While the Ersan Ilyasova free agency saga continues to drag on, the Bucks' search for backcourt depth continues. Aggrey Sam of Comcast Sportsnet Chicago reports that the Bucks have an offer on the table for former Bulls, Wizards and Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich, whom Gery Woelfel first suggested as a Bucks target last week. No mention of the length of a hypothetical deal, but I'll assume (and hope) it's only one or two years.
Milwaukee, not a long trip from the north suburbs, is also negotiating with Hinrich and according to a source, the Bucks, coached by former Bulls head coach Scott Skiles, who coached Hinrich in Chicago, offered the Iowa native a contract worth upwards of $4 million a year.
Hinrich has been talking to the Bulls since free agency began and it appears Chicago is his first preferred destination, though plenty of teams have been linked with Hinrich since the start of free agency. The seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft, Hinrich was selected one spot before the Bucks drafted T.J. Ford and had four impressive seasons in Chicago before suffering a dip in form in 07/08. Then Derrick Rose arrived, and he's never been quite the same, having split the past two seasons as a part-time starter between Washington and Atlanta.
So why are the Bucks interested? Perimeter defense is the obvious answer, as Hinrich has a long track record of competently defending both the point and shooting guard positions. Scott Skiles knows all about that, having started as Bulls coach midway through Hinrich's rookie year and seeing the former Jayhawk's best years first hand. Backcourt defense is also an obvious weak spot for a Milwaukee backcourt counting heavily on Brandon Jennings, Beno Udrih and Monta Ellis. While the Hawks were better both offensively and defensively with Hinrich on the bench last year, he did post excellent opponent figures at both guard positions (2/3 of his time at shooting guard, 1/3 at point guard).
What Hinrich won't do is provide a shot in the arm offensively. Though he's been a very reliable shooter of long twos and made between 35% and 42% from distance each of the past five seasons, he's allergic to the paint and draws fouls at an anemic rate, making him mostly a spot -up shooter and willing mover of the ball. Via MySynergySports.com, over a third of Hinrich's plays last year were spot ups, where he provided 1.03 points per play on 36.7% shooting from three. In comparison, Beno Udrih was better in pick-and-roll and had 25% of his plays on spot-ups (0.94 PPP, 29.5% threes) while Jennings was about as good as Hinrich on spot-ups but just 18% of his plays came that way. Not surprising given Jennings can actually get to the hoop and Udrih is better running an offense. Inking Hinrich would also provide cover in the event that the Bucks moved either Udrih (expiring $7m) or Ellis ($11m with opt-out next summer).
As of now the Bucks' depth chart behind Ellis is painfully thin with rookie Doron Lamb the only natural shooting guard on the roster, so it stands to reason Hinrich would operate mostly as a backup shooting guard. That's nothing new for the Bucks, who deployed Shaun Livingston (30% of total Bucks' SG minutes) and Udrih (25%) in that capacity for much of last season before Ellis' arrival.
While Hinrich would fill a strategic need (the aforementioned perimeter D), any potential move would also be a question of tradeoffs. While it won't have any bearing on re-signing a Bird free agent like Ilyasova, giving most of the Bucks' available free agent dollars to Hinrich would preclude the Bucks from making any other comparably sized signings, raising the question of whether the Bucks are less concerned with adding a bigger guard than they appeared to be in the lead-up to the draft (remember the whole "we need a big guard" thing?). The pickings aren't particularly attractive for sub-MLE swingmen (SG / SF), so don't bank on the Bucks finding any long-term answers either way, though there are younger and bigger options than Hinrich. Gerald Green (who can't be offered more than $1.2m by the Nets) has been a popular name at least among fans, but athletic guys with questionable focus haven't typically been the types the Bucks roll the dice on.
A vote of confidence for Tobias Harris?
The other obvious implication of signing Hinrich or another combo guard would be on the small forward position, currently manned by Mike Dunleavy, Tobias Harris and Luc Mbah a Moute. Having a shooter big enough to man the SG and SF spots would be the easiest way to fill out the Bucks' depth chart--hence everyone's earlier assumption that Carlos Delfino would be back--but maybe they have more faith in the current group than we thought. Mbah a Moute once again saw the majority of his minutes at power forward last season (29% of total Bucks' PF minutes, 10% at SF), so I'm not counting on 12/13 to be the year Mbah a Moute suddenly becomes a full-time SF. That's especially true if Ilyasova departs, leaving Drew Gooden as the only vaguely skilled guy in the frontcourt.
So does that mean everyone's favorite youngster Tobias Harris is in line for a major bump in minutes? It seems to be a universal wish of Bucks fans, and if Dunleavy is the only true small forward on the roster (peg him for 25-30 minutes when healthy) then the Bucks won't have many other options. They'd still have another exception to add further depth: either the $2.6m cap space exception if they lose Ilyasova and renounce Delfino and Kwame Brown, or the $2m bi-annual exception if they keep Ersan and use most of the mid-level on Hinrich. I'm not saying the Bucks can't find a random guy (or even Delfino) at that price to take rotation minutes from Harris, but at that price they'll need to find a bargain.
Harris looked ready to take on a bigger role in limited minutes last year, showing off a surprisingly savvy game for a 19-year-old just a year removed from high school. But he also stumbled when given a chance to start seven games in March, looking out of place with the starting unit. The biggest problem for Harris was his inability to space the floor: though he was a good finisher (68%), good in transition and has great instincts in the post, he shot just 25% on long twos, 26% on threes, and 30% overall on spot-up shots. That doesn't get it done in an offense where Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are getting most of the touches and where the small forward has to provide some semblance of spacing. Fortunately, time is still on Harris' side, though the Bucks coaching staff will no doubt be hoping to see a more consistent spot-up game from him starting in Las Vegas in a week.