Kirk Hinrich is the early playoff MVP in the 2012-13 playoffs

hinrichKirk Hinrich is an MVP candidate. I’ll go one step further. He’s the playoff MVP. And his Game 5 absence mattered just as much as a star player missing a game.

In Hinrich’s early stages of his career, he was one of the go-to-guys on a Bulls team that didn’t have much offensive power. In hindsight, he was kind of an all-around player. But once he left the Bulls, injuries became a factor (and so did age), and Hinrich began to realize and get comfortable in another role.

After a two-year absence, Hinrich returned to the Bulls. And despite knowing the situation at hand, he knew his role was to be a defensive stopper in a system that glorifies defense.

This year was a year of lows for Hinrich. He had a career low in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and next to a career-low in points per game. His playmaking, however, was efficient. In fact, maybe his most efficient as he averaged 5.2 apg in 29 minutes per game. His best year was in his rookie season when he averaged 6.8 apg in 36 minutes.

For his standards, he was having an off year. He was injury-plagued, again, by missing 22 games.

But come playoff time, the Captain came ready to battle with his mates.

The Bulls have a 3-2 series lead with the Nets, and much of that has been due to Hinrich’s defensive prowess on Deron Williams — who he has been physical with while denying his ability to constantly penetrate.

But when Hinrich didn’t play Game 5, the Bulls suffered, which in result, prompted somebody — I don’t recall who — on the TNT telecast to say they are in amazement at how a player like Hinrich matters so much to a team.

For those who wondered why that was said, the Bulls are 7-16 when Hinrich hasn’t played this year. They are 41-23 when he does.

On paper, Brooklyn has more talent, and Hinrich has shut down the biggest talent of them all in Williams. According to a blog post on ESPN’s TrueHoop page, when Hinrich guarded Williams, he was 13-39 shooting , equating to 33.3 percent.

Here’s another stat.

When guarded by Nate Robinson, Williams was 6-10 shooting, scoring 19 of his 23 points.

A difference?

Height surely helps. Hinrich is 6’4″ compared to Williams’ 6’3″. And Robinson isn’t anywhere near that height.

Anytime a defensive stopper like Hinrich is lost, it’ll be hard to recover. There’s so many offensive-minded players, and not enough defensive ones. It’s a rare commodity, especially when guarding a perimeter player.

Just because the missing of Hinrich doesn’t equate to losing LeBron, Kobe or his teammate Derrick Rose, that doesn’t mean it should be shocking if the Bulls lose without him — particularly in a series against an all-pro caliber point guard.

Looking at coach Tom Thibodeau’s system, it’s all about defense, and that’s what has gotten this team success. However, the Bulls have one defensive point guard in their rotation, and that’s Hinrich. It’s quite a drop-off after that. And Game 5 proved why. How’s that for valuable?

According to a post from Chicago Tribune reporter K.C. Johnson, Hinrich could miss more time. And if that’s case, the Nets could be in the driver’s seat. The Nets go as Williams goes; and the two games they won, he went.

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