Kirk Hinrich, right, defends against Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics during a Jan. 18 game at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston. Hinrich may be under-appreciated, but he’s held the Chicago Bulls together while former MVP Derrick Rose has been on the mend. (Photo by Stephen Ghio/Flickr.com)
Kirk Hinrich didn’t earn his nickname from Chicago Bulls fans just because it sounds catchy.
Captain Kirk is the ultimate floor general and he is the only player on the roster who could successfully direct the sometimes chaotic Chicago offense. For that reason, he is the Bulls’ most underrated player.
Hinrich, in his second stint with the Bulls, does not have impressive stats. He has clearly lost a step or two from the wear and tear of a 10-year career. He has struggled to stay healthy, missing 13 games this season due to various injuries.
That sounds more like damaged goods than an underrated player, but Hinrich’s contribution to Chicago’s success can’t be measured by numbers or highlight reels.
This savvy veteran guard is head coach Tom Thibodeau’s right-hand man. The Bulls may struggle to score at times without former MVP Derrick Rose, but Hinrich is the glue that keeps the team from completely unraveling.
Hinrich possesses nearly every strong quality that Thibodeau values in a player. He’s gritty and tough. He has a high basketball IQ. Most importantly, he is a tenacious defender.
Chicago struggled in the final stretch of games leading up to the All-Star break, losing five of seven against strong competition. Hinrich did not play in any of those games. In fact, the Bulls are 4-9 this season when they take the floor without Captain Kirk.
Hinrich is averaging a measly 7.0 points and 5.2 assists per game, but he is the most effective point guard for a team that lacks depth at the position as long as Rose remains sidelined.
Hinrich is essentially the only true point guard on the roster. Nate Robinson is more like a spark-plug scorer who happens to be too short to play any other position. Marquis Teague is a young, developing rookie, and Thibodeau does not trust him enough to play important minutes this late in the season.
It may sound old school, but the offense is most efficient when the traditional point guard Hinrich runs the show. Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah all feed off his leadership, and each player performs better with Captain Kirk at the helm.
However, Robinson has been the more dynamic player for the team this season because of his ability to score in bunches. He has the speed and athleticism to offset Hinrich’s veteran savvy and defensive toughness, which is why Hinrich’s contributions often fly under the radar.
Robinson is an important piece for Chicago because he is the only active player on the roster who can consistently create his own shot. Robinson struggles at running offensive sets, however, and he often takes ill-advised shots early in the shot clock.
If the Bulls were to lose Robinson for a stretch of games, it would be difficult to overcome his instant scoring. At the end of the day, however, it is realistic to believe that the team could collectively make up for his absence.
When Hinrich doesn’t play, the Bulls cannot collectively replace his on-court leadership. He organizes the offense and communicates Thibodeau’s instructions to his teammates better than any other player on the roster. Plus, he is a key ingredient to Chicago’s suffocating defense.
Hinrich has played a key role in keeping the Bulls among the Eastern Conference elite, but the task becomes more challenging as teams shift toward playoff mode. It’s up to Captain Kirk to keep Chicago on the right track in the final months of the season, as the Bulls aim for a third-straight Central Division title.
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