Derrick Rose Signing Will Backfire for Tom Thibodeau, Timberwolves

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2018

ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 6: Derrick Rose #1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center on February 6, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. The Magic defeated the Cavaliers 116 to 98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Derrick Rose is getting another shot at a basketball reawakening.

This latest life raft comes from the most familiar face, on the likeliest team, in the most inessential of situations: Tom Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Who says you don't get a second, third or fourth chance in the NBA?'s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news, which was, and for the time being remains, barren of substantive context or justification. Rose is headed to Minnesota. That's the extent of what we know.

What we don't know: details about his role, how many minutes he'll play or how this will impact Tyus Jones, the Timberwolves' current backup point guard and one of the league's most underappreciated players.

But Minnesota's line of thinking, while unofficial, is at least implicit.

Rose played under Thibodeau for five seasons with the Chicago Bulls, a half-decade stretch that spanned his highest and lowest points: a rise to MVP, career-altering knee injuries, trumped-up rivalries with LeBron James' teams and behind-the-scenes conflict.

Thibodeau has also made a habit of assembling former players in Minnesota. He traded for Jimmy Butler and signed Taj Gibson and Aaron Brooks. Declining defensive superhero Joakim Noah was even supposed to catch his eye if he reached the buyout market, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola.

Indeed, the Timberwolves are a new team, Rose's fourth in three seasons (and fifth if you count his minuteslong tenure with the Utah Jazz). But their familiar faces promise a default sense of belonging—acceptance and affection he hasn't experienced since before getting shipped out of Chicago.

The rationale for this relationship ends here, with that connection.

Reunited...for some reason.
Reunited...for some reason.Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

Minnesota has no need for Rose. Butler is recovering from right knee surgery, and the timetable for his return, if all goes according to plan, puts him back into the rotation just before the end of the regular season. His absence is a crushing blow for a team suddenly entrenched in an eight-squad battle for the Western Conference's final six playoff spots.

Rose's arrival does nothing to alleviate the resulting concerns. His only marketable NBA skills, in theory, are shot creation and scoring. But offensive output is not among the Timberwolves' problems, making Rose redundant at best. 

Jones, Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins collectively provide enough ball-handling and playmaking to keep the offense afloat. The Timberwolves are scoring like a top-10 attack without Butler on the floor for the season and have lived up to that production through his first four absences. Even their free-throw rate—a huge part of their success—hovers around its typical average.

Adding another score-first, ball-dominant guard to the mix is superfluous. Depending on how much he plays, it exacerbates nearly all of their flaws.

It would be easier for the Timberwolves to use Rose were he an effective floor-spacer. They place second to last in three-point frequency and do not allocate much of their offense to spot-up opportunities. But Rose is a career 29.7 percent shooter from distance, a mark he hasn't even hit since 2013-14, and he's knocking down 17.6 percent of his catch-and-fire looks through 16 appearances this season.

Stashing him off the ball in any capacity isn't a legitimate option. He's not a frequent cutter, and defenses have no qualms about sagging off to gum up dribble-penetration lanes or make emergency rotations.

Rose's foremost strength isn't even a strength anymore. He improved both his accuracy around the rim and free-throw rate during his stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but his suboptimal vision makes him predictable. 

More than 88 percent of his possessions as the pick-and-roll initiator have ended in a shot attempt or turnover this year. It was the same story last season with the New York Knicks, when he appeared in 64 games. Over 92 percent of his ball-handler reps concluded with a shot or turnover.

Expecting him to defer at all is a stretch. He's passing on 23.5 percent of his drives this season, the ninth-lowest mark among 98 players averaging at least six downhill attacks per game. He was a tick better (27.1 percent) in 2016-17, yet his passes on those plays led to an unimpressive assist rate (8.0 percent). 

Rose has not shown enough at any of his recent stops to warrant Minnesota's late-season dice roll.
Rose has not shown enough at any of his recent stops to warrant Minnesota's late-season dice roll.Jason Miller/Getty Images

Surrounding talent has a lot to do with dime totals, but Rose didn't make the Cavaliers offense better. They average more points per 100 possessions without him. The same goes for the 2015-16 Bulls. Last year's Knicks saw their offensive rating improve with Rose in tow, but it came at an untenable defensive cost.

The Timberwolves will now encounter a similar give and take in their best-case scenario. Maybe Rose's attack mode helps their offense. Maybe he does a better job finding shooters on drives or hitting divers out of the pick-and-roll. But they don't have the cushion to withstand unavoidable defensive trade-off.

Minnesota's backups rank dead last in points allowed per 100 possessions. Remove defensive rebounding from the equation, and its scrappiest stopper off the pine is Jones. As Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey noted:

Eating into Jones' minutes to help make room for Rose would be inexcusable. The Timberwolves are outscoring opponents by 6.8 points per 100 possessions with him in the game, the second-highest net rating on the team, behind only Butler. Their preferred starting lineup, with Butler healthy, posts a significantly better differential when subbing him in for Teague. 

"Should Minnesota start Jones over Teague?" was an actual question posed by actual Timberwolves fans this season. And it was an egregious inquiry only because of Teague's pay grade and the dearth of defensive depth already coming off the pine.

Imagine compromising the court time of that player for Rose, who certain league executives didn't expect to find a home until next year, according to Bleacher Report's Ken Berger. Now that would be egregious.

Tim Faklis of Zone Coverage has a potential counter:

This would be more forgivable. Thibs has been starting Nemanja Bjelica at small forward since Butler's injury. Investing more time in a Jones-Teague pairing, with Wiggins moving up to the 3, wouldn't do anything for the Timberwolves defense, but it would diversify their offense.

With the new starting lineup playing well together, Thibs could also look at playing Jones and Rose concurrently in hopes they somehow end up complementing one another. Perhaps the Timberwolves are only adding Rose as a spot-minutes victory cigar to see whether he's worth keeping around on the cheap next season.

Again, though, at what cost? The Timberwolves defense isn't built for it. With three wins separating them from the West's lottery gaggle and a brutal eight-game stretch on tap, their playoff odds damn sure aren't built for it.

Ditto for the relationship between Butler and Rose. There will be no jockeying for franchise-face status in Minnesota, but their time on the Bulls didn't appear to end on the warmest terms.

Rose is no longer worth the speculation that will now follow. He doesn't arm Minnesota with anything it doesn't already have, and its path back to the postseason isn't stronger because of him.

He's just aimlessly there, among familiar company, on a team that doesn't have the leeway to traffic in such pointlessness.


Unless otherwise cited, stats courtesy of NBA.comESPN or Basketball Reference and accurate leading into games on March 8.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.


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