If Derrick Rose returns this year as the same player he was before tearing his ACL in 2012, he'll make the Chicago Bulls instant championship contenders. But if he comes back with the one weapon he's lacked since joining the league—a reliable jump shot—he might just transform the Bulls into title favorites.
For what it's worth, Rose insists that he has been working to improve his jumper.
According to a report from ABS-CBNNews, he said:
As far as shooting, I think that’s the only thing I need to work on. The only thing I’ve been working on is shooting longer shots, because I think if people have to come out and stick with me a little bit further, it opens up the court a little bit more, and give me enough room to create and get my guys open.
This isn't anything new for folks who have been keeping tabs on Rose's rehab. Just a few weeks ago, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that Rose had increased the range on his shot.
Back in April, Gary Woelfel of the Journal Times reported that a source inside the Bulls said that there had been a notable change in the former MVP's game:
A Chicago Bulls official who has closely observed Derrick Rose in practice insists the gifted point guard will be even better than he was before suffering a devastating knee injury. The official said Rose’s perimeter shooting has significantly improved.
Remember, when we heard talk of Rose working on a weak area of his offensive arsenal a couple of years ago, it resulted in tangible, on-court progress. Here's what ESPN Chicago's Sahadev Sharma wrote way back in March, 2011:
Derrick Rose accomplished in 12 minutes Saturday what it took him 43 games to do last season.
He connected on five 3-pointers in the first quarter against the Utah Jazz, giving him 100 for the season, continuing a remarkable breakthrough season on the perimeter a season after making just 16 from long range.
That "breakthrough" season ended with Rose shooting 33 percent from long range, a significant improvement over his (admittedly poor) accuracy in prior seasons, and proof that Rose has the ability to make strides in his game when he sets his mind to it.
But 33 percent isn't going to cut it; Rose needs to be better for the Bulls to reach new heights. And frankly, it'll be impressive if he manages to iron out all of the mechanical flaws that remained in his shot even after working so hard on his fundamentals in the summer of 2010.
Rose has always shot the ball on the way down, rather than at the apex of his jump, a habit that robbed his stroke of mechanical efficiency. To compensate, Rose incorporated a leg kick. That provided the extra oomph his shot needed, but it came at the expense of accuracy.
In addition, Rose had a habit of bringing the ball up across his body from left to right. He'd also lean his right side forward a bit, creating an off-balance release that simply shouldn't be a part of any player's set shot.
Capping off his litany of fundamental flaws, Rose's shooting elbow almost never pointed at the target.
As a result, he has always been, at best, a streaky shooter. Sometimes, the moving parts of his jumper would fall into place and he'd get red-hot.
But for the most part, Rose hasn't been able to eliminate the inefficient movements that make up his outside shot.
On the bright side, this clip from a pregame shooting drill this past January shows that the overall stroke appears smoother.
If Rose went into the season with those mechanics, it's likely he'd see some improvements in his perimeter numbers. But if we assume that that snippet only represents the starting point of his revamped shot, and that he's been working diligently for the past eight months, who knows how much better he might be?
So if we assume that Rose is going to show up to training camp with a rebuilt perimeter stroke, what will it mean for the Bulls?
On the surface, it's obvious: Chicago's offense would enjoy vastly improved spacing. That would enable the Bulls to do more damage with cutters, on post-ups and in the pick-and-roll.
If we skip over Rose's abbreviated 2011-12 and look at the last full season he played (2010-11), Chicago's offensive limitations were clear. Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), the Bulls were the least efficient team in the league when the big man received the ball in pick-and-roll sets. They also ranked 22nd in points per play on post-ups, and despite having Kyle Korver on the roster, just 21st in spot-up efficiency.
Just look at how congested the middle of the floor is in this still from the 2010-11 playoffs.
Because Rose was such a nonthreatening figure from the outside, defenses had the ability to sag off and clog the lane. The result was a Bulls offense that had to do many things the hard way.
Of course, because Rose was such a transcendent talent two years ago, Chicago still managed to post the league's No. 12 offensive rating in 2010-11, per ESPN. And in 2011-12, when Rose played just 39 games, the Bulls climbed all the way to No. 5.
When Rose is on the floor, the Bulls' offense isn't bad. In fact, it's actually pretty good. But it could be great if he were to add an outside shot to his repertoire.
Rose's jumper is significant in a way that goes beyond the nuts and bolts of Chicago's offensive options.
Essentially, we know that the Bulls are little more than a first-round playoff out if he isn't on the floor. Without him, their offense just isn't good enough, and guys who should be filling limited roles are forced to take on more responsibility than their talents warrant.
We also know that the Bulls can compete for a ring when he's in the lineup. Their league-best win totals in the last two seasons he played attest to that.
And that's why his jumper matters so much. A few easy hoops from the outside might help Rose reduce the considerable number of hard falls, violent cuts and mid-air collisions that have always been such a big part of his aggressive style.
Put another way, if Rose can knock down jumpers, he stands a much better chance of retaining his effectiveness without exposing himself to so much risk.
Remember, this is a guy who was breaking down before he tore his ACL. Half of his 2011-12 season was lost to various nicks and bruises, so it's clearly not just the recurrence of a catastrophic injury that Rose must avoid.
Chicago can't win without Rose on the floor, and the best way for him to stay healthy is to add a weapon that keeps him out of harm's way. It's really that simple.
Making sure Rose stays healthy is going to be necessary for the Bulls to win a title, but it might not be enough on its own. That's because the rest of the East's top-end teams have gotten better since he last suited up.
The Miami Heat reached another level last year, putting together one of the most dominant regular seasons the league has seen in years.
The Indiana Pacers are bringing back a starting five that got to within a game of the NBA Finals, only now there's a healthy Danny Granger and a capable bench in place as support.
The Brooklyn Nets broke the bank this past summer, and the usual suspects out West are more dangerous than ever. Basically, the NBA that Rose is rejoining features a tougher road to the Larry O'Brien trophy than ever.
With Rose, Chicago has been very good. But to take the next step in its evolution, the one that elevates it to elite, championship-favorite status, Rose needs to be better than ever.
An improved jumper would be a good place to start.