Since the 2011-12 NBA campaign, the Chicago Bulls have played 312 regular-season games—212 of them without Derrick Rose. This club also managed to clinch two playoff berths in his absence, save for a handful of games played in 2013, and cranked out 50 wins this year despite Rose missing 31 contests.
One could argue that the Bulls are in a position where the services of a certain former MVP are no longer needed given the improvement of the talent on this squad, but the reality is that Rose has shown he is still the cornerstone of this franchise for the foreseeable future.
A comprehensive look at this group’s performance both with and without the 26-year-old point guard will show that even with an improved roster, Rose is the hub that holds the spokes together. This is the case now and will be going forward.
What “The Return” showed
It takes a unique player to influence the outcome of games with this presence as well as performance; fortunately for the Bulls, Rose is that type. Looking at their final regular-season game log shows a huge disparity in performance when the former Memphis Tiger doesn’t suit up:
|with Derrick Rose||51||33-18||64.7|
|without Derrick Rose||31||17-14||54.8|
Keep in mind that Rose spent the entire year adjusting to his new teammates while trying to regain his elite form. His final stat line of 17.7 points and 4.9 assists per game was a far cry from the days where he was good for 20-plus points and at least seven dimes on a nightly basis. Even with his diminished output, the Bulls were more likely to win when he played.
It wasn’t all diminishing returns, though. There were flashes of the All-Star of yesteryear both in the regular season and during the first round of the playoffs. So after a false start in 2013, Rose has been using this run to knock off what is essentially a two-year buildup of rust.
Current postseason fate notwithstanding, the most immediate takeaway from the 2014-15 campaign is that Rose still has a substantial role in this franchise’s coming years. Given the moves that the front office has made since 2010, it seems that they know that too.
Rose’s return has been fruitful. There were some hiccups along the way and a major scare when he needed additional surgery on his right knee to mend a tear to the previously damaged meniscus, but he suited up for more than 50 games, having a substantial enough impact that the team won nearly two-thirds of those contests.
That carries value when a team’s front office examines its long-term goals. For a franchise that has experienced consistent success like the Bulls, the strategy tends to center around keeping a small core of players around which to build.
Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are the only players other than Rose who have been around since Tom Thibodeau became head coach in 2010. Jimmy Butler has been on the team since 2011 and fills out the grouping that would have to be considered the nucleus.
Over the course of Thibodeau’s tenure, Bulls general manager Gar Forman’s talent decisions were always made with Rose in mind. Sam Smith of Bulls.com conducted an interview with Foreman in November 2013. Despite its date, this exchange revealed how much the executive considers Rose when making moves.
When speaking about the roster that was put together for the 2012-13 season, Foreman says decisions were made with the assumption that their star player would not be returning, hence the signings of scoring guards Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson. The 2013-14 roster, however, was definitely crafted for the Chicago native’s certain return.
The belief has always been that Rose is a part of the big picture. Over the course of his injury-plagued recent history, many have questioned his commitment, but those doubters are starting to be silenced. With performances like the ones he had in the six-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks (19.0 PTS, 4.3 REB, 6.5 AST per game), many are starting to remember just how good Rose is and how dangerous the Bulls are when he is playing well.
As it has been since he was the first pick of the 2008 draft, Rose is still the compass that points the way. This club has a great combination of established and rising talent, but there is still a need for a galvanizing agent to make it all work on the court.
It takes talented players to win, but a dynamic player is needed in order to have a shot at winning it all. It was okay to wonder about what Rose could do when he spent two seasons in physical rehab, but he is reminding all basketball fans that there is more greatness ahead.
All record and statistical information via Basketball-Reference.com