CHICAGO — Rip Hamilton didn’t look like a player who was debuting for a new team, something you can chalk up to his 12 years in the league that have exposed him to any and every offensive set and defensive scheme known to man.
In a word, I’d describe his first game in a Bulls’ uniform as exceptional. And I still stand behind my earlier claim that he’s a more than suitable fit for this team moving forward.
But what should we make of the Hamilton acquisition for the Bulls after just one exhibition game? For starters, it’s important to remember that this was the preseason, which means that 66 games from now no one will remember this night.
Sure, his final stats – 13 points on 6-for-12 shooting, four rebounds and six assists – will make for good water cooler talk.
But in taking the big picture approach, I’ll say this: preseason game or not, Hamilton’s transition to the Bulls will be as smooth as one could ever imagine. He’s getting accustomed to two things right now: his teammates’ tendencies and a new terminology. Really, that’s it basketball-wise. Based off several media reports regarding his first few days as a Bull, neither have been very difficult thus far. And the rest is old hat for him. Teams and players spend so much time scouting one another that Hamilton and the Bulls are hardly ever going to be caught off guard.
Hamilton wasn’t surprised at how well the Bulls’ offense flowed with him sharing the backcourt with Derrick Rose, and neither should you.
“My style of play is not dominating the ball,” Hamilton said. “I’m moving, cutting, trying to make good decisions. It was fun for me. It was basketball. The guys helped me out in so many different ways. It just made my job easier.”
Now that the we’ve got the beaten-to-death ‘Player X Transitions to a New Team’ storyline out of the way, we can look at what a Bulls’ lineup that includes Hamilton can do for Chicago.
Aside from the obvious – that Hamilton gives the Bulls a consistent wing scorer by creating separation from his defender, not by standing around the perimeter waiting for a swing pass – there are two things that stood out from Tuesday’s preseason game that could be a sign of things to come.
The first is that Hamilton’s constant man-on-the-run style of play will open things up for his teammates. Case in point are his six assists, several of which came from Hamilton running hard off a screen or a pin-down, catching a pass and finding an open teammate in the frontcourt.
“I tell Noah and I tell Boozer, ‘if you hit my guy, your guy’s going to help and I’m going to make the pass,’” Hamilton said. “And it’s good for them because when you can get your bigs easy baskets and get them flowing they want to set screens. That’s what I try to do – I try to reward the bigs.”
That last quote right there tells you all you need to know about Hamilton’s mentality. He’s a veteran player who not only knows how to play a role but also understands what he can do to make his teammates better. And it doesn’t take an entire training camp and preseason to acquire that kind of knowledge.
The second thing Hamilton brings to the Bulls: so long as Chicago remains a defensive force that can consistently create turnovers, Rose will now have someone who can keep up with him in the transition game. This is something Hamilton did not do much of during his time with the Pistons, who thrived in the half court with the patient Chauncey Billups.
The Bulls ranked 19th in fast-break points last season at 13.4 a game, and who knows how many more quick, easy baskets they can generate this year with Hamilton zipping down a wing. They scored 18 fast-break points on Tuesday.
“Usually I’m the guy outrunning everybody,” Hamilton said. “When he pushes it I try to run with him so I can bring the defense with me also, so it allows him to still go ahead and make his move and get to the basket while I’m out there on the floor.”
Getting others involved, running the floor, knocking down the open shot, playing defense – these are all things Hamilton has done in the past, and they’re all things he did in Tuesday’s debut. Preseason or not, Hamilton looks like he’s going to be a fine fit for the Bulls.
“We added a weapon,” Boozer said. “He has a huge basketball IQ.”