Bulls

Underrated Hinrich continues to quietly impress

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Underrated Hinrich continues to quietly impress

When Kirk Hinrich rejoined the Bulls over the summer, it was a fact that he'd be expected to replace Derrick Rose as the team's starting point guard. But who knew that the veteran would also make up for the loss of Omer Asik as a shot-blocking force?

Obviously, that's a bit of stretch, but Hinrich's impact on the defensive end--he's blocked five shots in four preseason contests, impressive numbers for a 6-foot-3 guard, to go along with 1.5 steals per outing--and steadiness on offense has already earned significant praise from his new coach and teammates.

"Setting the tone for us, both offensively and defensively. Keeping us organized, recognizing what's going well, who's going well, what the defense is doing. Anytime you get the defense to overcommit in one area, to take something away, there's going to be something open on the back side. He has a good ability to read that and defensively, terrific," gushed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "Terrific. Multiple effort, hard on the ball and he sets the tone for your defense."

Chimed in Carlos Boozer: "I love playing with him. He has a great, great sense of the game, man. Great flow, great feel, does a great job of making plays for all of us. Great defender, he has phenomenal hands."

Backup point guard Nate Robinson has already made strides as a floor general in the exhibition slate, but Hinrich is proving to be indispensable and could be on the way to joining former and current teammate Luol Deng as member of Thibodeau's exclusive club for players who don't get much rest during games. Coupled with the fact that the backup shooting guard spot is up for grabs and it's easy to envision the versatile Hinrich playing alongside Robinson in certain situations.

But Hinrich's value as a playmaker, after years of playing off the ball--first, upon Rose's arrival in Chicago; then after being traded to Washington, which had then-rookie John Wall; and finally, in Atlanta, where All-Star swingman Joe Johnson often dominated the ball and the Hawks were grooming Jeff Teague, older brother of Bulls rookie Marquis, as the team's future point guard--has been overlooked. Not quite as proficient an outside shooter as many believe him to be--though more athletic, as witnessed by his defensive presence and forays to the rim--Hinrich's floor generalship, beyond his 6.5 assists a night in the preseason, has been more impressive in light of all the new faces he's playing with.

Though he was familiar with Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, who was only a rookie when they were paired up, as well as fellow free-agent signee Vladimir Radmanovic, who was with him in Atlanta, Hinrich has had to adjust to the preferences of new backcourt partner Rip Hamilton, a former Central Division rival in a past life, and Carlos Boozer, a fellow All-American in the high school class of 1999. Thus far, not only has he been a good fit with his new teammates, but it's clear that he and Thibodeau are cut from a similar cloth.

"From knowing them over the years, my main focus is just trying to run the team and I'm improving at that. That's it, that's my focus. I'm not really worried about anything else, except running the team and playing solid," Hinrich told CSNChicago.com. "I've got great teammates, they're fun to play with.

"I'm really enjoying it right now. For whatever reason, some places, you fit. I thought I fit in really well in Washington with the system; we just weren't very good. It's just one of those things," he continued. "I thought it was a good fit for me and that was a big reason I decided to come here."

Still, Hinrich isn't satisfied with the early returns, for himself or the team as a whole. As the preseason winds down, he expects the Bulls to ramp up their play.

"We've got a couple more preseason games to try to tighten some things up and get ready," he explained. "We've just got to keep trying to tighten everything up so we're ready when it goes up for real.

"Not playing in spurts, more consistent on both ends," added Hinrich. "It seems like in some of these preseason games, we've kind of taken our foot of the gas in the second half and we just can't do that."

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

On draft night, there is a decent possibility that the Bulls front office looks at their draft board and collectively decide that they can get a player with No. 7 pick value later in the first round. They could be inclined to feel this way more than in most years due to the 2019 draft class being such a toss up after the top three picks. If the Bulls traded down in the draft, I am assuming they would be netting a valuable future first-round pick, likely with some minimal protections. In this series, we will be looking at prospects the Bulls could take should they trade down in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Rui Hachimura per The Stepien:

71 percent at the rim

44.2 percent on short midrange

47.6 percent on long midrange

52.1 percent on NBA 3s (12/23)

Boylen talked a ton this season about “toughness” being a key tenet of the new Bulls culture moving forward. The idea of that “toughness” didn’t translate on the court heavily, though the Bulls did improve slightly in rebound rate under Boylen.

From the time for Boylen took over, the Bulls ranked 14th in defensive rebound rate and 25th in total rebound rate, up from 16th and 28th respectively under Hoiberg. Those numbers are a bit of smoke-and-mirrors with all the factors at play this past (weird) Bulls season.

But Boylen did have a much heavier focus on generating points inside first, with the team ranking third in the league in points in the paint per game during his tenure. Rui Hachimura fits in extremely well with the idea of the Bulls punishing teams inside with low-post scoring depth, resulting in open looks on the perimeter.

Hachimura stands 6-feet-8-inches tall, 230 lbs., with a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan. He is a very physical player and utilizes his wingspan incredibly well in traffic. Hachimura posted a 17.4 percent defensive rebound rate over his three-years at Gonzaga. I mentioned above how Hachimura embraces contact and his career average of 7.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes helps showcase his ability to be a wrecking ball in the paint.

He has the potential to excel as a small-ball center with the right personnel surrounding him. The fact that he can grab a defensive board and initiate the fastbreak makes him an even more valuable prospect. But when you consider that lineups with he and Markkanen as the two bigs on the floor would have five capable ball-handlers, the idea of Rui in Chicago becomes even more enticing.

