Coming into Wednesday night's clash with the Phoenix Suns, the Bulls are 4-3 and winning the exact same way that they did with Rose: voracious play on the defensive end. Through seven games, Chicago has given up a mere 90.4 points per game, good for fifth in the NBA thus far.
Granted, the team has done it against a relatively easy schedule. Games against the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves may make headlines, but it also began 3-1 by playing four of the NBA's worst teams.
While that's all important in our evaluation of the Bulls' inspired play, no one expected them to stick atop the Eastern Conference without Rose. All they had to do is keep the ship afloat and afford Rose time to fully rehab from his torn ACL—something this 4-3 start undoubtedly proves the star can do.
Obviously, Rose was never going to rush back with stitches popping out of his knee or anything like that. He would need medical clearance to return, meaning sometime in late December would have been the absolute earliest he could theoretically get back in the lineup.
Still, if the Bulls were floundering out of the gate, say at 2-5, you don't think that the 2011 MVP would put some extra pressure on himself to rehab more vigorously? After all, this is a man who is so competitive and loves the game so much that he cried at a press conference for a shoe.
Rose is the guy who when the chips have been down has consistently been the only true star on Chicago's roster. It had actually become a running joke among NBA fans that the Bulls' crunch-time offense had essentially become a mirror of what LeBron James had with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a never-ending stream of one-on-fives, an offense that has no chance of leading to championships.
Now, however, Rose's injury may have changed that. Though he's nowhere near a polished offensive player, center Joakim Noah has emerged as a possible second-banana this season.
It certainly goes without saying he's already the unquestioned leader of the Rose-less Bulls. The defensive stalwart has been nothing short of fantastic thus far, averaging career highs in points (15.3) and blocks (2.3) per game.
However, it even goes beyond that. Just take a look at the team's splits for when Noah is on the court, compared to when he's off. When Noah is on the court, the Bulls score 105.2 points and allow 96.6 points per 100 possessions. When on the bench, Chicago scores just 98.7 points and allows 111.6 points per 100 possessions.
Obviously, some of that has to do with the team losing Omer Asik in the offseason. Nevertheless, Rose may actually have a secondary star and co-leader when he returns—something that no one thought was the case six months ago.
We're also not going to argue that the Bulls are in any way, shape or form better off in the short term without Rose. Even at 50 percent of his former self, he's immeasurably better than Kirk Hinrich or Nate Robinson.
Regardless, Rose's injury has allowed the supporting cast to grow without him. To figure out a way to win games that doesn't involve bucking all the responsibility. To prove that Tom Thibodeau is undoubtedly one of the three best coaches in the NBA.
More than anything, it's allowed Rose the freedom to take his time in recovery, make sure he doesn't return at anything less than 100 percent and help turn the Bulls into a team that no one wants to play in May and June.
That may boil down to little more than peace of mind, but the nature of Rose's injury and the Bulls' solid start likely means more than we'll ever know.