The Chicago Bulls are without superstar point guard Derrick Rose, but head coach Tom Thibodeau is blending the talents of newly acquired Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson with his defense to compensate for the loss.
So far, Hinrich has been a defensive nightmare for opponents. When the Bulls faced the Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving might have thought he was going to have a field day against the old man.
He probably wasn't thinking that after the game, though. Based on stats provided by NBA.com, Irving was a minus-13 and scored just six points on 25-percent shooting while Hinrich was on the court.
On the season, according to Synergy, Hinrich has yielded a paltry .47 points per play. No, that is not a typo. As a team, the Bulls yield just 82.0 points per 100 possessions while Hinrich is on the court.
Granted, they score only 94.9 points—but that is still more than 82.
Early in the season, the Bulls have the Association's best defense, as measured by their 93.9 defensive rating. Again, this is the early in the season, but bear in mind that this is the team that has had the lowest defensive rating in the league over the last two years.
Hinrich makes the defense better, and that defense makes the lack of offense less of an issue—particularly when you consider the Bulls are doing a better job of turning defense into offense.
Based on data provided by teamrankings.com, they are tied for the fifth-most fast-break points per game, which represents a 24-percent increase from last season.
The Bulls also have little Nate Robinson.
Robinson is a less-than-towering 5'9"—in high heels, standing on a skateboard. That presents defensive challenges for him. Last year, he gave up .99 points per play when he was the primary defender, according to Synergy.
Granted, he was with the Golden State Warriors. But even they were worse defensively while he was on the court, as shown by NBA.com's advanced stats. The Warriors gave up 107.5 points per 100 possessions while he was on the court.
However, Chicago's help defense is now helping to mask his deficiencies. That .99 points per play is down to .76.
While the Bulls are still giving up considerably more points while Robinson is on the court, they are still giving up a stingy 98.9 points per 100 possessions while he's on the floor. That's not as good, but it's still pretty good.
His own defensive rating, 90, is the best of his career by 14 points. You can argue that's because of help defense, but that's precisely the point: It is help defense because it's there to help.
Thus, the Bulls are able to use his explosive offensive talents without paying a heavy penalty on the other end of the court.
That offensive end of the court is where they need the most help, and Robinson brings it. He is averaging 19.3 points per 36 minutes along with 7.6 assists, a career high.
He's also adding an absolutely stunning 7.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is more than Marc Gasol. Granted, it's a small sample size—but Robinson is a small dude, so it balances out.
Combining Hinrich and Robinson, the Bulls are a surprising third best in the NBA in terms of net production from their point guards, according to hoopstats.com.
The Hinrich/Robinson duo combines to score 17.2 points, grab 7.6 rebounds and dish out 11.6 assists per game with an efficiency rating of 24.8. That's good for the 11th best in the NBA.
Their opponents average more points, with 19.6, but the Bulls' point guards yield fewer rebounds (4.9) and fewer assists (6.3). Opponents have a total efficiency of just 11.2, which is by far the best in the NBA.
If you look at it as an issue of winning the position-by-position battle, the Bulls are supplying enough defense to compensate for the loss of Rose and perhaps a little bit more offense than many expected.