ATLANTA Kirk Hinrich has the unenviable task of trying to catch up on the fly.
Its not just that the Hawks guard hadnt played basketball in about nine months a combination of the NBA lockout and shoulder surgery last November its also that the compressed NBA schedule hardly leaves any time for practices.
All of it is leaving Hinrich somewhat frustrated. In seven games back, hes averaging just 4.0 points and 1.6 rebounds per game well below his career averages of 12.9 points and 3.3 rebounds.
For the Hawks, Hinrichs situation suggests that dealing with injuries doesnt just mean having to play without those who arent suiting up as All-Star Al Horford and Jason Collins have left a gaping hole at center. It also means that trying to get some players like Hinrich healthy and back to 100 percent is a work in progress as the team has lost three straight after going 4-1 on the road.
Hinrich was asked about the difficulty of trying to work his way back into shape with the schedule being what it is, as the Hawks have 12 games in the first 23 days of the month before the All-Star Break. He let out a big sigh.
Its just different, he said. The nine months not playing -- Im not trying to making an excuse or anything. Just trying to come in and work my minutes and, really, with the minutes Im playing, Im not too concerned about my shape right now, playing sixteen, seventeen, eighteen minutes. But its more the timing of being out there and getting used to being out there with the guys.
Hinrich, who was meant to bring toughness, defense and to be a centerpiece of the backcourt after the Hawks acquired him from Washington last season, is in fact averaging 19.0 minutes per game. At 31, its an adjustment for an eight-year veteran who is more accustomed to a starting role.
But ever since the Hawks acquired Hinrich, sending the incumbent starter at point guard, Mike Bibby, to the Wizards, Jeff Teague, 23, has emerged as the Hawks starting point guard. Teague, the teams first-round pick in 2009, is averaging 33.0 minutes, 12.6 points, 5.0 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals, which has meant that the Hawks, in a way, have the luxury of not doling out big minutes to Hinrich before he is ready.
Hawks coach Larry Drew said the team is trying to work Hinrich into shape.
Hes just trying to get his legs under him, thats the main thing, Drew said. He hasnt been out there playing. He hasnt been bumping and grinding, so hes just got to get into playing shape and, as far as I know, there hasnt been any signs of any problems with his shoulder. His only problems have been with his wind under him and thats just going to come with getting more playing time.
Hinrichs comments were not unlike those of veteran NHL players who did not play at all during the leagues lockout that canceled the entire 2004-05 season. When the NHL resumed in 2005-06, many veterans felt a huge struggle as they got back into the flow after sitting out for an entire season.
I dont know, Hinrich said, expressing frustration. You hope its not going to be as bad, but right now I feel Ive done some good things, its just not all there yet.
He sounded somewhat fatalistic about the timing of his return on Jan. 25 against San Antonio.
Well, you know what, I got to the point where I felt like the soreness -- after a hard workout the next day -- the soreness had subsided and my strength had gotten better, Hinrich said. And theres really no practices, so theres really no way to tell if Im ready. They were going to have to try to give me some minutes and see how I handled them.
Against San Antonio in my first game, I played like thirteen minutes. The next day, I wasnt that sore so I just continue to keep going. Its really the only way I can work myself back into game shape and game rhythm.
Two days after his season debut, Hinrich played 32 minutes in a 107-101 win at Detroit, as Teague was limited to 21 minutes by an injury. Hinrich hasnt played more than 20 since.
So, as Hinrich keeps playing, hes still working with a physical therapist and still exercising to get that last tiny percentage of strength back that he needs.
Just managing it, he said of the situation. Continue to strengthen it. I want to make it all the way because it can cause you problems.