Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls will soon be able to finally put “#thereturn” saga behind them. The moment Rose puts sneaker to hardwood, the saga is over. The story will then be about how Rose plays, not whether he plays.
In regards to that, there is a wide spectrum of scenarios that could take place, ranging from unmitigated disaster to the absolute glory of finding the promised land of the NBA Championship.
Let's consider the best and worst of those scenarios.
*Stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and hoopsstats.com, unless noted otherwise.
It would be difficult to conceive of a more heartbreaking scenario than if Derrick Rose returned, was playing well, and then, halfway through the season, he was injured again.
Even if it were a different injury, it would have devastating consequences. Last season, the Bulls had Nate Robinson to come off the bench and ignite their offense when growing stagnant. This year they would have to resort to Marquis Teague, who just isn’t that type of point guard yet.
The Bulls still have two spots to fill on their roster, and it’s possible that one of those two will go to another scoring guard, such as Andrew Goudelock, who was on their Las Vegas Summer League team (contrary to popular reports, he never ate the porridge, as the three bears have alleged).
Even if they do sign another guard, it’s hard to envision whomever it is doing a better job than Robinson did last year, for just the NBA minimum. Even with the addition of Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls would be ill-equipped to handle the loss of Rose this year, and they’d likely see their offense drop back down to the bottom of the NBA rankings.
Another possibility could rear up, even if Derrick Rose is as good as he ever was. If he comes back strong, but the team reverts to their pre-injury habits, the benefits of the injury could be lost.
In the absence of Rose, Carlos Boozer—at least at times—was more aggressive. Joakim Noah’s offensive game evolved as he saw career highs in scoring, offensive rebounds and assists.
Luol Deng played through the season with a torn ligament in his wrist and a broken thumb, so his shot was less than stellar. But with ample rest this summer, that should likely resolve itself.
The Bulls also added Mike Dunleavy in the offseason, who is an outstanding catch-and-shoot player, and shot .428 from three last year.
In short, the Bulls have a lot of offensive talent that can score if they have a point guard who can create shots for them. They need to remain active and engaged, not watching Rose try and do everything. Likewise, Rose needs to keep them engaged, not overly dominating the ball.
If the Bulls stand around watching Rose, they will get far, but they won’t clear the Miami Heat hurdle.
Probably the worst of all scenarios is that Rose comes back, but is only a shadow of his former self.
One lost part of the story last year is that Rose was in the first year of his new five-year contract. He, along with Kevin Durant, is one of the first beneficiaries of the new collective bargaining agreement rule which literally bears his name, the Derrick Rose Rule.
That rule stipulates that if a player wins the MVP, is named to the All-NBA team (first, second or third) twice, or is voted an All-Star starter twice in his rookie contract, he will get paid at a maximum level of 30 percent of the salary cap, as opposed to the 25 percent that other rookies are able to receive.
It was a no-brainer to give a hometown player who was coming off a season as the youngest MVP in history a max contract. However, if Rose comes back significantly less than what he once was, they may be paying max contract money for a Mario Chalmers level of play.
Even if he’s less than what he was, Rose will still be at least average, but you don’t pay max money for average. It will consume 30 percent of the Bulls' cap space for four more years, effectively making it impossible for them to legitimately compete for an NBA title.
The biggest disaster of all would be that Rose just isn’t the same and doesn’t look like he’ll ever be the same. Fortunately, based on reports from people, such as Ric Bucher (who provided a report via Sulia), who have seen him play, that doesn’t seem likely.
Derrick Rose may not have been playing last season, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t working. In fact, to hear Tom Thibodeau talk, he’s working as hard as anyone in the league on his rehab and on his game. That’s a positive sign if you’re a Bulls fan.
There are indications that he’s improved three things which could have an enormously positive impact, even if he isn’t back to his MVP explosiveness: his core strength, his understanding of the game, and his jump shot.
