For Derrick Rose, the 2016-17 NBA season is a chance to start over. New city. New uniform. New teammates.
We assume the ACL tear in his left knee during the 2012 postseason derailed an all-time career trajectory. We rationalize the 27-year-old's future and place in the league by assuring ourselves he can be a quality point guard, maybe the outline of superstar, because of what he accomplished in 2010-11, as a 22-year-old.
Three knee surgeries and countless injuries later, the "youngest MVP in NBA history" distinction Rose once wore like a crown has, in essence, become a multiyear millstone. Even with all that's changed, he is still linked to notoriety from his past—and bound to an unfair vision of his future.
The Real MVP?
“I think I’ve been snubbed a year or two,” four-time MVP LeBron James told the Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd in February of his Maurice Podoloff Trophy collection. “I should have probably five or six right now, to be completely honest.”
It doesn't take much effort to pull back James' thin veil.
He finished a distant third on the MVP ladder in 2010-11, receiving only four of a possible 121 first-place votes. Rose cornered the market with 113 first-place nods, nearly doubling the total score of runner-up Dwight Howard.
Justifications for Rose's landslide victory, in retrospect, read more like excuses.
Carlos Boozer posted the second-highest usage rate on that Bulls team! Joakim Noah appeared in just 48 games! James had two superstars, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, on his side! Ugh, come on, James just secured two consecutive MVP awards; it's someone else's turn!
Yes, Rose was indispensable to that 62-win Bulls squad. They played like a top-10 offense with him on the court and devolved into a smoldering heap when he sat, with a 98.9 offensive rating that would have ranked dead last. That they finished first in the Eastern Conference at a time when the Miami Heat's villainous Big Three was supposed to steamroll the rest of the NBA played a pivotal part in Rose's ascension.
But the Bulls' calling card was still their defense. They fielded the Association's best points-prevention system—one that improved when Rose stepped off the floor. He barely ranked as an above-average defender that season, according to NBAMath.com.
Historically, MVP winners dominate some of the most common statistical measuring sticks, including win shares per 48 minutes, player efficiency rating (PER) and box plus-minus (BPM)—the latter of which shows how much better the average team is per 100 possessions with a given player on the court. Rose's 2010-11 efforts never held up to that billing.
Twenty-three of the 37 MVP winners from the three-point era have finished inside the top three of each category. James led all of those subsections in 2010-11; Rose only ranked in the top three of one (BPM). His average placement across all three departments was seventh, which is the fifth-worst mark for an MVP since 1980. He's ahead of only Kobe Bryant (2008), Allen Iverson (2001) and Steve Nash (2005, 2006).
Nash's MVP seasons inoculate Rose against an even lower standing. But, unlike the rest of the field, Nash was neither a high-usage shooter nor volume scorer. He jacked fewer than 14 shots per 36 minutes during each of his MVP crusades, whereas Rose launched 19.
Take into account Nash's superior efficiency, and Rose comes off even worse. Chicago's floor general posted the fourth-lowest true shooting percentage—combined measurement of two-point, three-point and free-throw efficiency—of any recent MVP:
Two of the players behind Rose on the accuracy scale, Kevin Garnett and Michael Jordan, come with their own caveats. Jordan was 34 years old when he nabbed MVP honors in 1998; Garnett still paced the league in win shares per 48 minutes, PER and BPM for 2003-04, despite his lackluster true shooting percentage.
This shouldn't imply that Rose is, unequivocally, the most undeserving MVP in NBA history. Nash's porous defense offset a large chunk of his offensive contributions, per NBAMath.com, and the absence of objective voting guidelines prohibit such a conclusion.
|Rose's Rank Among MVPs of 3-Point Era|
|TS%||PER||WS/48||Offensive BPM||Defensive BPM||Overall BPM|
|Rose's MVP Season||55||23.5||.208||5.8||0.1||5.9|
|MVP Rank (out of 37)||34||35||34||20||31||30|
At minimum, though, Rose's MVP season is one of the least impressive. The case for picking him over James in 2011, conveniently timed narratives aside, is questionable at best, inexplicable at worst.
