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Bulls: Dissecting the Backup Point Guard Battle

Behind every Derrick Rose, there's a Kirk Hinrich. A player that runs the bench mob, a player that can take over in the unfortunate event of an injury.

Behind every Derrick Rose, there’s a Kirk Hinrich.

A player that runs the bench mob, a player that can take over in the unfortunate event of an injury.

The Bulls have had a rotating door of backup point guards since trading the aforementioned Hinrich in 2016. Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, Kay Felder, and half a dozen other names have appeared on Bulls rosters since then.

There have been three in this season alone: Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaquille Harrison, and Walt Lemon. Each one has provided their own memorable moments, but are any of them worth keeping beyond this season?

Shaquille Harrison

The most obvious job of a backup point guard is to stabilize the bench rotation, but there’s no “one size fits all” way of doing it. Harrison’s version of stability for the bench is defense.

To quote coach Jim Boylen, via NBC Sports Chicago, Harrison plays defense like a “mad dog chasing a meat truck.”

Sometimes that recklessness pays off with a steal – he averages 1.2 per game. But often it results in defensive lapses as Harrison is left out to dry in the passing lane, allowing opponents to capitalize on easy buckets. 

Some teams can recover from those lapses, which allows their players to take more high-risk, high-reward chances. But the Bulls have struggled on the defensive end even when they run it correctly. In the future, when the key players are more experienced, Harrison might be a good fit. But as they stand now, the Bulls seem to have more to lose with Harrison than they have to gain. 

Walt Lemon Jr

Maybe this is the Rose nostalgia talking, but Walt Lemon belongs on an NBA roster. Whether he’s right for the Bulls roster, however, is another story. 

Lemon is the most recent backup point guard signing, but he’s made an impression in two of the three games he’s played in so far. In his Bulls debut, he put up a memorable 19-point performance. And in Wednesday’s win over the Washington Wizards, Lemon showed out on the offensive end again, putting up 24 points.

But he was held to just six points against the New York Knicks on Monday, in large part because they stopped his driving game. Unlike Rose, who Lemon has been tentatively compared to, his game seems to be beginning and ending with getting to the basket. 

Of course, there’s room and time for him to develop. But unless Lemon can develop a mid-range game like Rose, he’ll be rendered useless against teams that scout him. 

Ryan Arcidiacono

Arcidiacono has been arguably the most consistent of the three guards, making a name for himself with hustle moves. He’s drawn the Hinrich comparison more than once this season and has solidified himself as a steady defensive presence. Arcidiacono can spark a bench like none of the other two guards can. His hustle is undoubtedly and he takes more charges than anyone on the team. 

But choosing Arcidiacono long-term would mean sacrificing offensive production for defensive intensity. While his offense has had shining moments, posting 22 points in two straight games and 15 in another, he hasn’t been a consistent enough scorer to solidify himself as a long-term option. 

On an offensively-challenged bench, the Bulls would be better served by an aggressive guard. But if the Bulls can build an offense-heavy bench, then Arcidiacono can serve as the defensive anchor and energetic spark.

However, all of this hinges on the fact that Kris Dunn remains the Bulls starting guard. Dunn has had an underwhelming second season with the Bulls this year and he’ll be up for a new contract next season. Even before the end of the season, his job is already being threatened by the possibility of the Bulls drafting Murray State point guard Ja Morant. Depending on the price tag, the Bulls might even be best served by keeping Dunn as their backup point guard and seeking out a new starter in free agency or the draft. 

Follow Katy on Twitter @katyduffy_ for more Bulls news and opinion. 

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