By Mike McGraw
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has said several times this season that he judges his point guards by how well the team functions.
So, who is winning that battle right now?
Starter Kirk Hinrich is doing a good job with the defense and veteran leadership, but he’s shooting just 34.9 percent from the field and has been sidelined by a series of minor injuries.
Backup Nate Robinson has helped win games for the Bulls, including Tuesday against Boston when he scored 18 points. Robinson also has been wildly inconsistent, made costly mistakes in close games and often seems overmatched defensively against elite point guards.
Rookie Marquis Teague has a limited sample size, but he led the team to strong fourth-quarter performances in back-to-back wins over Philadelphia and Brooklyn last week. Teague has done enough to merit asking if he deserves more playing time.
Against the Celtics, the Bulls didn’t do a great job of slowing down point guard Rajon Rondo, who scored 26 points. On the other side, Robinson scored 18 points, Hinrich didn’t score at all, and the Bulls won the game easily.
“I was impressed by his toughness and how he runs the team,” Thibodeau said of Hinrich. “That is how I evaluate him. He competes, he comes up with the long rebound, he makes people work and sets the tone for the team.”
Hinrich has started every game when healthy, which is as good an endorsement as he could ask for from Thibodeau.
“The thing that I think gets overlooked with Kirk is the shot distribution,” Thibodeau added. “He knows what we’re trying to get to. Your primary scorers are going to get pretty good looks. He will get back in rhythm (with his shot).”
Thibodeau credited Hinrich with quality distribution of the ball. Robinson hasn’t been bad, either. Hinrich is averaging 5.3 assists in 27.2 minutes, while Robinson is at 3.6 assists in 21.1 minutes.
That’s a smaller difference from Robinson’s lead in scoring average, 10.8 points to 6.2 for Hinrich.
Team results don’t favor either player. The Bulls are 8-6 when Robinson scores at least 10 points, and are 7-6 when Hinrich collects 5 or more assists.
The plus-minus ratings don’t tell much of a story, either, other than the point guard performance isn’t that important right now. The Bulls seem to follow the lead of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, while Taj Gibson is an underrated barometer.
In a few weeks there will be no debate about the point guard spot. When Derrick Rose is ready to roll, the job is his.
That’s why there has been talk about whether the Bulls will keep all three point guards. Robinson could be vulnerable because his contract is not fully guaranteed.
If the Bulls wanted to create more cap room, they could release Robinson before Jan. 10, when contracts become fully guaranteed for the season.
Why would the Bulls cut ties with their most reliable bench scorer? They probably won’t.
Robinson has been too valuable to let go. The only reason to really consider such a move is because they want to acquire a different player.
When Rose comes back, the roster will be guard-heavy, but quality big men are tough to acquire. They’d probably be better off letting Robinson keep his role and waiting for next year to create more floor time to Teague.
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