Derrick Rose is back. After missing all of last season with a torn ACL, he’s ready to take on the NBA again. If he is back to his MVP form, the Chicago Bulls will resume their status as one of the elite teams in the NBA.
The 25-year-old Rose is entering the fifth year of his career (sixth if you count last season) and will still be in the early part of his prime. The question facing him is simple: Was the year he took off worth it?
This season will establish the answer to that question, and if it is answered in the affirmative, it will end with him holding the NBA Finals MVP trophy.
Biggest Narrative Surrounding Derrick Rose
For Rose, this season, particularly the early part, is going to revolve around his reconstructed knee. How well will it hold up? Will he be the same kind of player he was before the injury?
Or will he be even better?
The early verdict seems to be "better." His preseason has been better than anyone could have hoped for. His 29.7 points per 36 minutes are the most of any player with at least 50 minutes played, per Real GM. Add 4.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.9 steals to that and it’s even more impressive.
And his efficiency numbers are even better. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 40.29 (that’s not a typo) is also the best in the league among players with 50 minutes. His effective field-goal percentage is .591; his true shooting percentage is .659.
While the “it’s just preseason” qualifier is understandably invoked here, for a player who hadn’t played in 18 months, that’s impressive.
No one expects him to shoot .600 from three all season, but early indications are he’s at least as good as he was and possibly even better. There could not possibly have been more hoped for from him, and if anyone had predicted this prior to the start of preseason, they would have been severely mocked.
“It’s just preseason” is an argument that works for him more than against him.
What's on the Line for Rose and the Bulls?
This is a critical year for the Rose and the Bulls. Since Tom Thibodeau has become the head coach, they have been an elite team, especially with Rose playing. During both years he played, the Bulls finished with the best record in the league.
However, in both of those years, they also came up short in the postseason.
For Rose, this is his chance to vindicate sitting out last season. If he were to have the most efficient season of his career and win an NBA Finals MVP, he would certainly do that.
The Bulls have revamped his supporting cast, adding more two-way players around Rose in Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy and rookie Tony Snell—all players who can both shoot the three and play defense, making a title a real possibility.
On the other side of the spectrum, it’s been speculated that Carlos Boozer will be amnestied next season. Luol Deng will be a free agent whom the team may or may not keep, depending on the asking price. Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls' draft-and-stash player currently with Real Madrid, may or may not be available next year.
With all these questions surrounding the Bulls, this is a championship-or-bust year.
Scouting Report for 2013-14 Season
Derrick Rose’s go-to move is a basic crossover dribble. The move itself is solid, but it’s the aftermath that makes it special. His burst of speed and ability to cut through traffic and finish with an explosion to the rim is what sets Rose apart. Just ask Tyreke Evans.
After setting up a defender with his crossover, he blows past him, leaving him turned around. Rose then slices through the other defenders, where he will deliver some form of acrobatic shot that somehow finds a way to go in.
Because of that, defenses collapse on him, trying to minimize the damage. Then Rose can pass the ball out to his perimeter shooters.
The Bulls have “flexed” up the offense quite a bit this year, taking a page from the San Antonio Spurs handbook. Coach Nick from SB Nation has a great breakdown of the plays they’ve added. That should take some of the pressure off Rose.
But the offense is still predicated (as is San Antonio’s) on the penetration from their superstar point guard. While the onus of the offense won’t weigh as heavily on Rose as in years past, this team is still going to depend on his play to be successful.
His career high in PER, 23, came in the 2011-12 season. The reason that it’s a bit low is primarily due to forced shots, which lower his field-goal percentage.
While comparisons to Allen Iverson exaggerate how often he shoots (he’s never actually averaged 20 field-goal attempts for a season), he still takes shots that are ill-advised and forced.
This happens more often when he gets frustrated. With Derrick Rose's competitive nature, the more he gets frustrated, the more he wants to prove himself...and the more he digs himself deeper into the same hole, forcing shots and “taking over” without actually taking over.
The best way to defend him is to take him out of his game, especially by trapping him or packing the paint. The Miami Heat did the former to him in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011; the Pacers the latter in the opening round of that year.
There are a couple of reasons to believe that these weaknesses have been addressed. He has allegedly spent a great deal of time working on his jump shot and grasp of the game while recovering. Both statistically and visually, those improvements have been apparent this preseason.
He has improved his jumper, both from mid-range and three. That has a big impact on his efficiency. If teams pack the paint, then he gets past the initial defender, pulls up and nails the 15-foot jumper. If teams just put a single man on him, he blows past and gets to the rim. If they lay off him, he knocks down the trey.
When Rose’s trapped, he’s added a nice jump-pass; he will jump up and pass the ball to the weak-side corner, where a wide-open three-point shooter can make opponents pay. When defenses pack the paint, he’ll penetrate, draw the bigs to him and drop the ball off to a charging big man for an easy dunk.
Furthermore, added muscle is making him more effective at finishing through contact.
In short, he’s shown he has learned to play to the softest part of the defense.
Again, the “it’s just preseason” qualifier is understood—Rose needs to establish that he’s not going to fall back into bad habits when things get tough. For now though, all we have to go on is preseason, and things look positive.
All indications are that Derrick Rose should be at least as good as he was when he was MVP, and he is still getting better. Anything less would be a disappointment.
During his MVP season, he averaged 25.0 points per game and 7.7 assists, with 2.0 of those leading to three-pointers (according to Hoop Data). In sum, that means he scored or assisted on 42.6 points per game. That’s the barometer for him.
He may score slightly fewer points but add more assists (e.g. 24.0 points and 8.3 assists). Regardless of the breakdown, if he contributes on 42 to 43 cumulative points per game for the Bulls, it will establish that he is back to his MVP level of play.
I think his numbers will actually be slightly better, and after seeing the preseason performance, I’ll project 24.4 points, 8.8 assists and a .518 effective field-goal percentage (compared to .485 his MVP year). Additionally, the 10 pounds of added muscle he reportedly gained will help him get a slight bump in his rebounding. He’ll average 4.0 boards per contest. His PER should be right around 26.5.
His defense will also continue to improve. Another byproduct of the added bulk is he’s much better at fighting over picks now, and that’s been a part of the reason his steal rate has gone up this preseason. Expect a career high in steals of 1.5 a game and his first nomination to the All-Defensive team.
Derrick Rose's worst-case scenario is a season with constant knee soreness keeping him in and out of the lineup and consummating in an early exit from the playoffs. The best-case scenario is him hoisting the NBA Finals trophy at season’s end.
There are a smattering of players—LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Rose (more distantly, you could add Tony Parker or Dwight Howard)—who have a realistic shot at winning both the regular-season and Finals MVP this year. That’s not bad company.
Rose will reassert his status among the league’s elite players, but the ultimate judge will be the postseason.