Either way, his defining achievement cannot be accepted at face value, forcing us to reconsider his return and the status he's trying to recapture.
The Unending Road Back
Rose has missed 228 of a possible 394 regular-season tilts since 2011-12. He would absolutely be better than an enormous what-if now if he enjoyed a clean bill of health during that time.
But his 2010-11 season wasn't just unremarkable by historical MVP standards; it was abnormally proficient for him.
|D-Rose by the Numbers|
|2008-09 & 2009-10||159||18.3||52.5||6.0||0.8||.089||17.3||-0.1|
|2013-14 and 2014-15||61||20.8||48.5||5.7||0.8||.026||14.8||-1.9|
He flirted with picking up where he left off immediately after his MVP nod, playing through 34 of the Bulls' first 44 contests in 2011-12, while averaging 22.8 points and 8.0 assists per game on what would have been a career-best 45 percent shooting. Chicago's offense once again hummed with him and stalled without him.
So there is evidence to suggest a full-strength Rose didn't peak at 22. Blaming his demise on injuries is wholly justified. But those protracted absences and recoveries are a part of Rose's career—circumstances to which he hasn't yet adapted.
“I feel like I’m great right now,” Rose said after being traded to New York, per USA Today's Mike Coppinger. “Where I came from, as far as just getting through my rehabs and just having the opportunity to just play basketball; I feel like that’s the only thing I was missing these last couple of years was my rhythm."
Failing to recognize, admit and implement necessary adjustments has been Rose's biggest downfall in recent years. He still often functions as this score-first, drive-determined point guard, and it's not working.
A large chunk of his shot attempts continue to come inside 10 feet of the basket, but his accuracy within that area isn't nearly the same. He has traded some drives and long twos for three-pointers, but his shooting percentage from deep has cracked 33 percent just once since 2010-11.
That MVP march is still the only time Rose ranked as a plus defensive contributor. He has given up more points than he has saved in every other year, culminating with a career-worst performance in 2015-16, according to NBAMath.com.
Who Is Rose Supposed to Be Now?
New York brought Rose in to steady a shaky point guard position, but is he a huge upgrade over the Jose Calderon-Langston Galloway-Jerian Grant-Sasha Vujacic foursome? Chicago's point guard rotation last season, headlined by Rose, was more efficient on both ends of the floor than New York's, according to HoopsStats.com, but just barely.
The Knicks, unlike the Bulls, won't call on Rose to carry so much of the offense. Head coach Jeff Hornacek has surrounding weapons Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis to justify Rose as a pass-first point guard off pick-and-rolls, drives and screens.
Except, he may not be fully equipped to shine in that role. As the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring explained: "Rose's ability to drive should free up shots for his teammates, but it's worth noting that among qualifying point guards who drove to the basket at least five times a game last season, Rose owned the third-lowest pass percentage, dumping the ball off just 23.3 percent of the time, according to NBA.com."
Close to 83 percent of Rose's pick-and-roll possessions ended in a shot attempt last season. And he is working off the least effective offensive performance of his career, per NBAMath.com, complete with an all-time low success rate around the rim.
Most of Rose's value now lies in name recognition. His status belies his ceiling, resting on all he once did, rather than what he's doing now.
Expectations have regressed accordingly, just not enough. They may never move enough. They're still retreating from a position of premature optimism. That MVP victory fueled a fragile, if artificial, rise unfit to withstand this fall.
Maybe a new beginning with the Knicks, during a contract year, will help carry Rose back to prior prominence, quelling any doubts about his real place in the NBA. In the meantime, though, this change of scenery should be the impetus we need to judge him through open minds and against an unformed past, as if the MVP version of Rose never existed.
Because, frankly, it may not have.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.