Derrick Rose's return is drawing closer; we just have no idea of when that is. From what we've heard, though, there are a lot of positives. Certainly there's good reason to believe that when he does come back, he'll be more "Adrian Peterson" than "Tracy McGrady."
Nothing other than ambiguous answers have been given in response to the questions about his return. No one has set a firm date and no one seems to want to. Frankly, it's probably the responsible thing to do.
The moment there's a date set, there's a timeline in place, and the only timeline that should be in place is the health of his knee. His condition—not the answer to the media questions—should determine when he comes back.
There's another question though, which is how will he come back? That's far more pertinent and perhaps, far more answerable from what we know. Several reports are raining sunshine and roses (pun intended) on his return.
There's teammate Jimmy Butler's comments to ESPN Chicago beat writer Jon Greenberg,
It's the spirited Derrick you see more, because he's so excited to be back out there with us. To be able to put on that practice jersey and just grind it out with us. You're seeing him smiling and you're seeing the stuff Derrick does -- the floaters, the jumpers. You're just like, 'Damn, he's back.' Right where he left off, if not even better.
The operative words here are all of them. First, Rose is "spirited" which is a good thing. It indicates he's feeling good about his progress. Next, "floaters, jumpers, and "right where he left off, if not even better."
Those are good signs.
It indicates that Rose is impressing his teammates with what he can do. It indicates that a return might be more imminent or it indicates that right now Rose is in that "safety zone" everyone is worried about.
Greenberg also provides his own observation,
Tough to say, given the workout consisted of Rose starting from a crouching position and running back and forth, about eight feet apart, off and on for about 30 minutes. But he looked pretty good. Rose was quiet and working hard, as usual, and by the half-hour workout's end, he was sweating...
There's this tweet from Nikola Mirotic, which is encouraging for two reasons. First, he's obviously keeping an eye on the Bulls (indicating he will eventually join the team) and secondly for the content of the tweet.
Mirotic (@nikolamirotic12) January 5, 2013
Whether Mirotic has some inside information isn't a given, but it's reasonable to think he knows someone who knows someone at the very least.
Then there's this report from Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News,
People who have seen Derrick Rose work out insist he’s almost ready to start playing. The Bulls still aren’t saying when the 2011 MVP will be activated for game duty. And like everything else out in Chicago, the front office and coaching staff can’t agree on when he’ll take the court.
All the reports from people who have seen him are positive. If anything, he's closer to an early return than a postponed one.
In fact, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, just about everyone is feeling good right now.
But from the smiles emanating from Rose, it's clear the franchise centerpiece remains on target to return at some point in the coming weeks.
In essence, he's close to 100 percent, but they want to get him to that metaphorical 110 percent before he comes back. That "don't rush him back" time frame? We're in it.
Rose is being eased back into everything. He likely could do more than he's doing, but the Bulls are smartly showing caution in not asking him to. He's returning to practice, then full practice, then extended full practice. K.C. Johnson reports Tom Thibodeau as saying,
He’s doing what we call predictable contact. It’s knowing what’s coming. He’s handled that part great. He’s done a little one-on-one. But everyone has to be patient. The next step will be a regular practice, and he hasn’t done that yet. Once he does that, you’ll know he’s getting closer.
According to the same article, it seems to be the consensus that he must be able to show he can endure contact "for a while" before he's allowed to return.
All of this might not tell us much about when he'll return but it gives us a good of how he'll return. He won't be his MVP self of 2010-11, but he won't be a hollowed out version of his former self, either.
Realistically, he won't be exploding to the rim the way he used to at first. It's going to take some time to get that back.
On the other hand, he's not going to spend his time dribbling around the defense the way Kirk Hinrich does. He'll still be able to penetrate. We know he still has that floater (from Butler). He'll still be able to break down defenses and score—just not as frequently.
It's also worth noting that he'll be "fresher" than we've seen him in a long time. He might be too fresh at first, and that will have an impact on some areas of his game, but one area that we could see a big improvement out of the gate is his jump shot.
When will Rose get up to speed?
Fresher legs means he'll be under his jumper better. He'll have more lift.
It's something he's worked extensively on, as it's about the only thing he could work on for a while. Expect to see an increase in his jump shot shooting percentage, and in particular an improvement from deep.
Additionally, his passing game should improve.
He's been more involved with the team than the cameras show. He's watching in the locker room and coaching when the team comes in based on the Greenberg article. Even prior to that, since the Bulls lost to the Heat in the Finals in 2011, he's been working on raising his basketball IQ.
He's been watching how the Bulls win, namely by working the ball under the rim to their frontcourt. He'll have a good idea of how to work that into his game. The Bulls game should have more of an "inside-out" look to it than "drive-and-kick" the way it was with Rose before.
Certainly there will still be both elements, but it will be more balanced. Thus, you should see Rose's assist numbers go up slightly.
During his first few games Rose will struggle. No matter how much talent you have, when you spend that much time without playing in a live game, it's going to take a few games to get your sea legs.
That, compounded with limited minutes, will mean that he will only be averaging about 10 points and five assists through his first two or three games.
Once he finds his rhythm, though, and starts getting more minutes, he'll start advancing those numbers. By the end of his first month, something in the neighborhood of 18 points and nine assists is a realistic expectation.
Bear in mind these are averages. He'll have games which are stinkers, and he'll probably have a few games where he is reminiscent of his old self. More than anything, expect inconsistency. A 30-point, 12-assist game followed by a seven-point, three-assist game is more likely than a string of games right on his average.
The good news about his progress and his eventual return is that the period of time for that inconsistency will be limited. Right now the goal is not to get him healthy. He is. The goal now is to get him into playing shape.
By the time the second month rolls around, and then the postseason, Rose should be in full form.
At the outset I mentioned Adrian Peterson. It's a fair comparison. The interesting thing about Peterson is that he didn't start so well. In fact, through his first six games he only broke 100 yards once and totaled only 499 yards.
It was once he got into rhythm that he really got going, averaging almost 160 yards per game for the remainder of the season.
Expect similar production from Rose. He'll start decent, but not great. As he works his way back into game shape and gains confidence in the knee, he'll show improved production. By the time the postseason rolls around, it's a good chance that Rose, like Peterson, will be playing the best ball of his career.