Derrick Rose Entering Next Season as the Biggest Mystery in the NBA

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Derrick Rose Entering Next Season as the Biggest Mystery in the NBA
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Edgar Allan Poe. Agatha Christie. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Dashiell Hammett. Ian Fleming. Stieg Larsson. 

Derrick Rose

The Chicago Bulls point guard might not be penning any legendary pieces of fiction in the next few years, but he's still the author of the NBA's biggest mystery heading into the 2014-15 campaign. After missing nearly all of the last two seasons and suffering multiple major injuries to his knees, he's a complete unknown, more so than any other player in the Association. 

Could he bear a striking resemblance to the ridiculously dominant floor general who was so much fun to watch a few years ago? Absolutely.

Could he fail to make a sizable impact or even get hurt and miss the bulk of the season once more? Undoubtedly. 

It's a mystery Poe, Christie and the rest of the authors listed up above would be proud of. 

 

The Upside

Randy Belice/Getty Images

Let's not just brush Rose's resume off to the side. 

To this day, he remains the youngest MVP in NBA history, though Anthony Davis will be gunning for that status throughout the 2014-15 campaign. It was only four seasons ago that his efforts led to him earning that top individual honor, and the dynamic point guard is still only 25 years old. 

Sure, he'll turn 26 just before the start of this upcoming season, but that's still young enough for him to be moving toward his athletic prime, not out of it. And while training with Team USA in preparation for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Rose has been proving that, particularly with this impressive dunk during a non-contact portion of the practice: 

While there's a big difference between throwing down a de facto dunk-contest slam and posterizing an opponent during live NBA action, it has to be encouraging that Rose has enough confidence to put that type of pressure on his joints. 

Then again, confidence isn't exactly something the former MVP lacks. He's a changed player, one who learned from his experiences during last season's ill-fated return from his longstanding ACL rehabilitation. 

"I wanted to prove everybody wrong at that time," Rose told reporters while playing with Team USA in Las Vegas, referring to that aforementioned comeback, one that lasted only 10 games. "I just wanted it too, too bad. This time around, I just know that I've got to let the game come to me."

By all accounts, he's just as driven as ever, and he's playing the game with more intelligence than ever before. Here's Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding with more on that: 

That's why he sums up his newfound approach as "trying to find ways to make the game easy." Whether his moves were too sharp with too much torque for his body to handle before, he knows it's better "being smart with my speed instead of just running wild out there."

And that's what Rose showed during his short run to start USA Basketball's practice-ending intrasquad scrimmage Monday. When he shot the gap in pick-and-roll defense perfectly to disrupt Stephen Curry's dribble, he knew it. When he forced a shot and then was late getting back on defense as Andre Drummond lumbered behind him, he yelled, "F---!" and really knew it.

A smarter Rose is a terrifying entity for the rest of the Association to deal with, especially if he retains the physical prowess, a combination of size and breathtaking speed that made him nearly impossible for even the NBA's best perimeter defenders to deal with. 

The Memphis product has already proven that he can assert himself as one of the game's top players—not even just one of the top point guards—when he's healthy. And soon to be 26, only his spotty injury history seems to be holding him back from regaining that spot on the upper echelon of the NBA's totem pole. 

"You know how good you are, but I didn't know. Now my confidence is crazy," the Chicago floor general told reporters in Sin City, as relayed by USA Today's Sam Amick. "I'm there man. I'm not worried about that. My confidence is very high. That's the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof."

Backing that up is going to be difficult, but Rose absolutely has the talent necessary to do so. The point guard crown may be up for the taking if Chris Paul takes a step backward—the result of age—or suffers another injury like last year's separated shoulder, and Rose is one of the handful of floor generals with the two-way ability to overtake him. 

Imbued with confidence, retaining the athleticism that made him so special (go watch that dunk again) and playing with a roster that's loaded with talent after the additions of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, Rose is primed to go into the season with a ceiling as high as anyone's. 

Unfortunately, it's accompanied by a rather low floor. 

 

The Downside 

Brock Williams-Smith/Getty Images

No matter how confident Rose is, there are absolutely no guarantees. 

Not only has he played just 49 games in the past three seasons, missing all of the 2012-13 campaign and playing only 10 contests the following season before a meniscus injury knocked him back out of the lineup, but he hasn't played impressive basketball that matters in a long time. 

