Over the past two seasons, no storyline has garnered as many NBA headlines as the return of Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. After tearing his ACL during the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Rose was the topic of every talk show, written article and television commercial but never returned in 2012-13.
In 2013-14, look for Rose's return to help the Bulls challenge the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference crown.
Rose has made his long-awaited return to game action during the 2013 preseason, shining both on the road and at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. He's made hard cuts, turned forced turnovers into points and flashed his world-class finishing ability.
If you ask Rose, he's actually more explosive now than he used to be.
Whether or not that proves to be true, Rose is a former NBA MVP for a reason.
The end goal for Chicago is the same for every other team in the NBA, and that's dethroning the Heat. Miami is the two-time defending NBA champion and has emerged from the Eastern Conference Finals in three consecutive years.
With Rose returning to action, the Bulls are in position to be the team that gets the job done.
In 2010-11, the Bulls were an NBA-best 62-20 by going 36-5 at home, 26-15 on the road and 39-13 against the Eastern Conference. In 2011-12, the Bulls were an NBA-best 50-16 with marks of 26-7 at home, 24-9 on the road and 38-10 against the East.
Chicago was elite before, and with a healthy Rose, it will be again.
Rose won league MVP in 2010-11, but during the 2011-12 season, it was a different story. Rose missed 27 regular-season games due to leg injuries before the torn ACL ever transpired, yet Chicago remained strong with smothering defense, a deep bench and a masterful head coach.
Tom Thibodeau is still in place, the defense is still dominant and the bench has been revamped.
Chicago reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, but fell 4-1 to Miami. It was an example of the young Bulls failing to make the late-game plays that the experienced Heat were able to, but in 2012-13, it's a different story.
Keep in mind, this is the same Bulls team that took Miami to the limit during the 2013 playoffs—the same team that is 4-4 against the Heat over the past two regular seasons.
More Than Rose
The most common misconception about the Bulls is that, without D-Rose, there aren't enough pieces in place to contend. In 2012-13, we learned that Chicago is one of the best teams in the NBA when healthy—with or without Rose.
Just check the numbers.
Chicago's defense ranked No. 3 in scoring defense, No. 9 in opponent field-goal percentage and No. 5 in both opponent three-point field goal percentage and opponent points per shot. Chicago was also ninth in rebound differential and fell just outside of the top 10 in opponent offensive rebounding.
Chicago is an elite defensive unit, and Rose's absence didn't change that.
The key for Chicago is a starting lineup that has three All-Stars alongside Rose: Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. Boozer ranked fifth in the NBA with 44 double-doubles in 2012-13, while Deng and Noah were both named All-Stars for their versatility.
Chicago also has one of the best on-ball defenders in the league in Kirk Hinrich, a sharpshooter in Mike Dunleavy and a budding all-around force in Jimmy Butler.
Rose unquestionably improves the Bulls, but when it comes down to whether or not Chicago can win regular-season games, his presence isn't necessary. For the Bulls to compete for an NBA championship, however, Rose is the driving force.
It all comes down to Rose being able to do what no one else on the roster has done with consistency: take over in the fourth quarter.
During the 2012-13 regular season, the Bulls posted an average point differential of 0.3 points per game. Chicago managed to go 45-37, but that mark of 0.3 displays one thing: Chicago was involved in many close affairs.
Now, Chicago returns one of the best clutch scorers in the NBA.
In 2010-11, Basketball-Reference.com reports that Rose led all players in field goals made during the fourth quarter and overtime of games in which the score was within five points. Per Basketball-Reference.com, only four players had more fourth-quarter and overtime field goals made, regardless of the score.
In 2011-12, Basketball-Reference.com reports that Rose led all Bulls players in field goals made during the previously defined clutch situations. That may be expected of a superstar, but as previously alluded to, Rose missed 27 games during that campaign.
Rose is exactly what Chicago needs to go from an elite defensive team to a true title contender. That's what will transpire in 2012-13, as Chicago challenges the Heat for the Eastern Conference title.
It's been a long time coming, and it's finally here: D-Rose is back, and Chicago is elite again.