Derrick Rose is going to help the Chicago Bulls address many of the issues that have contributed to a 7-12 record since Feb. 1, but the team can't afford to keep waiting for its point guard to swoop in and save the day.
The Bulls have to find answers now.
According to Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago, Rose definitely isn't changing his wait-and-see approach to his return. Rose told Sam:
I don’t have a date, to tell you the truth. I haven’t even really thought about it. Like I said, I’m just taking my time. I haven’t taken any steps back. I’m moving forward, I’m getting stronger every day. I did every workout possible. My workouts are getting a lot easier, but I’m moving in the right direction.
Everyone, including the Bulls organization, must get past the question of whether Rose should be hastening his return. Instead, the team has to look to sort out its troubling issues on offense and recently emerging defensive problems from within.
Obviously, there's no point guard on the roster who can suddenly alleviate Chicago's problems on his own. Nate Robinson is a wild card, too unpredictable and prone to undisciplined play to run the offense or captain the perimeter defense like Rose can. And Kirk Hinrich is a little too steady in his mediocrity to make any real difference.
But by employing some little-used lineups and giving more playing time to Jimmy Butler, the Bulls really can make some changes that will improve the team's fortunes right now.
The first—and most glaring—area in which the Bulls have been lacking this year is offensive efficiency. At the moment, Chicago ranks 25th in that category, scoring 99.4 points per 100 possessions. No team currently in playoff position is worse.
Considering the Bulls' overall offensive ineptitude, it shouldn't be surprising that the team's true-shooting percentage is No. 27 in the league. Taking those two rankings together, it's obvious that Chicago doesn't generate enough quality looks on offense and doesn't make a high percentage of the ones it does get.
So what's the answer?
Well, for starters, Tom Thibodeau could shake up his lineups, favoring five-man units that score the ball more efficiently. Should he take that approach, there are actually a couple of good options.
According to NBA.com, the Bulls have seven separate five-man units that have played at least 100 minutes together this year. We can assume that Thibodeau is comfortable enough with these seven groups because, well...he's used them for long stretches before.
Of those seven units, the one that features Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah is by far the most offensively efficient. With a rating of 118.9 points per 100 possessions, the unit blows every other frequently used Bulls quintet out of the water. What's particularly incredible about this group is that on defense, it surrenders just 89.8 points per 100 possessions, which amounts to a stunning net rating of plus-29.1 points over a 117-minute span.
Another lineup tweak that would help the Bulls address their scoring problems without Rose would be to pair up Butler and Luol Deng on the wings alongside Hinrich, Gibson and Noah.
Per 82games.com, that group puts up 116 points per 100 possessions while allowing just 79.
Gibson is currently out with an MCL strain that has kept him sidelined since Feb. 25, but his return in the near future would enable Thibodeau to trot out his most effective lineups.
All of the math-dependent lineup tinkering might seem a little obtuse, so a more basic explanation of why these groupings give the Bulls the best hope of sorting out their offensive issues without Rose might be of some help.
Basically, there's no way to replace the dynamic penetration and shot-creation that Rose brings to an offense. We've already established that no combination of Robinson, Hinrich or Marquis Teague comes anywhere close to duplicating what Rose does for Chicago's attack.
But by removing Rip Hamilton (who you'll note is absent from both of the Bulls' best units) and inserting Butler or Belinelli, the Bulls get better spacing, more three-point threats and improved athleticism. Clearly, Butler is the key to all of this, as his mere presence on the court takes Chicago from a team that scores 101.6 points per 100 possessions to a team that puts up 108.1.
Look, the Bulls are struggling under heavy minute requirements and a short rotation, so lineup tweaks can't fix all of Chicago's problems. Fatigue can't be undone at this point.
But by giving Butler and Gibson bigger roles, the Bulls really can address their biggest weaknesses on offense.
The best medicine for everything that ails the Bulls is definitely a healthy return by Rose. But with the uncertainty surrounding the point guard's comeback, it's time for Chicago to stop hoping for a savior and start finding ways to save itself.