I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Kirk Hinrich is my favorite basketball player, and I’m his biggest fan. While many Chicago Bulls fans are upset with him after missing two free throws that prevented an even playoff series, I’m not blaming him for the Bulls’ recent sorrows. It’s not because of my personal preferences, though. I’m not blaming him because it’d be completely erroneous to do so.
When I was a younger basketball fan, I’ll admit, I would have blamed Hinrich for the loss entirely. Okay, maybe not if it were Hinrich seeing as he’s my favorite. But if D.J. Augustin missed that pair of free throws instead, six years ago, I would have blamed him entirely for the loss because it would be the easy thing to do. I don’t see it that way anymore, though. I’ve grown up, and I would later realize how unfair it is to place that kind of blame on one player in a team sport.
That’s what plenty of fans are doing, though, just like my colleague and Pippen Ain’t Easy editor-in-chief, Ronald Agers, has done. He’s even gone as far as blaming him for the overall struggles Chicago has faced in the series thus far in this recent piece. I was even specifically called out.
One aspect of Hinrich’s game that Agers has criticized (yet again) is his defense. The Bulls-Wizards playoff matchup has left Hinrich in charge of defending his former rookie and teammate, John Wall. Wall is clearly the superior player, and one who’s much younger and quicker, so it’s understandable for the 33-year-old Hinrich to have troubles.
Agers doesn’t feel quite as accepting of that, though. He criticized Hinrich’s match-up with Wall with the following question:
What NBA franchise puts a slow guy that can’t stay in front of quick guards (Like that John Wall guy…he seems to apply in this situation) can’t run the Bulls offense to the point that your center initiates the offense and can’t shoot?
I get that Hinrich isn’t favored over Wall, but it’s not like Hinrich doesn’t challenge Wall. If Hinrich were to be removed from the starting lineup and demoted to second-string point guard, it’d be Augustin’s duty to stop Wall, but is that really better? Sure, Augustin is more capable of keeping up with Wall and his swiftness, but he’s not a defensive player. Jimmer Fredette won’t stop Wall any better either, so that’s not helpful.
Jimmy Butler could potentially take on Wall, but he can’t do it all the time. Butler has to take care of Bradley Beal, and he can’t just be taken off of Beal to stop Wall if Hinrich is the issue. That just creates even more problems, because then who will stop Beal? If Hinrich isn’t good enough to stop Wall, then how would he be qualified to stop an even younger player in Beal? Derrick Rose isn’t coming back anytime soon. Ronnie Brewer could be considered as well, but it still creates match-up problems, because then who would Chicago’s point guard defend? Trevor Ariza?
The point is Hinrich and Butler make up Chicago’s best defensive backcourt. With Hinrich versus Wall, Wall has the advantage, and that’s just how it is. You can win everything, but at least the Bulls have a defensive-minded player like Hinrich to make Wall work on the offensive end.
Agers, however, doesn’t feel Hinrich is quite the defensive-minded player he has become known as, though. His most recent Legion of Booz post includes the following claim:
The Bulls’ defensive issues start with your point guard, Kirk Hinrich. It has been a known fact that Hinrich can’t guard a cup of warm milk with the Secret Service in front of him. Do you really think he can guard John Wall? John Wall or any point guard that has any type of speed for that matter can break down the defense and put pressure on the Bulls frontline.
I already covered the match-up with Wall, but that metaphor is just over the top. One will hardly see Hinrich slacking on the defense. There will always be times when he gets beat. He’s 33 years old, it’s his 11th season in the league, and he’s not as fast as he was before, but he still takes on the same defensive mentality that he came into the league with back in 2003. He still gets in his opponent’s face on the defensive end.
Despite that, Hinrich will get beat by Wall on the defensive end. Hinrich can’t flat out stop every opponent he has. In fact, no one can. But that’s where everyone else has to step up.
If there’s any phrase Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau is known for, one of them is “Do your job.” Hinrich’s job on the defensive end is to defend Wall, but his teammates also have the duty of helping Hinrich if he needs it. The same goes for Mike Dunleavy if he needs the help, or Jimmy Butler, or even Joakim Noah. Noah is aware of this, and, along with his humble nature, it’s why he credited his teammates after being named the 2013-14 NBA Kia Defensive Player of the Year.
“This award is a team award,” Noah said. “This wouldn’t be possible without my boy Kirk Hinrich, the old man picking up full-court, Thibs being on him every day.”
As for that pair of free throws, yes, Hinrich’s misses prevented the Bulls from tying the game at 101, but Taj Gibson knows everything won’t go in his team’s favor.
“Things like that are going to happen,” Gibson said of Hinrich’s missed free throws. “He’s a tremendous player. He’s been great for us all year long, been in that situation many times. If that happened in that time again, I would still go with Kirk. He’s one of the captains on this team, one of the veterans on this team. I was just a little shocked when he missed, but it happens like that, he’s human.”
Noah concurred saying, “It’s all part of the process. I love Kirk to death. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. That’s our captain and I love him to death. Things like that happen in this game. We’ve just got to move on from it. I’ve got his back 150 percent.”
Even so, it’s not just Hinrich’s fault his team was in that position. It’s not just his fault his team was behind. It was the Bulls, as a whole, that prevented themselves from winning.
Chicago had a 75-70 lead heading into the fourth quarter of Game 2 Tuesday night. By the 6:58 mark of the period, the Bulls had an 87-77 lead. They were on the way to evening the series, but they went into an offensive drought, and their defense wasn’t as sharp.
Sure, Hinrich had his share of missed jumpers down the stretch, but it wasn’t just him who couldn’t score. It wasn’t just Hinrich who couldn’t stop the Wizards from scoring. None of the Bulls could score. Augustin had his share of missed jumpers as well. Jimmy Butler was 2-of-9 from the field for the night. None of the Bulls took the initiative of making sure the best offense was being executed. None of the Bulls slowed down the Wizards when it mattered most.
“We’ve been having good looks,” Taj Gibson said. “We just couldn’t knock them down. Normally, guys like myself, Kirk and D.J. we knock certain kind of shots down. In the playoffs, it’s been different. There are no excuses. We have to handle business.”
Hinrich certainly receives some of the blame, but he definitely doesn’t deserve all of it. So blame if you want, but it doesn’t mean it’s fair. He isn’t the only one that will need to step up Friday night for Chicago to win. All of the Bulls need to step up. A win won’t be achieved by if only Hinrich improves upon his last two game. It’ll be achieved by the team improving, and Thibodeau knows it.
“We have to do it collectively,” Thibodeau said. “And that’s really what we’ve done. When we lost Derrick (Rose) and we lost Luol (Deng), that’s the makeup of our team. But we have more than enough to win with. We’ve done it all year. And I have the belief we can do it again.”