Rip Hamilton: Upgrade or not?

According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Rip Hamilton is expected to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Bulls later today, thus ending the team’s search for an upgrade at the shooting guard position.

Coach Tom Thibodeau and Carlos Boozer are both fans of Hamilton.

Former Bulls sharpshooter Steve Kerr thinks Rip will be a great fit in Chicago:

“I love the way (Hamilton) moves without the ball. I love the fact he doesn’t dominate the ball. If you’re going to have a backcourt partner with Derrick Rose, you want somebody who’s just going to catch and shoot or make a quick move. You can’t have somebody who’s going to dominate the ball, or put it on the floor because the offense will just stop.

“Rip’s a guy who can come off curls, screens and run all over the place, move the defense around so that even when he’s not scoring, he’s keeping people occupied, and that gives Derrick Rose driving lanes. I think it’s a great pick-up, assuming he has something left.”

Not everybody thinks the Hamilton signing will work for the Bulls.

Andres Alvarez of The Wages of Win Journal says nay. His argument is based largely on the fact that Chicago’s current crop of two guards — Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer — were much more productive than Hamilton was last season based on David Berri’s Wins Produced metric.

That’s one way to look at it, I guess. Of course, despite all the dysfunction and turbulence in Detroit last season, not to mention reduced minutes, a reduced role, and a group of players that didn’t exactly fit together, Rip still compiled a better Player Efficiency Rating (15.8) than Bogans (9.0), Brewer (13.8) or Korver (13.0).

But when predicting Hamilton’s potential impact, it may be more important to consider his skill set versus what the Bulls already had at SG.

Now, is it true that Hamilton is a lesser defensive player than Bogans and Brewer? Yes, it is. However, the Bulls were ranked first in Defensive Rating last season because of Thibodeau’s well-designed team defense more so than any one or two players.

No, Chicago’s problems were on offense, where they ranked 11th in Offensive Rating. The Bulls had trouble spreading the floor in no small part because their shooting guard was usually an offensive non-entity.

Bogans could spot up for open threes. That is the extent of his offensive skill set.

Brewer can’t hit threes (6-for-27 last season) and has no mid-range game to speak of (30.8% from 3-9 feet, 33.3% from 10-15 feet, 37% from 16-23 feet). His admittedly solid ability to finish at the rim is hampered by the fact that he can’t get there on his own in one-on-one situations and doesn’t earn many free throws (2.7 per 36 minutes).

Kyle Korver can’t create shots or get to the rim (0.2 attempts at the rim per game last season), usually relying on a complex series of picks and screens to get an open look. Plus he’s a poor rebounder and can be absolutely abused on defense in one-on-one situations.

If you watched the Bulls last season, you know that, on offense, their inability to spread the floor hurt them. Especially against good defensive teams like the Miami Heat, their primary rival in the East.

Much was made of LeBron’s ability to shut down Derrick Rose in those fourth quarters of the Eastern Conference Finals. I won’t make excuses — like pointing out that Rose was exhausted from shouldering the entire offensive load all season and all playoffs long or that he was still hampered by a sprained ankle he suffered in the first round — but I will point out that LeBron’s job was helped by the fact that Chicago’s shooting guard (usually Bogans or Brewer) and center (Joakim Noah) were relative non-entities on offense…which allowed their men to repeatedly sag off and cut off whatever avenues Rose might have had.

The Bulls do not need Rip to be a 20-point scorer. They need him to be a legit scoring threat.

That’s why I put more stock in Kerr’s analysis than the breakdown of Hamilton’s Wins Produced. Rip isn’t what he was. We know that. But he’s an accomplished, respected player with championship experience. Defenses will pay attention to him. He never stops moving. He doesn’t need the ball. He can generate shots. He can shoot threes, hit from mid-range, and get to the rim. He is not great in any one of these areas, but he doesn’t have to be.

Again, as Kerr pointed out, Hamilton does not need to hold onto the ball like, say, a Jamal Crawford would. Which makes him a good backcourt mate for Rose, who almost always has the ball in his hands. And, due to his abilities and constant movement, his defense can’t just leave him, as Bogans’ and Brewer’s defenders could.

Over the past two seasons, Rips skills haven’t been as sharp as they were. It’s hard to say how much of that was incompatible personnel and a bad situation, although it’s reasonable to suggest those factors played a part in his seeming decline. But, again, he doesn’t have to be the 2004 Richard Hamilton. He just has to help spread the floor and take a little of the scoring burden off of Rose.

I think he can do that.

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