Superstars don't just drive NBA ratings; they also help raise championship banners.
In a league that comprises some 400-plus of the world's greatest players, that superstar label applies to a minute proportion of the playing population.
The Chicago Bulls are fortunate enough to have one of those transcendent talents in do-it-all point guard Derrick Rose. Equal parts offensive machine and defensive force, Rose is the type of player you can build a franchise around.
But that's assuming his foundation is stable enough to withstand that added weight.
Rose made an early exit during Chicago's 96-81 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 11. Slowed by a hamstring strain, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, he sent small shock waves through the Windy City when his final activity of the night involved the attention of the team physician and an assistant trainer.
Rose's injury, thankfully, isn't thought to be serious. But if he doesn't curtail the recklessness in his game, then Rose's return and Chicago's championship chances will both become stories told only in the past tense.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
Maybe it's added wisdom or just a changing reality in the face of Father Time. All players fortunate enough to carve out lengthy careers in this league do so because of their willingness to adapt to a new set of circumstances.
Drives to the basket no longer feature the same explosiveness. Ferocious finishes come fewer and farther between.
The great players (think Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant) retain that status because of their ability to shift from an athletically driven attack to one built more on skills and savvy. Their highlight reels slowed considerably, but the scoreboard lit up at the same rate off post isolations and mid-range buckets
Rose, just 25 years old, isn't close to seeing his athletic gifts become casualties of time. But he doesn't have to wait for that day to come before making the switch.
Chris Paul, the league's standard-setter at the lead-guard spot, dramatically reshaped his game at age 25. And, as would be the case with Rose now, Paul's switch was first necessitated by a serious knee injury—a torn meniscus he suffered in Jan. 2010.
His poise and control have become staples of his game, to the point that some people forget just how explosive he was earlier in his career. But his yo-yo handles and electric first step once gave him a nearly endless path to the basket.
Since attempting 34.0 percent of his field goals at the rim during his rookie season, via Basketball-Reference.com, Paul's point-blank chances have been on a gradual decline ever since. He held that figure close to or above 20 percent over his next four seasons, but it topped 18 percent just once in the last three (18.1 in 2011-12).
Rose hasn't seen such a transformation in his game. In fact, it's been the complete opposite so far this season.
He's always leaned heavily on his work around the basket. Nearly 43 percent of his field-goal attempts came at the rim in his rookie season, and that number has been at or above 32 percent every season since.
While Paul rerouted his attacks after his injury, Rose remains as determined as ever to get inside the paint.
The retooled shooting stroke Rose flashed in the preseason? It's no more of a weapon now (4.6 three-point attempts per 36 minutes) than it was before the improvements (4.6 per 36 minutes from 2010-12).
The mid-range jumper Rose used to shred defenses with (45-plus-percent shooting from 10-to-16 feet between 2009-11)? It's essentially a lost art in this offense.
Expanding his game isn't just good for longevity, but it also makes him a tougher matchup. He's quick enough to put defenders on their heels, but a more diverse attack would leave those same defenders on their toes.
If he's going to keep bulldozing his way to the basket, defenses will adjust their coverages accordingly. A crowded lane is a potentially dangerous one. There are more bodies to meet his, more violent collisions in his future and more feet to land on.
Any of these situations could send Rose back to the trainer's table. And we all know what happens when he is taken out of this offense.
The Derrick Rose Effect
It's been more myth than fact this season.
Rose, the youngest MVP in NBA history, taking this scrappy Bulls team from an inspirational second-round push and potentially guiding them to the championship podium.
Clearly, this is a work in progress. Chicago has split its first six contests, dropping would-be statement games in both Miami and Indianapolis.
No one expected Rose to be completely rust-free after 18 months of inactivity. Well, no one other than the point guard himself.
The rest of us were more willing to wait. Why, you ask? Because we saw what Rose had done with this team before.
Chicago has been a defensive power since Tom Thibodeau first grabbed the coaching reins in 2010. The Bulls turned in Top Five defensive-efficiency ratings in each of his first three seasons, holding the top spot in Rose and Thibodeau's first two years together.
But Rose has left a bigger imprint on the opposite end of the floor. The Bulls finished 12th in offensive-efficiency rating in 2010-11, then climbed all the way to No. 5 the following season. As Rose recovered from his torn ACL in 2012-13, Chicago plummeted to No. 24.
Now that he has returned to the fold, expectations were at their highest to start the season. Chicago flexed its defensive muscle without him last season but seemed poised to bring back its two-way dominance.
These early offensive struggles haven't lessened those expectations. Rose is rusty; Joakim Noah (groin) isn't healthy. Thibodeau can say his All-Star center is getting "better and better," via Johnson, but watching him struggle to keep up with the still-hobbled Andrew Bynum speaks volumes about his health.
The Bulls aren't making excuses, but they don't have to. The rest of the hoops world knows exactly where this team is at.
Chicago's still a championship threat, because of its size, its dogged defensive determination and its superstar floor general.
A Chicago native, Rose carries the hopes of his hometown on his shoulders. The Bulls are a scary team without him, but fall short of being a legitimate title threat if he's not part of the equation.
This season has been framed around his return since the moment last season ended.
But this is bigger than getting one player back on the floor. Victory won't be judged on his individual accomplishments alone; this is about a team, a city reclaiming its spot atop the basketball world.
Rose owes it to this franchise and its rabid fan base to do everything in his power to help bring the United Center rafters out of the Michael Jordan era.
And that doesn't mean he needs to risk life and limb in pursuit of that goal. It's just the opposite; he needs to safeguard Chicago's championship chances by modifying his game in a way that promotes preservation.
Rose has his spot in the basketball history books, but he could have a full chapter if he plays his cards right.
Sustained greatness yields Hall of Fame careers, not flash-in-the-pan success, regardless how bright that flash might be.
Rose isn't at that level yet. He's entering just his fifth active season, and one of those previous four (2011-12) was ravaged by injury (39 games played).
But a proactive approach toward limiting the physical toll of this game without sapping his effectiveness could deliver him to that stage.
Some of yesterday's high fliers have become today's tragedies.
Tracy McGrady's career flamed out far earlier than it should have. Vince Carter has held a roster spot as a spot-up shooter, but it's been a long time since he consistently changed the outcome of games. Dwyane Wade's trying to prove he still has the body capable of helping LeBron James win another title.
There are only so many crash landings the body can take, so many liftoffs in one set of knees. If Rose overdraws from his athletic well, his game can't evolve, and his floor time will suffer.
Chicago has the chance to do something really special, not only this season but beyond. Rose gives this franchise a rarity in today's game—dynasty potential.
But he has to be healthy to help see those massive goals through. He needs to pick and choose his spots, not just for what it means to his stat sheet but also for the way it impacts his lasting power.
If Rose gets more selective in his drives now, then Chicago can get selective with its ring design later.
*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.
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