Derrick Rose is back, and he has brought some new weapons to his arsenal with him.
These have been put on full display during the preseason, and per RealGM, his numbers have been ridiculous. He averaged 27.2 points, 4.31 rebounds and 6.6 assists per 36 minutes, while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from deep.
Then, during the opening-night game, he was far less spectacular, as was the entire team, in what can only be described as a thorough beatdown at the hands of the defending champion Miami Heat.
The truth isn't going to be the preseason, and it's not going to be the first game of the regular reason either. He'll have ups and downs, but over the course of the season, he'll show a steady improvement, because the actual improvements to his game aren't going to go away.
I pulled out my trusty Excel sheet and did some number-crunching. I looked at his numbers over the preseason compared to the two previous years he played and estimated what would happen if he retains just 25 percent of the improvement he has shown in the preseason.
Here are five areas he's distinctly improved and how much they should affect his stats. They are ranked in order of how much they will matter in terms of his, and the Chicago Bulls', overall success.
Derrick Rose told Adam Figman of Slam Magazine, "I gained 10 pounds of muscle."
That's a lot of muscle.
And while some of the things he's claimed, such as that he's even faster and more explosive now, are hard to measure and perhaps even exaggerated, actual weight is a tangible thing. And it's evident, just by looking at him, that Rose is much stronger now than he was in the past. That muscle is not invisible.
The immediate impact of that added bulk has benefits on both sides of the court.
On the offensive end, it is helping Rose finish through contact and to get to the line more, an area he greatly needed to improve. Rose has never gotten to the stripe at the rate of the other superstars.
He averaged .348 free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt in his MVP season. By comparison, according to Team Rankings, last season James Harden averaged .591, Kevin Durant .513 and Russell Westbrook .374.
During the preseason, calculating the raw numbers from RealGM, Rose averaged .786. That newfound propensity has a lot to do with his added bulk. He's getting into the paint stronger than he did in the past. Contact which previously was unnoticed is now too obvious to ignore because (pardon the pun) he's "bulling" his way through instead of avoiding contact.
If Rose maintains just a quarter of his improvement here, he would add 1.9 points per game from the stripe. And because the attempts he's fouled on wouldn't count, he would also raise his field-goal percentage from 44.7 to 46.5.
Furthermore, because he's beefed up, Rose has been stronger going over screens, and that has enabled him to play on top of the ball-handler, where his hands have been active. He averaged 1.69 steals per 36 minutes during the preseason. The most he's ever averaged for a season in his career is 1.0.
Look for him to continue his recent trend. Conservatively, he would average .15 steals a contest more than in the past.
And the added bonus here is that with the Bulls adding an elite athlete, Jimmy Butler, to play alongside him in the backcourt, a good many of those steals will be turned into fast-break points.
Finally, the bulk is helping him to haul in rebounds at a higher rate than he ever has, pulling in 4.3 per 36 minutes. Keeping just a quarter of that improvement would have him averaging 4.0 per game this season.
There were so many reports about Derrick Rose's improved three-point shooting during the rehab process that it started getting annoying.
Now that we're seeing the fruition of that work on the court, it looks like it's the other teams and their fans who are about to get annoyed. Rose shot 44.4 percent from deep during the preseason on 5.1 attempts.
And it's not just because shots are going in as is sometimes the case in small sample sizes. There is clearly an improvement in the mechanics of his shot. Where formerly he tended to push the ball with his arms, he's now getting the force for the shot from his legs, and that's resulting in a better arc.
He will still have his hot games and cold games. He certainly won't shoot 44 percent on the season. However, if he maintains just a quarter of his preseason improvement, he would shoot 35 percent. That would add .35 points to his scoring average and .4 percent to his field-goal percentage.
Considering the improvement is in his form and not just having his shot fall, 35 percent is not only reasonable, but also pretty conservative. If Rose shot as high as 38 percent, it would not be a shock.
More importantly, that would make it difficult to sag off him, which will allow him to get into the paint more easily. It's very much a matter of picking which way you want to die if you are defending Rose now.
In terms of the weaknesses in his game, one of the biggest—and probably the most overlooked—is that Rose in the past has had a deplorable mid-range jumper.
In the 2011 and 2012 seasons combined, Rose tossed up 974 jumpers in the area between the restricted circle and the three-point line. Of those, 372 went in. That means the other 602 did not.
While shot-chart data isn't available for the preseason, the difference in his mid-range game is apparent, as he consistently knocked down the open shots. His improved form didn't stop at the three-point line, and that is part of the reason he's been so effective, but not the whole reason.
He's also showing better decision making, and he's been pulling up for the open three when the bigs collapse to the rim, taking the easier, uncontested jumper rather than force the issue at the rim when the big is already there. Previously, he would try to jam it in, often getting blocked as a result.
If he can make just one out of 20 of the mid-range jumpers he would have formerly missed, it would raise his field-goal percentage 2 percent and add .5 points per game to his scoring total.
Historically, the wisdom on stopping Rose was to trap him. Since the Bulls don't have other high-caliber ball-handlers, the idea has been that by doing so, you can stop Rose, and by stopping Rose, you can stop the Bulls. This is the strategy effectively employed by the Miami Heat.
In the 2011 and 2012 seasons combined, including regular and postseason games, Rose has shot just 37 percent against Miami, and he hasn't compensated with his passing either, as he's averaged just 5.5 assists in those games.
Since then, the Bulls have taken steps to give Rose help (though some question whether its sufficient help).
Jimmy Butler, a vast improvement on both sides of the ball, has replaced Keith Bogans (who started beside Rose for all but two of those games) as the starting shooting guard. Butler was a 38.1 percent three-point shooter last year and 47.5 percent after the break. He also has better handles than Bogans did.
The Bulls have Kirk Hinrich and have added Mike Dunleavy, both of whom can knock down a three-point shot and play some defense as well.
But Rose has added something to his game as well to utilize these additions.
When teams try and trap him, he will jump up and throw a bullet pass (it's actually impressive how much zip he gets on it) from the elbow of the strong side to the weak-side corner, where a waiting, wide-open shooter can knock down the shot. It's simple but effective.
It is the equivalent of a pair of armored shoes for Achilles.
Even if his shooters make a pretty conservative 35 percent from there, it would add .35 assists per game to Rose's stats.
Without question, the most impressive improvement in Rose's game is not in anything physical, but mental. He went down a humble young kid from Chicago. Now he's a man on a mission for a ring. He's more mature now.
He is infinitely more patient, and that has untold value.
In the past, Rose would often force the action. In fact, trapping him was partly effective because of his competitive nature. When teams pressed him, he would dig in deeper, taking on the personal challenge to travel the path with the most resistance, just to show he could. The problem is, sometimes he couldn't.
Now, he maintains a much more efficient mentality, probing for the softest part of the defense. If he gets trapped, he uses the jump-pass. If the bigs are there to block him at the rim, he dumps a pass off to Taj Gibson for a trailing dunk. If the defense collapses on him, he kicks it back to Jimmy Butler or Mike Dunleavy for a three.
Bad decisions were probably the biggest strike against him in the past, but he has returned a smarter player with a better grasp of how to run an offense. He has all the ability of an electric scorer meshed with the mentality of a pure passer now, and that's going to be a lethal combination.
At least one time per game, Rose will make a pass he previously wouldn't have made, resulting in a clean shot by one of his teammates. If just half of those go in, he will add .5 assists per game to his totals.
When you compile all the adjustments here, a stat line of 26.4 points on 48.9 percent shooting with 4.0 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 1.2 steals is realistic. And if he averages numbers like that, he could very well win the MVP this year.