Core strength is a massively underrated aspect of a game. Your core essentially links your lower body to your upper body. That benefits almost everything that a basketball player does, from dribbling to shooting to defense, as it all starts with the feet and ends with his fingertips.
Improved core strength also helps alleviate injuries because it "stabilizes the spine and creates a solid base for all movement,” according to the website Injury Fix. That means things like landing in a way that reduces injury risk, for example. It means more body control.
In fact, the most important part of the new Derrick Rose might be the attention to his core strength.
Obviously, an improved jump shot is pivotal, especially if he has lost any of his explosiveness off the dribble. He must be able to present the same scoring threat. If he can’t do it do it inside the lane, he’ll need to do it outside of it.
Finally, his improved understanding of the game is crucial. Probably the biggest flaw in his game before was a result of his competitive nature. He would force things when he should have depended on his teammates. With an improved grasp on the game, he’ll be better equipped to know when to drive, when to shoot and when to pass.
His game may be more “Chris Paul” than Russell Westbrook” in this scenario, but Chris Paul’s a pretty decent point guard, too.
If Derrick Rose can return to his former level of explosiveness, then that would certainly not disappoint any Chicago Bulls fans, and there are indications he has. Tom Thibodeau expects he will. According to Nick Fridell of ESPN Chicago, “I think there's going to be some rust initially, but I fully expect him to get back to [being] the player we all know that he is."
And unlike if he’d returned during last postseason, he’ll have the preseason games to shake off most of that rust. Based on his practice and what those who have seen him have seen, Rose is as good or better as he was before.
Ric Bucher, after watching him practice said this about Rose via Sulia,
I tweeted Friday that Derrick Rose has clearly expanded his offensive arsenal. You asked for more details, so here they are: a much smoother, higher-arcing 3; a quick-release step-back mid-range jumper; and you know that trademark right-handed floater from 10-12 feet? He's working on being able to make the same shot from the same distance left-handed.
And then this,
It seems unlikely for someone to grow in height at 24, but I'd swear he's gone from 6'3" to 6'4". I'm the former and we were eye level the last time I spoke to him. All in all, he seemed to be in great spirits and, while it was merely a pre-game workout and a brief post-game conversation, I fully expect DRose 2.0 to be even better than the original.
When “Too big, too strong, too fast, too good,” become bigger, stronger, faster and “gooder,” does the “most” valuable player become the “moster valuable player?”
While there are detractors who will always debate the merits of his winning the MVP in 2011, the fact is, Derrick Rose did win the MVP in 2011. It’s not impossible that he would win it again. Consider the facts.
The Bulls, sans Rose, were horrific offensively last season, and contrary to what many thought would happen, they missed him defensively as well. They surrendered 21.0 points per game to opposing point guards, tying with Houston for 22nd in the NBA. In Rose’s MVP season, they held opponents to 16.7 points, best in the NBA.
Offensively, the Bulls had the fifth-best offensive rating (media.NBA.com/STATS, subscription required) prior to the onset of his injury issues in 2012. Last year, they were 23rd. That’s a massive difference.
The Bulls also won more games than any team in the NBA over those two seasons, and winning matters when it comes to the MVP.
If the Bulls can win the most games again next season behind a healthy Rose, become a top-five offense, and return to being a team that can leads the NBA in defensive efficiency, it will be easy to make a case for him as MVP again. None of those things are outlandish.
If instead of taking one bad shot, he passes it for an assist, he could average 25 points and nine assists, with a more efficient shooting percentage. Those would certainly be MVP-caliber numbers.
So what if Rose is back and even better? And with a better supporting cast? It’s not at all unreasonable to think that he could win his second Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
Furthermore, with the breakout of Jimmy Butler and the addition of Mike Dunleavy since Rose last took the court, it’s possible that the Bulls now have a team complete enough to win the title.
And if they win the title, it’s hard to believe Rose wouldn’t win the NBA Finals MVP award as well.
It’s hard to think of a better scenario than that. You don’t need Rose-colored glasses to consider it as a realistic one either.