The narrative changes quickly in the NBA.
Derrick Rose entered the season as an MVP candidate who was supposedly capable of carrying his Chicago Bulls into the competition for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. But after struggling through the first three games of his comeback season and leading a team that's limped out to a 1-2 record, there are now more concerns than positives to write home about.
Rose was overshadowed by Michael Carter-Williams, who sparked a huge second-half comeback to push the Philadelphia 76ers to a shocking 3-0 record. And, as Rose told the Associated Press after the game, he blamed himself: "I would blame tonight on me. Turnovers, missed shots, miscommunication—I just couldn't get in my groove."
He's right, but only kind of.
While Rose has been awful in his return from the torn ACL (more on that later because, no, it is not hyperbole), the Chicago coaching staff is to blame as well. Until they allow the team's offense on occasion to run through someone not named Rose, they're ruining any chance of having a legitimate title shot.
Rose Hasn't Been Good
Here's a dirty little secret: Derrick Rose has been awful during the first three Bulls games of the 2013-14 season.
There's a big difference between putting up monster numbers in the preseason and thriving in the regular season. It's a harsh truth, one that Rose is now experiencing for himself.
The point guard entered Chicago's game against the 76ers with a 1.96 PER. Remember, 15 is the league average, and it's almost impossible to record something right around zero while playing such major minutes in a prominent role. After all, one of the admitted flaws in the stat is that it rewards volume shooting.
Coming out of the loss to the Sixers, Rose is averaging 14.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his return from the torn ACL. Those are solid surface numbers, but they get a lot worse as soon as you dig a bit deeper.
Rose is shooting 28.8 percent from the field (that is not a typo), hitting only 26.7 percent of his jumpers from downtown and turning the ball over 5.7 times per contest after a dreadful game against Philly with eight cough-ups.
He was just thoroughly outplayed by Michael Carter-Williams, a lanky young floor general playing his third professional game and still attempting to shed the "raw" label. Not only was Rose failing to explode to the basket, but he couldn't stay in front of MCW and allowed his man to spark a huge comeback.
Even when he did burst to the hoop, he wasn't quick enough. Tony Wroten proved that with one emphatic block.
But the most telling play of all came in the fourth quarter when Rose got the ball in open space with only two men between him and the basket. Instead of bursting down the court and getting to the rim, Rose actually pulled up, dribbled off to the side and waited for his teammates to join him in a half-court set.
My jaw dropped when I saw that happen.
As K.C. Johnson wrote for the Chicago Tribune in the wake of the ugliness, "Rose turned the fourth quarter, typically his time, into his personal nightmare."
Don't point to the game-winner that Rose hit against the New York Knicks as evidence that he's been even mediocre thus far. Yes, it was a terrific floater at a crucial time, but it's hard to believe the shot would even have been necessary if Rose had hit more than six of his first 22 shots in the game.
Is this type of play going to continue? No, of course not.
While the results haven't been there, Rose has at least shown flashes of his old self and displayed enough promise that it still feels safe to bet on him eventually resuming an All-Star level of play. But that's not going to happen at the beginning of the season, and it's abundantly clear that he has to work his way back into form.
So far, Tom Thibodeau hasn't understood the word "ease." As in, the Bulls need to "ease" Rose back into a prominent role.
That applies to both individual games and the season as a whole.
Need a bucket late in a game? No problem. Just give the ball to Rose and let him go to work.
That's been the Chicago strategy during the early portion of the season, and while it worked against New York, it flopped against the Sixers in epic fashion.
Take a look at Rose's possessions late in the fourth quarter:
- Fouls MCW, which leads to two Philadelphia points (3:51 remaining)
- Misses 13-foot jumper (3:42)
- Bad pass leads to turnover (3:17)
- Makes three-pointer (2:12)
- Bad pass leads to turnover (1:42)
- Lost ball turnover (1:01)
- Layup blocked by Spencer Hawes (0:37)
- Offensive rebound and kick-out to Luol Deng for a missed three-pointer (0:35-0:30)
Not exactly the greatest sequence of events, even with that made three-pointer at 2:12 remaining in the final period.
Let's hone in on the turnover at 1:42.
The play begins inconspicuously enough, with Rose nonchalantly dribbling the ball up the court.
Carlos Boozer comes out to set a screen, and it fools absolutely no one. Even if he rolls to the basket, the Bulls have conditioned Philadelphia to believe that Rose is keeping the ball for a little while longer.
And that's exactly what happens.
Rose gets trapped, and no one is there to help him out. He can't shoot out of this situation, so he's forced into, well, forcing a pass.
Now is where we get to play a game that I call "Where's the ball?!?!?"
Bonus points to you if you can find it. The only hint that I'll give is that Luol Deng's arms need to made of rubber if he wants to catch it.
Chicago's possessions in late-game situations have become remarkably predictable, and there's virtually no creativity shown in the offensive sets. Not only is this going to wear Rose down throughout the season, but it's not going to help the team win games either.
What happens when Chicago is playing a team with a great defensive point guard (the Indiana Pacers, for example) or a squad with a versatile defender like LeBron James who can switch over onto him?
Now more than ever is the time to integrate and run late-game plays and to see what everyone else can do. Try kicking the ball out to Jimmy Butler, or let the young shooting guard create for himself. Better yet, work the ball inside.
That was Chicago's bread and butter while it had the lead, as the Bulls pounded the paint with relentless fury and absolutely owned the colored area of the court. Every big man on the roster is capable of making dump-off passes, and few teams are better at offensive rebounding.
Take a look at these two shooting charts:
That one shows the Bulls shots throughout the first three quarters.
And that one is the fourth quarter.
In the former, Chicago did everything in its power to attack the hoop. In the latter, 12 of the 18 attempts came away from the basket. Chicago moved away from its strength, and putting the ball in Rose's hands with remarkable frequency was largely to blame.
The other type of predictability has come in terms of shot selection.
When Rose is on the court, the Bulls are eager to attack the basket, which is typically a good thing. But they do so too often, and it comes at the expense of floor-spacing three-balls. Against the Sixers, Chicago almost ignored the perimeter unless Kirk Hinrich was running the show, and that's not a recipe for success.
Right now—even though their dynamic floor general has been struggling immensely—the Bulls are still acting like they're completely dependent on D-Rose. And in some ways, they are, because he's the only player who has shown that he's at least willing to create offense on a consistent basis, even if it's often failed.
Chicago remains a premier title contender, but it'll quickly lose that designation if Thibodeau doesn't force the team into running something that doesn't just rely on one player. Rose isn't back to his MVP form yet, and the Bulls can't afford to act like he is.
That mindset will run him into the ground, prevent him from regaining that much-needed form and depress the team's winning percentage. And that'll depress fans as well.
While it's great that Rose is back, there's a little too much of him in Chicago's plans right now.