With John Wall sitting out for the first time in his young career, Kirk Hinrich moved over to the point position and played 39 minutes of rock solid basketball against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night in a Wizards 109-94 win. Displaying the attention to detail that allows him to impact games despite average athleticism and skill level, Hinrich routinely made the hard rotation, the sharp pass, and the clever read on his way to a double-double delight — a 13 point, 12 assist, four rebound and two turnover performance.
On back-to-back plays in the first quarter, just four minutes into the game, Hinrich made a pretty move to split two defenders and finish, then made a smart rotation and was able to give Reggie Evans a hard foul– preventing a dunk and sending the career 52% free throw shooter to the line (where he made one shot). The 20-second exchange summarized a night in which Hinrich made more flashy plays than usual, while also contributing the gritty, intelligent veteran plays that have kept him in the league.
Hinrich worked effectively in side pick-and-rolls, scoring three times by refusing the screen and either hopping laterally for a mid-range pull up or attacking the basket. In transition, Hinrich made a number of touch passes for easy finishes—he doesn’t replicate or even approximate Wall’s end-to-end speed, but the results were similar: two points for the Wizards. With the inexperienced Sonny Weems or diminutive Jose Calderon checking him for much of the night, the big veteran guard controlled the tempo throughout the game. The Wizards got off to a hot offensive start, in no small part because Hinrich was able to hand out four assists in the first quarter alone. Playing the awful Raptors’ defense didn’t hurt either.
Despite his enormous impact on the game, Hinrich’s subtle double-double is best understood by way of contrast to Nick Young. Young, who scored 20 points on 10-15 shooting, was the local broadcast’s interview subject at the end of the first half and in the locker room following the game. His impressive individual efforts on the offensive end were easy to appreciate. Young hit on a number of catch-and-shoot opportunities and even tossed in a couple of pull up Js before punctuating his night with a terrific fast break dunk. But in 30 minutes of run, Young contributed almost nothing other than hot shooting (well, he did pull down a career-high defensive six rebounds — Toronto’s woeful shooting made that pretty easy).
On a number of occasions, Young went over a screen he should have gone under, or got victimized by an aggressive, driving Raptor. Each time he received the ball, his one mission was to score, which he did well. However, with the Wizards passing the ball in the half court as well as they have all season, even Young’s successful individual forays seemed to stem the offensive the flow (he failed to notch even one assist). Simply put, his awareness level, both offensively and defensively, is atrocious. Despite his apparent contributions, the Wizards were minus-6 with Young on the court. I know plus/minus can be deceiving, but Young played 30 meaningful minutes in a blowout– this was no effect of a garbage time let down.
Meanwhile, the communicative Hinrich was plus-20, good for second best on the night. He needed only eight shots to get 13 points, including a great momentum sustaining layup off a one-on-one drive to finish the third quarter. This isn’t to say Hinrich played a perfect game. His jumper still needs more lift, and his flat shot fell woefully short on a couple wide open three point attempts. He also had some icky turnovers in the fourth quarter, though by then the game was well in hand.
But Captain Kirk showed how he earned his badge last night, excelling in all those little things a young team typically lacks. He played nearly as well as he can, and contributed all over the court while using vocal leadership to organize the troops on both ends of the floor. Young may have received the attention, but Hinrich receives my vote for ‘Player of the Night’.