectively.

Granted, there have still been times when Hinrich has had a difficult time scoring. He hasn’t been able to consistently put up 15-plus points a night, but, overall, he has made a substantial amount of progress. He’s even been more aggressive offensively.

In Chicago’s 102-90 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on April 4, Hinrich attempted 10 free throws — something he hasn’t done in years.

 

To most people, Hinrich’s improvements have been unheard of. I, on the other hand, never lost hope, because I believed he was capable of still putting up those kinds of numbers. If the progress he’s made isn’t enough for some people, then so be it. They’re expecting too much out of a 33-year-old point guard in his 11th season in the league. For him to even be an integral part of this Bulls team is surprising.

Hinrich was brought back to the Bulls to fill in for Derrick Rose until he could return from his anterior cruciate ligament injury and then act as a solid backup to Rose once he returned. But Rose didn’t come back last season, so Hinrich had to act as a starter and take on more minutes than expected.

At the beginning of this season, Hinrich was finally receiving the opportunity to play backup to Rose. But, as we all know, Rose went down again, so Hinrich went back to that starting point guard position he was never truly meant to have — maybe in his younger days, but certainly not in his 30s.

Despite the season-saving addition of D.J. Augustin, Hinrich has been able to maintain his spot as the starting point guard. Some of that reasoning very well could be attributed to Tom Thibodeau’s rarely messing with his consistent lineup, but it’s not like Augustin wasn’t ever put into Chicago’s starting lineup.

In late January, Hinrich sat out four games due to an injured right hamstring he suffered in Jan. 20′s 102-100 overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers. He returned nine days later in a 96-86 win at San Antonio, but came off the bench. The next game, Augustin remained in the starting lineup, and ended up scoring 23 points. The spot was Augustin’s to take, but it’s not his. Hinrich eventually made his way back to the starting lineup, and he’s stayed there.

Hinrich was never going to contribute 15 points a game in his second stint on the Bulls. He’s clearly past his prime, and averaging about 15 points was his prime, so anyone who expected that or still is expecting that should simply stop. It’s not going to happen, and even I never expected that much of him. If he somehow manages to pull off a miracle and increase his point average to somewhere around there, then by all means, make me feel ashamed that I didn’t believe my favorite basketball player could still be that productive.

Instead of complaining Hinrich’s point averages aren’t higher, just appreciate that his offense has actually improved as of late. Accept what he’s been able to add post All-Star break, because who knows how much longer Hinrich will be able to contribute that much?

Enough about his offense, though. There’s still a matter of defense, which my colleague claimed Hinrich has his issues. I’m not saying that’s necessarily wrong, because, technically speaking, every single player will have their issues on both offense and defense; it’s just a matter of what specifically are the problems.

My problem with claiming Hinrich has problems defending is the fact it’s being compared with Boozer. We all know Boozer and defense don’t really go together, and it’s a factor as to why he doesn’t get the fourth-quarter playing time he desires. But, really? Comparing Boozer and Hinrich in terms of defense is just wrong.

If there’s anything to take from Hinrich, it’s that he a defensive-minded player. He’s known for his defense. He isn’t quite the defender he was earlier in his career, and he isn’t swift enough to take on the quick, young point guards as well anymore, but Hinrich can still defend well, and he still goes all out on that end of the court.

One reason Hinrich can often be found on the floor during the fourth quarter is because of his defense. Head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t have  problem relying on Hinrich to defend in the backcourt when it matters most, because he knows Hinrich has what it takes to get the job done. When Thibodeau makes lineup changes to adjust for offense or defense, Hinrich is always in the defensive lineup.

In fact, one of Hinrich’s more recent and memorable plays came on the defensive end. In the Bulls’ 89-77 win over the Pacers on March 24, Hinrich stripped the ball from Paul George on a fast break. I’ll tell you this much, but you wouldn’t see Boozer doing that.

So, if Hinrich’s defense has so many issues, then why does Thibodeau trust him so much on that end of the court? Why would the Bulls be promoting Hinrich for the All-Defensive team?

Criticize Hinrich all you want, but think twice before doing so. It may not necessarily be fair.

Tags: Chicago Bulls Kirk Hinrich

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