Overall, Hachimura is a great prospect with a solid skill set that should allow him to be a decent scorer from day one, it all just depends on how much of an opportunity he gets.

The Bulls--as John Paxson has reiterated many, many times now--feel comfortable with the starters they have at the two, three, four and five positions, with point guard being their main area of weakness. While the Bulls don’t necessarily need another big, they do need to add productive players who are young. With Boylen’s emphasis on having multiple ball-handlers, driving the ball and points in the paint, Hachimura would be a logical selection, though No. 7 overall could be a bit of a reach for the 21-year old big.

His defense definitely has a long way to go--as with most NBA draft prospects--but Hachimura’s situation is unique since he literally had a language barrier to overcome when he first got to Gonzaga in 2017. The belief right now is that Hachimura is in a comfortable spot right now in terms of both speaking and understanding English, as reporting from Sam Vecine of the The Athletic (LINK is behind a paywall) and others has backed up.

With that being said, the Japanese forward still makes too many mistakes on the defensive end of the floor to be a surefire top 10 pick.

He is at his core an offensive-minded player, and as a result has not exactly developed much in the way of defensive intensity over the years. Hachimura averaged 0.6 steals per game and 0.5 blocks per game for his NCAA career.

For comparison’s sake, his steal and block rates are almost identical to Marvin Bagley III during his time at Duke. Bagley had a highly productive rookie season with the Kings--landing a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First-Team--but the Kings defense was still four points worse when he was on the floor per cleaningtheglass.com ($).

Despite having similar measurements to Bagley, I don’t believe that Hachimura posses quite the level of athleticism that Bagley does, making his path to becoming an above average defender that much harder.

Ultimately, if Hachimura’s awesome shooting numbers from NBA 3-point range (41.7 percent) on a small sample size (36 attempts) aren’t smoke-and-mirrors, he will greatly outplay his draft position. Hachimura shot 52.1 percent on his NBA range 3-pointers and also has a career 74.6 percent free throw percentage. Whether he was diving to the rim on pick-and-rolls with Lauri spacing the floor, or playing in a high/low offense with another big on the bench unit, there is a clear path to Hachimura being effective in Chicago. It would just take a ton of patience from the Bulls new-look coaching staff.

White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal leads the minors in strikeout rate, but it’s not translating to hits

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal leads the minors in strikeout rate, but it’s not translating to hits

When the White Sox drafted Nick Madrigal with the fourth overall pick in last June’s draft he was known as an elite contact hitter who could play good defense on the infield.

In nearly a year in the minors, that has mostly held true, but not exactly according to plan. Madrigal raced through three levels of the minors in 2018 and hit .303 in 43 games between those three stops. He only had five strikeouts.

This season has not gone as smoothly. Madrigal is hitting .261 for Single-A Winston-Salem, but he still isn’t striking out much at all. In fact, according to a write-up on Milb.com, Madrigal leads of all minor league baseball with a 3.3 percent strikeout rate.

“Madrigal has plus speed, and that should lead to more hits as his sample increases, but he'll have to hit a lot more to provide value from his specific profile,” Sam Dykstra wrote.

So what’s with Madrigal not hitting for higher average? How can a batter strikeout so rarely and not find more hits?

White Sox director of amateur scouting Nick Hostetler, one of the key decision makers in drafting Madrigal, talked about Madrigal’s progress on an episode of the White Sox Talk podcast earlier this week.

“The one thing he’s still doing is making contact,” Hostetler said. “So that is what we expected. We expected that out of him. I’m not sure he was probably expecting the streaks. I think he’s dealt with a lot of streaks in his offensive game this year. I think he had one stretch that was 0-for-16 or 17 and he came back with a couple hits. So he’s been a little streaky this year. But I think he’s starting to learn. He’s starting to develop. He’s had one home run. He’s starting to hit some doubles, but he’s starting to learn to get the ball in the air a little bit. He’s learning how teams are shifting him, how they’re playing him.”

The shifts Hostetler referred to are another interesting part of Madrigal’s unusual profile. He is actually going to opposite field more than pulling the ball down left field and opposing defenses are playing him accordingly. That could be one reason to explain why Madrigal isn’t getting more hits out of all the balls he is putting in play.

He is showing a bit more power this year as opposed to last year (11 extra base hits vs. 7 in only 10 more plate appearances). His spray charts for 2018 and 2019 show he is pulling the ball more than he used to, a sign that he is adjusting.

2018 spray chart:

2019 spray chart:

Note that Madrigal has more balls resulting in hits getting pulled down the left field side than he had last year. As defenses are shifting him to hit the ball to opposite field, as Hostetler noted, this will be a key part of his development.

He is showing progress in other areas. He is drawing more walks (14 this season vs. 7 last year) and is showing off his speed with 12 stolen bases.

Hostetler isn’t pushing the panic button on Madrigal.

“This is part of development,” Hostetler said. “Unfortunately the new wave we’re in everybody thinks ‘well, they’re a college guy and he’s drafted so high he needs to hit like this and go right away and be there in a year.’ Some guys just take a little bit.

“The one thing I’ll say is the defense has been exactly what we thought it would be. It’s Gold Glove caliber defense and he’s making contact. As long as he keeps making contact, keep fielding those balls like he is, he’ll figure out the rest.”

 

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