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Chicago's Two-Headed Monster

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

The Chicago Bulls have an interesting dilemma. Kirk Hinrich, the team's point guard from itsKirk Hinrich and Derrick Rosemost successful run in recent years, has returned to action after missing 31 games. How do the Bulls integrate Hinrich back into an offense that features Derrick Rose, one of the best young point guards in the game? Both players like to initiate the action; neither is accustomed to playing as a spot-up shooter. Is having Rose and Hinrich on the floor together a good problem to have, or is it a redundancy without purpose?

On Thursday night against Cleveland at the United Center, Vinny Del Negro played his point guards together on the floor for four stretches:

  • [1st Quarter, 4:37 mark] Toward the end of the first period, Hinrich enters the game for the first time, replacing Ben Gordon at shooting guard. Rose maintains almost exclusive control of the ball-handling duties, as Hinrich sets up primarily in the weak side corner.

    On one occasion, the Bulls run a low screen and curl for Hinrich, allowing him to pop out to a spot just beyond the left elbow, but the Cavs show-and-recover to perfection. Hinrich isn't given the space he needs to release the ball.

    At the 1:43 mark, Rose and Hinrich run an effective transition together off a Cleveland miss. Hinrich pushes the ball up to mid-court, then darts a crisp pass ahead of Rose, who has filled the lane on the near side. Rose misses the layup, and both Rose and Delonte West crash to the hardwood. (West leaves the game and doesn't return.) Hinrich marshals the offense on a broken possession [1:13] when he throws the ball into the hands of Daniel Gibson off a slip-screen for Drew Gooden.

    The total sum of Rose/Hinrich for the 4:37 is a -2 for the Bulls, though the team gets solid looks at the basket almost each time down, the turnover notwithstanding.

  • [3rd Quarter, 6:30 mark] It's important to note that the Bulls enjoy a 20-5 run to start the second quarter with Hinrich at the controls.

    When Hinrich checks in about midway through the third quarter, we see a lot more interplay between the two point guards. On the first possession, they swing the ball side to side. As Rose moves the ball over to Hinrich, Cleveland's defense shifts accordingly. It's a bit disarming at first, because few players in the league have spent less time away from the ball this season than Derrick Rose. When Hinrich gets the ball from Rose, he penetrates, further drawing the Cleveland defense inside. With the defense collapsing, Hinrich kicks the ball out to Rose for a wide-open 19-footer. Rose misses the shot, but it's a clean possession and a great look for Chicago.

    At the 3:44 mark, Hinrich spots up in the left corner, where Luol Deng hits him with a pretty baseline pass in traffic. Hinrich misses the three-point attempt, but drains an identical shot a couple minutes later with another pretty baseline pass. The assist-man this time around? Derrick Rose.

    The Bulls score 14 points on 12 possessions during the 6:30 of the second Rose-Hinrich administration, and the chemistry in the halfcourt is decidedly better. The Bulls chalk up a +2 during the six and a half minutes.

  • [4th Quarter, 4:50 mark] With the Bulls up a pair with under five minutes remaining in regulation, Del Negro opts for Hinrich over Gordon to close the game. One of luxuries of having Rose and Hinrich is that, defensively, each can cover both guard positions effectively.

    Offensively, Rose assumes more control of the ball during this stretch, but the Bulls can't generate much in the halfcourt. They fritter away a crucial possession out of a timeout, though Rose comes back the next trip down and weaves his way through the Cleveland defense for a gorgeous layup, changing hands on the elevation.

    With the Cavs up two points inside of a minute, Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas initiate a two-man game on the far side of the court. When the defense doubles Hinrich, he delivers a pass to Thomas between the defenders. After an awkward hesitation, Thomas misses the open 15-foot jumper. The Bulls finish this frenetic 4:50 stretch with a -2.

  • [Overtime] Del Negro stays with Rose and Hinrich, who equitably share point guard duties in the overtime period. Both guys touch the ball on multiple possessions.

    Rose fires a cross-court pass to Hinrich in the left corner on the first trip down. When Hinrich can't find any space against Gibson, he sends the ball back to Rose, who collects it in motion, and never lets up until he gets to the rim. Though Rose misses the layup, the sequence works well. And working off the ball for a shot will make Rose's game even more complete.

    From here, the Bulls' two guards take the game over. There's another patented Rose coast-to-coast drive through the Cleveland defense. On the next possession, Hinrich gets the ball to Rose on the left side. The instant the Cavs slough off Hinrich on the arc, Rose returns the ball to his teammate and Hinrich buries the three-point shot to give the Bulls a six-point lead.

    On a later possession when Rose gets trapped in the backcourt, he effortlessly passes out of the double-team to Hinrich on the weak side. With the defense still recovering, Hinrich penetrates all the way to the rack, earning a trip to the line, where he's a career 82% shooter.

    The five-minute overtime period produces a +9 for the Bulls.

The Bulls finish +7 with Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich on the court together. It's no coincidence that the two stretches during which they cooperate most in the halfcourt produce positive results. Having two guards on either side of the court who can both handle the ball and penetrate presents migraines for NBA defenses, who are accustomed to focusing on the strong side. With Rose and Hinrich on the court simultaneously, the Bulls will have the ability to swing the ball from side to side, and initiate action faster than
most defenses can react. These defenses will, in turn, have to pay a heavy price for cheating across the help line, particularly as Hinrich re-establishes his jump shot.

The forgotten man in this discussion is, of course, Bulls sharpshooter Ben Gordon. With Luol Deng back in action and looking very, very strong, Del Negro will be disinclined to go small, which will mean leaving one of his three top guards on the bench during crucial possessions.

(Photos by Garrett W. Ellwood and Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)