First, the injuries. 

There's no way to tell if Rose will experience yet another relapse. While his injuries were of the fluke variety, they also occurred at least partially because he was putting too much stress on his joints with such violent play and constant changes in direction. 

It's by no means outside the realm of realistic possibilities for Rose to fall prey to another setback, or to suffer an entirely new injury to his lower extremities. And even if he does stay healthy, what if he has to change his style of play in order to prolong his professional basketball career? Can Rose be as effective if he isn't putting so much torque on his joints? 

Additionally, the brief time he spent in the lineup during 2013-14 doesn't foretell greatness during the next return. 

During his 10 games in the Windy City lineup, Rose averaged 15.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per contest. Those aren't terrible numbers, but they get far worse when accompanied by 3.4 turnovers per game and 35.4 percent shooting from the field. 

Basketball-Reference.com shows that he had a player efficiency rating of just 9.7, well below the league-average mark of 15.0, and that he actually produced negative win shares. Though his defense was a positive, he was so inefficient on the offensive end that he cost the Bulls 0.6 wins. 

On top of that, Chicago just couldn't find any sort of success when he was on the floor: 

Rose On/Off Splits
ORtg DRtg NetRtg
Rose On 100.0 105.1 -5.1
Rose Off 103.2 100.5 2.7

Not good. Not good at all. 

Rose is obviously going to be a quality player as soon as he regains his sea legs, but that's not an instantaneous process. In fact, it's a process that could stretch out over an undetermined length of time, one that could grow as long as an entire season. We just have no idea how long it will take him to regain his former level of play—both physically and mentally—while blending in with a new set of teammates.

Any guesses, even educated ones, are just that—guesses. 

For this Bulls point guard, the discrepancy between the ceiling and the floor is larger than that possessed by any player in the NBA, even Kobe Bryant. He could very well look like a superstar right off the bat, but he could also suffer another injury, struggle to regain his live-action confidence immediately or spend an entire season providing negative contributions while working his way back to something near his former level. 

And there's no way to be certain what the ultimate outcome will be.

 

The Uncertainty

USA TODAY Sports

Feel free to watch Rose participate in the camps at Vegas, Chicago and New York City as he tries to make the Team USA roster for the FIBA World Cup. There's only so much information you can glean from watching scrimmages, though, no matter how competitive they may be. 

If it floats your boat, take a peek at the point guard when he's playing for the American squad against the best the world has to offer, assuming he can stave off a slate of competition that includes Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, John Wall and Kyrie Irving in the quest for one of the roster spots. Even though that would be live action, it's coming against a set of backcourt players that—with the exception of a few on various international squads—don't even play in the NBA. 

So, what about the preseason? 

Well, you tell me. 

During the 2013 preseason, Rose suited up seven times, averaging 20.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.6 turnovers per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 44.4 percent beyond the arc. He looked fresh, dynamic, aggressive, confident and as though he had put a lot of time into shoring up a perimeter jumper that was really the only thing holding him back in the past. 

"In seven preseason games—he missed the game against the Wizards in Brazil—Rose averaged 20.7 points and showed his old explosiveness around the rim, as well as an improved three-point shot," wrote Joe Cowley for the Chicago Sun-Times. "Opposing coaches who’ve seen him this preseason have raved about his play. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Rose already was an MVP candidate."

And then 2013-14 happened.

No one was raving after that. No one was saying he looked like an MVP candidate. 

USA TODAY Sports

Frustrating as it may be, we simply won't know anything about the mystery that is D-Rose until the 2014-15 season is well underway, providing us with a large enough sample of games that we can actually draw legitimate conclusions. Those potential conclusions range far and wide, but none can be realistically arrived at until we have something to work with. 

Playing with Team USA and contributing to a de facto All-Star team against largely overmatched competition while enjoying a different style of basketball won't give many answers. Nor will the preseason. 

Rose could be dominant. He could be a shell of his old self. 

We just don't know yet, leaving him as the league's most intriguing mystery. Anyone who thinks they've solved it and cracked the case at this stage of the offseason, well, they're being a bit delusional. 

Not even Rose knows at this stage, even if he's giving off that strong air of confidence. As the author of this mystery, he's doing a fantastic job of keeping his cards close to the vest. 

Here's hoping there aren't too many more plot twists. 

 

What are your expectations for Derrick Rose in 2014-15? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook. 

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