Sixth Man Contender Derrick Rose Playing Like Ideal Trade Target for NBA's Elite

Will Gottlieb@@wontgottliebFeatured Columnist IJanuary 8, 2020

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

So much has changed since his glorious Chicago years, but one thing has remained the same: Derrick Rose gets buckets.  

Even past his transcendent athletic prime, his quick-twitch burst and silky touch around the rim continue to make him one of the most unstoppable forces in the NBA at getting to and finishing at the basket.

Tuesday night's 24-point, seven-assist performance in a 115-113 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers was a prime example. His shiftiness and finishing skills were on full display as he put the burners on to get to the cup at will, using the space produced by the Detroit Pistons' five-out system to thrive.

Even without the most reliable outside shot, Rose's in-between game gives him the buffer he needs to make defenses pay even when he can't get all the way to the basket. His go-ahead bucket to eventually win the game in Cleveland exemplified that perfectly:

On his fifth team in five seasons, Rose has finally found a role that maximizes his strengths and allows him to be his most valuable self at this point in his career: serving as a spark-plug scorer with the second unit. He's been so successful that he's asserting himself as an ideal trade target for some of the elite teams in the NBA that are hoping to get themselves over the hump.

Purely from a basketball standpoint, reaching this level has proved a difficult adjustment for Rose. He's struggled to find a groove as a player who needs to dominate the ball to be successful but who's also no longer productive enough to be the centerpiece of a championship-caliber team.

The Pistons have slashed his minutes, and that has helped everything click. Logging the fewest minutes of his career, save for the 2017-18 season when he played 25 games split between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Utah Jazz, Rose is prioritizing his body and figuring out how to maximize that limited run. 

"I think he's gotten into a rhythm, and he understands where we are and where he is as far as his minutes are concerned," Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said. "And there have been games where we've fudged it a little bit, gone up two or three minutes, but we're conscious of his body, what he can do. Like he said, there are nights where he can play more minutes. But long-term for his body, it's not good." 

CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 03: Derrick Rose #25 talks with head coach Dwane Casey of the Detroit Pistons during the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on December 03, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Pistons defeated the
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Early in the season, the adjustment in playing time left Rose trying to do too much. His timing was off. Trying too hard to produce and make the most of his time on the court, he was forcing shots early in the clock. 

"Earlier, I think he was trying to do too much in a shorter period of time," Casey said. "Not from a bad standpoint, it's just human nature to try to attack the rim or do too much or push it too much or maybe take a shot too quick. Trying to produce and help the team." 

Rose has never been a dominant personality who wants to hijack the offense. But coming off the bench and playing so few minutes conflicted with his desire to provide valuable production.  

"Coming in, I was still the same way. I don't want to step on any toes," Rose said. "I want to come in and make it a comfortable transition. My coach and teammates are making sure it's a good transition along the way, and they're communicating to me and letting me know that it's alright for me to play the same way." 

Ultimately, this is the best way to help Rose succeed at this point in his career, and he knows it. He knows when he's coming in. He knows how long he'll be on the bench. He knows exactly what his team needs when he comes into the game.

Now, he's playing some of his best basketball. 

Following the heliocentric, five-out spread pick-and-roll model, Rose understands his role and is thriving with space to operate. He is attacking the rim with a vengeance, driving 16.5 times per game (No. 11 in the NBA despite his limited minutes) and finishing at a top-five clip among players driving at least 10 times per contest.  

"It's something that we put him in, those situations," Casey said. "He's an attack player. He's improved his three-point shooting. But at the end of the day, he's one of the top attack players in our league getting to the rim." 

All this driving to the basket has set Rose up for his highest-volume campaign since his ACL injury in 2012.

His 25.1 points, 8.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds per 36 minutes are even better than his 24.1 points, 7.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per 36 minutes during his 2010-11 MVP season. He's also playing more efficiently with a 52.0 effective field-goal percentage that outpaces the 48.5 percent from his MVP year. 

"Right now, the floor is open. If they're backing up and going under the screens, I'd be shooting a lot more. But the way they're playing me, the drive is open," Rose said. "That's what I am naturally. I'm a driver. So I'm going to take what the game gives me and just try to make it more comfortable and be prepared to recognize those spots in the game."

More efficient production in fewer minutes is a fairly typical outcome, but many all-in-one stats do recognize his offensive production as elite.

He's No. 17 in FiveThirtyEight's offensive RAPTOR metric, No. 11 (No. 4 among point guards) in ESPN's offensive real plus-minus and No. 20 in BBall Index's offensive player impact plus-minus. The Pistons are 7.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor, which ranks in the 85th percentile—by far the best of his career. 

On pace to play 68 games, the most since his MVP season, Rose is a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Were he to win, he would become just the third player (following Bill Walton and James Harden) to win both the aforementioned awards, though that isn't on his mind. 

Michael Wyke/Associated Press

"No, man," Rose said, laughing off the thought of winning Sixth Man. "We're losing right now, so it's hard to have crazy expectations or think of it that way." 

One way to improve his chances would be a trade from the spiraling Pistons.

Detroit is 14-24 and just lost Blake Griffin to knee surgery with no timetable for return. Andre Drummond's future is unclear after the Pistons reportedly started looking into trades, though he clarified his commitment to the team.

It's time for the front office to contemplate the future, and Rose might be its best trade asset. His moveable $7.3 million contract could put him on the radar of top contenders who want a veteran scorer to lead their second unit. 

The Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic are all playoff-caliber teams in the bottom half of the league for bench scoring, per HoopsStats.com. Each could use a microwave point guard to turbocharge the offense while the starters rest. 

The impetus for any trade will be on Rose, though.

His relationship with Arn Tellem, the team's vice chairman and Rose's former agent, was an important reason he signed in Detroit, and the Pistons won't ship him out unless it's something he asks for, a source told Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus.

His three-point shooting has leveled off after a sizzling year in Minnesota, and his defense remains below average, to put it politely. But Rose's ability to keep second units afloat with his scoring can help maximize bench units on good-to-great teams.

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 25: Derrick Rose #25 of the Detroit Pistons handles the ball against the Orlando Magic on November 25, 2019 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/
Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

Subbing Rose in for Raul Neto or Trey Burke in Philadelphia would add a needed scoring presence. Next to Rajon Rondo or Alex Caruso, he would elevate a major pain point in L.A. Replacing Brad Wanamaker's minutes could provide a huge offensive boost for Boston, a team with the defensive infrastructure to make up for his poor work on that end. The Magic are thirsty for a shot-creator and will need all the offensive juice they can get to make up for Jonathan Isaac's knee injury.

"Derrick is a true point guard," Casey said. "He does a good job of controlling things. When things get tough and we need a bucket, he gets one. And you gotta have that."

By consciously finding ways to keep his body healthy and operating in a system and role that maximizes his strengths, Rose is playing some of the best basketball of his career. His candidacy for Sixth Man of the Year is somewhat lost in the dregs of a miserable season in Detroit, but a contender would be wise to install him into a similar role and bring his valuable skill set to its quest for a championship.


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All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com or Cleaning the Glass and current heading into games on Tuesday.