- Nick Friedell, Chicago Bulls beat reporter
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MEMPHIS -- The Chicago Bulls' offense stunk Monday night.
There's no way to sugar coat how bad Tom Thibodeau's bunch shot the ball, especially in the second half. The Bulls' 71 points was their lowest output in almost five years, since scoring just 67 against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 30, 2008. It was brutal for Thibodeau to watch. His arms flailed and his face looked disgusted throughout from the second quarter on considering the Bulls scored just 51 points over the final 36 minutes.
Luol Deng and Marco Belinelli, two of the offensive stalwarts of the past few weeks, combined to go just 8-for-29 from the field. Carlos Boozer had a solid night in the box score with 16 points and 13 rebounds, but he missed 10 shots. As a team, the Bulls shot just 37.3 percent from the field. The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and proved why against the Bulls, although they didn't fare much better offensively, shooting 37.5 percent.
Having said that, Thibodeau has a problem that he's going to have to face sooner or later. He hasn't gotten enough production out of veteran point guard Kirk Hinrich. That was the case again Monday night as Hinrich shot just 2-for-8 from the field, scored four points to go with five assists and four turnovers in 31 minutes. It was a sub-par performance in a season full of them for Hinrich, who has been hurt five different times already this season. He missed the past week due to a left knee bruise, and he looked rusty and frustrated. But Thibodeau decided to stick with him instead of Nate Robinson and rookie Marquis Teague, both of whom have played well lately.
"You have to read how the group is going," Thibodeau said, when asked about his decision to stick with Hinrich. "The group that got us back going in the game in the fourth quarter was when we had Kirk, Jimmy (Butler), (Luol Deng), Taj (Gibson) and (Joakim Noah) in there. So when the group is on the floor they got to play well. It's not any one individual player, it's a team game, it's how the team is performing. So that's how you make your decisions."
Thibodeau, who has made it a habit not to publicly criticize his players, is going to have to make a tough decision soon if Hinrich doesn't start to turn things around. As much as the coaching staff trusts Hinrich, he just isn't getting the job done on the offensive end of the floor. The rust can be an excuse for Hinrich's poor performance Monday night, but the truth is that he hasn't shot the ball well all season. He looks very hesitant on the floor and does not appear to have much confidence in his jumper. In a game in which the Bulls badly needed offense, it was surprising that Thibodeau decided to stick with Hinrich so long.
Hinrich didn't offer any excuses for his poor play, but acknowledged his knee is not 100 percent.
"It was good enough to play," Hinrich said. "I would have liked for it to have felt a little better but that's just an excuse ... just disappointing. I didn't play very well, and we didn't play very well as a team."
Hinrich's teammates believe he will eventually turn the corner, but even they have to be wondering when he will turn things around given that he's shooting just 36 percent from the field this season.
"I think Kirky's fine," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "He's got to get his rhythm back, but he's doing a great job for us defensively, and (he needs to) just take his shots, not think about it. I know Kirk's a worker, and he'll be fine."
Maybe he will, maybe he won't, but with his backups playing better, especially the way Teague has grown over the past few weeks, the cries for Hinrich's minutes to be cut will grow louder if he doesn't start shooting better soon. On a team that is already lacking offensive options without Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton, Thibodeau can't afford to go too much longer with Hinrich if he can't find more ways to score and take care of the ball.
Hinrich has been through slumps before, and he is confident he will start playing better soon.
"Just be aggressive, look for my shot," he said. "Tonight I just didn't get some to go ... it's going to happen."
A slumping Kirk Hinrich presents a dilemma for Tom Thibodeau.