The Bulls as an organization don't agree on much with their old coaches. Their dysfunction is well-documented, but probably the only thing that guys like Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro, Tom Thibodeau, Gar Forman, John Paxson, and Jerry Reinsdorf all agree upon is that Kirk Hinrich helps teams when he is on the court.
The evaluation is jarring because to fans and outsider analysts, it is abundantly clear that Kirk Hinrich doesn't even belong on your 5-man pickup team at the YMCA, let alone an NBA roster. Yet somehow, he has been a mainstay as a big-minute player on the Chicago Bulls for the last seventeen decades. There's something there that Bulls brass are seeing which fans are not, and it's on the defensive side of the ball.
It makes fans want to barf to read this, but there's a reason coaches say Hinrich does all the little things - The stuff that doesn't show up in the box score. It's because despite lacking talent and athleticism at this point in his career, he is still a great off-ball defender. Kirk showcased this value guarding Steph Curry last night. Let's take a look.
The Key to Hinrich's Defense - Be Physical As Hell
Matthew Dellavedova showed during last year's playoff series that the key to at least slowing down Steph Curry a little bit is to pray the officials are having an off night and be as physical as possible with Curry.
The only evidence we have that Curry is human is that he CAN get tired if you pester him and the refs turn a blind eye to touch fouls. Hinrich was masterful at this last night. Hinrich still gets props around the league as a very good perimeter defender from his fellow players because he relentlessly tries to annoy the hell out of other players. He will subtly grab and push other guards as they fly off screens, constantly skirting the line of what the refs should call as a foul:
Hinrich was in Curry's shirt all game defensively. He always had a hand on Curry, was always yanking at his jersey, and in general just tried to be as much of a pest as possible. That constant contact is so valuable to defending Curry, who just needs a sliver of space to turn entire possessions of hard work into rubble.
Hinrich consistently refused to give Curry this air space. All game long, he was holding Curry, hand-checking, and doing whatever he could to junk up Curry's beautiful game. At times, it looked like Hinrich was engaging in a boxing match instead of playing NBA defense:
This is the stuff you can't coach, but that every coach wants.
You can plead with your players to be tenacious on defense, but some guys have it and some guys don't. Watch any of the other perimeter defenders in the league and there are only a handful that never take a play off on defense. It expends a lot of energy to guard off-ball, and it's a lot easier to not try so hard.
Hinrich has lost a lot of his lateral quickness and he can be exposed on-ball or in isolations, but he still has that will to be as much of a pest as possible off-ball.
Really, what is Curry supposed to do when the refs allow Hinrich to do stuff like this?
Kirk is smart enough to figure out early in the game what officials will allow and what they won't. He danced along that line masterfully last night and did the best job he could on a transcendent offensive player with a hundred times his talent.
Another way that Hinrich differentiates himself from other Bulls guards is that he is very good at boxing out and helping team rebounding. This is a skill that doesn't show up on the stat sheet, but Hinrich never backs down from boxing out bigger, stronger players:
Draymond Green was so frustrated by this Hinrich box out (which is another example of Hinrich skirting the line between foul and non-foul) that Green stayed back to argue with the officials. With Hinrich taking Green mentally out of the play, Nikola Mirotic (Green's man) and Pau Gasol ran down the floor to convert an easy fast break layup on the other end.
Willingness to Fight Over Screens and Expend Maximum Energy:
Another reason why coaches say Hinrich is a tenacious defender is because he is very difficult to screen.
The Warriors were setting up action off-ball for Curry all game. Hinrich had to fight through multiple screens on a majority of plays and did an admirable job of never letting up:
When Hinrich did get caught and the Bulls were forced to switch, Hinrich was still able to make smart defensive plays.
And 1 fouls have been an epidemic on the Bulls this year. Guys like Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic, and Doug McDermott have an awful tendency to give weak fouls that allow 3 point plays. Hinrich, on the other hand, is able to give hard, clean fouls to prevent layups:
Hinrich also attempted to tire out Steph Curry by picking Curry up full-court for most of the game. Hinrich is coming off an injury and supposedly has a minutes restriction, yet in his 34 minutes of play he was always hustling on defense for 94 feet, way in the backcourt:
Over and over, Curry had to expend just a teeny bit more energy to bring the ball up with light pressure from Hinrich. The point of this wasn't to get steals, it was to tire Curry out in what was his 3rd game in 4 nights.
It worked - Curry and Hinrich shared the court for 24 minutes and in that span, Curry was a pedestrian 7/15 with 15 points and 4 TO's. Curry still got his and made Hinrich look silly at times, but that's about as best as you can hope for from the best shooter in NBA history on what might be the best team in NBA history.
This is not a fan piece on Kirk Hinrich. He still shouldn't be on an NBA floor. He has been shooting the ball very well this year, but that doesn't erase the fact that he's been a massive offensive liability for a while now. He takes far too many long 2's, can slow down the offense, and at times is embarrassingly bad at the rim:
Additionally, he's lost the speed that made him a good on-ball defender in his younger days. He's chronically hurt and still goes through stretches where he's afraid to shoot. The only thing uglier than his goggles is his garbage-heap play on offense.
He is still a very heady team defender though, a guy who tries his all, who you know exactly what you're going to get from, and who is incredibly frustrating for fans to watch. Hinrich is annoying and even fans of his own team hate him, but that's also what makes him such a tough defender and a coach's pet player. He channels that ability to not care about looking pretty towards doing the little stuff that most don't even notice or appreciate. The coaches see it though, which is why they all love him.