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Can Derrick Rose Keep Up His 3-Point Passing?

Derrick Rose, on the whole, has been pretty impressive in his return to the postseason. He has had his spectacular moments and a few he’d probably like to forget. But overall, it’s hard to be disappointed in what he has been doing.

Much of the focus on his re-re-re-return has been on his three-point shooting and whether it’s sustainable or not. Through four games, he’s 12-26 from deep, and quite frankly, there’s no way he can keep that up. That’s Kyle Korver/Stephen Curry territory, and players don’t make that kind of leap suddenly, if ever. But that doesn’t mean he’s destined to plunge back to the 28.0 percent he was hitting in the regular season.

I would also say the question is off. Does it need to be? The far more damaging aspect of Rose’s game is his three-point passing. First, here’s who has made threes for the Bulls this postseason, and how many:


While Rose has certainly had an impact on the Bulls with his shooting, Dunleavy has actually made one more. Now look at how much he impacts with his passing.


Rose has actually passed for five more assists than he’s shot. That includes more than twice as many as any other Bull. So that leaves us with two questions:

  1. Can Rose maintain his three-point passing?
  2. Is there any relationship between his passing and his shooting?

Just the Facts

Before getting into the subjective analysis, let’s address the facts. Before we can discuss why the Bulls are a better three-point shooting team with Rose on the court, we have to actually prove it’s true. And that’s where the facts come in.

First, during the regular season, the Bulls shot 42 percent off Rose passes. (whether that was an assist opportunity or involved dribbles) Excluding Rose’s shots (as he was pretty awful from three), the Bulls shot 36.7 percent when Rose wasn’t involved. Ergo, they were 5.3 percent more likely to make their threes when Rose was passing the ball vs. when someone else was.

More importantly, the other starters, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and Pau Gasol were a combined 45.6 percent from deep during the regular season off Rose passes. Based on passing dashboards and NBA.com, Butler is 47.5 percent for his career off Rose passes. Dunleavy is 50.0 percent.

During the postseason, this trend has been accentuated. The Bulls have averaged an NBA postseason high, 12.0 three-point makes per game—a total of 48, with 17 of those coming off Rose passes. And when Rose is setting the table the Bulls are shooting a collective 56.7 percent from three—an effective field goal percentage of 87.5 percent.

When you combine that with Rose’s 12-26 shooting from three, the results are amazing. The chart below shows the difference in the Bulls’ offense when Rose is and isn’t involved.

Bulls threes

When Rose is involved, the Bulls are 51.8 percent from three. When he’s not they’re 31.7 percent, a difference of just over 20 percentage points. That’s more than the difference between three-point percentage leader Kyle Korver and Russell Westbrook, who was 100th.

It’s an absolute fact: The Bulls are a better, even great, three-point shooting with Rose in the lineup. The question is: Can they sustain that?

The Eye Test

The eye test suggested to me that when Rose is attacking the lane with even a modicum of success and involving his teammates, two things are true.

  1. Rose shoots better from deep.
  2. The Bulls win.

Utilizing the Shot Finder at Basketball-Reference, I looked at games where Rose had at least five shots within six feet of the rim and made over 40 percent of them. (including postseason games) Rose accomplished that 25 times, and the Bulls were 17-8 in those games. That’s slightly better than the 19-11 when he failed to reach those marks, and much better than the 18-15 the Bulls were when he didn’t play at all.

Rose has been getting into the lane against Milwaukee—though not so much in the last game. During the three wins, he had 9.7 points on drives per game. In the loss, he had only six and failed to reach the criterion mentioned above.

When Rose is attacking, he’s dangerous. Like Jaws dangerous:

When he’s doing stuff like that, the best defense is a good prayer. So teams start committing every man with hands to him. And that’s when you realize there’s a reason his teammates shoot so much better from three when he’s passing. It’s because of things like this:

And this:

Rose is getting the ball to his teammates with incredibly open looks because he draws so much defense around him. Perhaps more than pre-injury Rose, he’s showing vision and an ability to skip passes wherever he wants.

When Rose takes five shots from within six feet, makes 40 percent of them and has four assists, the Bulls are 18-3. When he’s getting into the paint and kicking out, the Bulls are a fantastic team.

Furthermore—and this is somewhat surprising—when Rose is doing all that, his three-point shooting is much improved. In those same games, he’s shooting 38.5 percent from three.

When he’s getting into the lane and has five assists, the Bulls are 12-2 and he’s shooting 43.4 percent from deep.

Such great deep-shooting may seem anomalous, but there’s a kind of logic to it. For one, in those same games, he’s 67.3 percent within six feet. So there’s something of the “confidence” factor going in.

There’s also the case to be made that when he’s beating teams off the dribble and off the pass, they’re getting frozen on defense, and that’s giving him more open looks, such as what happens here when Jerryd Bayless gives him too much room:

So that actually raises a somewhat unexpected angle to the question of whether he can keep up the three-point passing.  If he can maintain the driving and passing, then he can actually keep up the shooting. Maybe he won’t be near 50 percent, but perhaps near 40 percent, which is still enough to make him incredibly dangerous.

And if Rose is doing all that, the Bulls are going to be a very tough team to beat in a seven-game series.

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