NBA coaches say Rip Hamilton has made Bulls even better
By Neil Hayes firstname.lastname@example.org January 24, 2012 7:14PM
Bulls guard Richard Hamilton is fouled by Nets guard Larry Owen as he drives to the basket in the second quarter as the Chicago Bulls take on the New Jersey Nets Monday January 23, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
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Updated: February 26, 2012 8:15AM
From NBA city to NBA city, ask opposing coaches how these Bulls are better than last season’s vintage, and they talk about players having another year in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system, about Derrick Rose being more dangerous after extending his range beyond the three-point arc and the experience the team gained before being eliminated by the Miami Heat last season.
Mostly, however, they sum up the difference in two words: Rip Hamilton.
“Rip Hamilton’s addition has been pretty good, and I actually liked [Keith] Bogans,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said before Hamilton had 22 points in the Bulls’ victory Monday night. “But Rip can give them a little bit more offensive production at the two-guard spot, especially running one or two of the same sets that they ran in Detroit that he’s very familiar with with him running off screens. And experience. Another year of maturation and guys just growing up a little bit more, especially in terms of different situations on the court. But more than anything Rip Hamilton.”
The acquisition of Hamilton becomes even more crucial with Luol Deng out for what could be several weeks or more with a torn ligament in his left wrist. Now that Hamilton has recovered from a nagging groin injury, has gotten in better shape and has learned Thibodeau’s system, he’s making the impact many predicted when he was acquired before the season.
The Bulls didn’t have a 20-point game from a starting shooting guard last season. Hamilton has scored 20 and 22 in back-to-back wins, and he can expect his minutes to climb with Deng sidelined.
“A lot of plays are the same,” Hamilton said. “It’s just learning different terminology, and every day I get better at it. The offense is the offense. Every day I get better at reading my teammates and things like that. It’s just basketball.”
As welcome as his scoring is, Hamilton’s impact can’t be measured in field goals and free throws made. He had 10 of the Bulls’ season-high 33 assists Monday. His all-around game is even more valuable with Deng’s availability in doubt.
Although he’s a natural two guard, he played small forward at times during the Pistons’ NBA title run in 2004.
“For Rip, it’s every aspect of the game,” Thibodeau said. “He gives you great leadership, playmaking ability, big-shot-making ability and, more important, he makes the right play. When he’s open, he shoots, and when he’s guarded, he makes the right read. If he’s double-teamed, he knows where the holes are. He makes the game simple. He gets easy shots for people. He runs the floor, and he never stops moving. He makes the offense hard to be defended. That becomes contagious.”
Chemistry perhaps has never been more important than during this condensed season. Take the Bulls’ last two opponents, for example. Several Bobcats were looking for their own shots instead of passing the ball. Nets point guard Deron Williams at times wanted to play one-on-one with Rose on Monday night, open teammates be damned. Twice the Nets didn’t even make an effort to get back defensively, leading to Rose dunks on consecutive possessions.
Hamilton fits right in with the unselfish Bulls on both ends. A veteran with an NBA championship ring playing the way he does only reinforces the team-first mentality.
“He’s such a vet,” center Joakim Noah said. “You can tell he has been playing his style of game for a long time. It looked like it hasn’t changed one bit. He demands a lot of attention. He opens things up for a lot of players.’’