The Chicago Bulls went well out of their way to target Kirk Hinrich passing up several players that were better fits next to Derrick Rose at shooting guard. The reason? It goes beyond familiarity, they needed someone who could play PG while Rose was out.
If Kirk Hinrich were to get hurt or play poorly, the Bulls would rely on Nate Robinson or Marquis Teague to play point guard, both recipes for disaster. While many fans aren’t jacked up about Kirk’s return, the PG market was thin, and their only real other option was to keep C.J. Watson instead.
So what has happened with Kirk since leaving Chicago?
Kirk injured his shoulder in preseason with the Wizards which at the time didn’t seem like such a big deal. He went on to play 72 regular season games in 2010/11 missing a few with calf/hamstring injuries as well as a couple due to the timing of his mid-season trade. All in all, in terms of games played it was a decent season.
For the Wizards, he was actually playing a bit better than he did for the Bulls the previous season with slight increases in his per minute scoring and passing rates and a slight dip in his turnover rate. His PER was up a point, and while he was hardly setting the world on fire, he was at least the same player he was for Chicago.
Things went downhill when he was traded to the Hawks though. With the Hawks additional scorers, Kirk spent most of his time standing around the perimeter waiting for someone to pass him the ball. While not a tremendous dribble penetrater, that portion of his game completely withered and died. His assisted shots saw an increase of 50% from the 39% to the 59% meaning he was less involved in controlling the ball and more involved in catch and shoots. Instead of a facilitator, he became a niche player.
Whether or not Kirk plays well enough to handle the ball significantly in an offense is up for debate. However, it’s clear his efficiencies dip when he doesn’t have the rhythm of handling the ball constantly and plays better with the ball than without it.
In the playoffs for Atlanta, he played well against Orlando shooting 50% from the field, 42.1% from the three point line and chipping in 10 points per game until a strained hamstring sidelined him forcing him to miss the series against Chicago where Jeff Teague emerged and took over Kirk’s role as PG, never to relinquish it.
During the 2011 off season, Kirk was having shoulder pain, had a cyst in his shoulder and had shoulder surgery which sidelined him for the start of the 2011-12 season. When he returned on January 25th, he struggled something terrible, shooting under 40% for 17 of his first 20 games while hitting above that mark 19 of 28 games the rest of the way. Both his FG% and 3pt% raised a full 10% from the first stretch to the second stretch (35% to 45% and 27% to 38%).
He had a similar bump in terms of his passing numbers as well as his assist/to ratio went from a 1.67 to a 2.92 from the start of the season to the second half.
In short, while Kirk’s aggregate numbers for the 2011/12 season look fairly bad, the majority of the horribleness can be traced back to recovering from shoulder surgery which is sure to throw off the stroke of any shooter. His shooting numbers after he regained a comfort level were actually above his career average while his passing numbers went from terrible to acceptable.
It’s easy to dismiss Kirk because of a poor PER over the past couple of seasons with Atlanta, but he wasn’t as good a fit for what they needed him to do in their offense and clearly struggled significantly with injuries hurting his overall numbers. His numbers as the season went on were still consistent with what he’s done for Chicago, and he’ll be put in a position to play his best while Rose is out.
Will he play well enough for the Bulls to hold the rope until Rose gets back? That’s tough to say, but a more in depth look at the numbers makes the move look better than the quick glance. There’s plenty of reason to suspect Hinrich can come in and play at a similar level to what he did when he was last with the Bulls as long as he’s able to stay healthy.
Bear in mind, that’s not anywhere near his peak as his last three seasons with Chicago weren’t all that special. However, he can still be a quality player and is likely much better than a quick glance at his recent numbers would portray.