Derrick Rose is having a tough season for a totally different reason than the tough seasons of years past. Since collecting his MVP award, Rose has dealt with either nagging injuries that have kept him guessing when he’d be back on the court or a major injury that ended his season before allowing the Bulls the opportunity to challenge for a championship. This season is different, but not necessarily in a good way.
Rose’s body has held up this year, allowing him to play in 21 of the Bulls’ 23 games. The problem? An eye injury he sustained in the very first practice of training camp, requiring surgery and resulting in a double-vision issue that’s dogged him all year. It wasn’t until just the last few weeks where reports started to come in that the double-vision was starting to get a little better, leading to Rose ditching the mask he’d been wearing since the injury occurred.
Fans and media, ever skeptical at all turns, have been justifiably skeptical about Rose. Despite poor shooting, he’s still looked lost in the Fred Hoiberg offense. He often doesn’t push the ball at the pace Hoiberg wants, he doesn’t play above the rim at all — whether that’s by choice or lack of ability to do it anymore is up for debate — and at times has looked apathetic. Nobody expects Rose to be an MVP again, but early this year many were concerned he’d never be a starting-caliber point guard again.
But things are starting to improve, slowly. It’s been a painfully slow process, but those who watch closely have seen that Rose is indeed getting better. He’s still not shooting all that well, which is understandable for a guy who’s been looking at two baskets for the better part of two months. If you need any evidence that the shooting touch hasn’t returned, look no further than his 5-for-12 free throw shooting from the last seven games.
But Rose has been getting to the basket a bit more frequently, he’s been making athletic plays just a little bit more and he’s nicely developed a short, mid-range bank shot. We’ve even see him bring back the floater, which is something I swear I haven’t seen out of him since before the first meniscus tear.
Here are Rose’s splits for his first 14 games of the season with shooting percentages, followed by the most recent seven games where we’ve begun to see improvement:
It’s been baby steps for Rose, and I don’t think anyone should complain about that. For the kid who rushed back from minor injuries and forced himself to play through the pain in the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12, the intense scrutiny of not coming back to play when his body was telling him that it wasn’t right yet at the very end of the 2012-13, the improbable second knee injury and the nagging injuries that led up to reinjuring his meniscus last year, I completely understand if he’s taking a long view on working his way back.
Looking ahead, there are a few next steps that Rose needs to take. First, he needs to get to the point where the double-vision is officially a thing of the past. The fact that he’s lost the mask and physically looks more confident tells me that it’s improving, but as recently as last night he said it was still bothering him. Once he can actually see the basket like normal, he’ll be able to slowly move his range further out — to the point that he’s comfortable, anyway.
Once he has that under his belt, it’s time to actually start attacking the basket regularly again. That means — as hard as it is to envision at this point — drawing contact and getting to the free throw line, putting up some floaters in the lane and taking short, mid-range jumpers and bank-shots. Rose needs to get back to putting up 16 to 18 shots per game while ALSO scoring around 19 or 20 points per game if the Bulls are going to be a dangerous team in the second half of the season this year.
Getting to this point will mean that he’s gelled with not only his teammates, but the offensive system under which he toils. He needs to get comfortable with what Hoiberg is telling him to do, something that we haven’t seen quite yet. As much as a maniac that Tom Thibodeau was with defense, he allowed Rose a little bit more leeway to do what he wanted on offense than Hoiberg has. If Rose is going to convince everyone that an All-Star is still hiding inside his battle-scarred body, it’s going to mean he’s completely bought in on the Hoiberg offense.
I can’t say whether these things are going to happen or not. After scoring 19 points in a solid 98-85 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies while shooting 9-for-19 from the field, Rose could come back out and shoot 34 percent over his next five games. That would take a lot of the wind out of the sails, and I hope, for his sake, it doesn’t play out that way. You just can’t ever predict anything about Rose anymore, but at the very least, it’s starting to look better.