Derrick Rose has missed significant playing time in every season since he was the youngest MVP in NBA history in 2010-11. Last season, he was able to play more than at any time since then, but it was inconsistent and an often horrible performance.
It was, however, occasionally brilliant, even bordering on the play that won him the league’s most coveted individual award. Is there a way that he can be less of the “disaster Rose” and more of the “old Rose?” And how much of his best stuff needs to be on display for the Bulls to contend?
There are actually reasons to think that his career might not be completely washed up. Maybe he’ll never win an MVP again, but he could get back to an All-Star caliber player. And while that’s thinking optimistically, it’s on the realistic side of optimism. There’s good reason to believe it.
First, let’s consider the injuries. Part of the reason for the negativity around Rose ever being the same is the colossal volume of false equivalences associated with his injury. Everyone from Grant Hill (who injured his ankles) to Greg Oden (who had microfracture issues in his knees) to Brandon Roy (who was dealing with arthritic knees) has been associated somehow with Rose.
The problem is that none of those injuries are what Rose had, so equating what happened with them after those injuries are completely fallacious.
Rose had two main injuries. First, he tore his ACL in his left knee on April 28, 2012. Then, on Nov. 22, 2013, he tore his meniscus in his right knee. Then, at some point last season, he re-injured his right meniscus. He went back under the knife and “the torn part or the damaged part of the meniscus was removed,” per Jon Greenberg of ESPN.com.
That’s an important distinction. He didn’t have the entire meniscus removed. He didn’t have it repaired. That means the injured part of the meniscus is no longer there, but it also means that the rest of it is. That’s why Rose was able to return after a relatively (to the previous two) brief absence.
In other words, the chances of injuring the right knee are very low now. And he hasn’t had problems with the left knee since the original injury. If that were likely to recur, it probably would’ve happened by now.
In fact, a study by Thomas Hobbes of ALLGBP.com on running backs with torn ACLs found that those who didn’t re-tear their ACL in the first three years were less likely to experience a tear than backs who had never had an injury.
So, there’s a chance that Rose gets injured again, but it’s no greater than anyone else’s chance of getting injured.
The Second Season
Apart from the injuries, Rose’s biggest problem was his mental approach. While he showed flashes of his old athleticism, his aggressiveness waned. During his MVP season, 24.6 percent of his shots were from three and 29.6 percent were from the rim.
Last year, 31.5 percent were from deep and only 26.3 percent were at the basket. In addition, he had a free throw rate of .348 in 2010-11 and only .224 last year. While some complain about Rose’s excessive three-point shooting, what probably matters most is the reduction in drives to the basket.
Finishing the last season, even if it was with a discouraging outcome, was a big win for Rose. For the first time in four years, he’s not spending an offseason rehabbing. That’s a big plus. There’s no telling how much that can do for his confidence in attacking the basket next year. And if he can regain that he’s a lot closer to being back.
And there’s actually precedent to suggest he should be better in 2015-16. If we’re comparing apples to apples — players who tore their ACLs when they were still under 30 — both Shaun Livingston and Bernard King came back from the same injury to near the same level or even better.
Prior to getting hurt, King had a career PER of 20.0. After he came back, it was 17.7. Livingston’s was 11.7 pre-injury and has been 13.3 post-injury. That’s all the more significant since he and Rose were the same age (23) when they tore their ACL, while King was five years older.
Furthermore, King had his PER go from 15.0 his first season back to 17.7 his second, 18.8 his third and 19.1. Livingston saw his PER jump from 12.8 to 14.3 his second year back. There’s ample reason to believe that Rose will be better next year than he was last.
Physically, not only should Rose be fine, he should be better than he was last year, and that should give him the mental confidence to be the aggressive type of player he was before he got injured.
Typically, the NBA Summer League isn’t the greatest indicator of what’s going to happen the next season. If you’re looking at “breakout” performances to gauge players, it’s not going to go well. So don’t get ahead of me and start saying, “but Summer League!” It’s not my first offseason.
My interest this year was in Fred Hoiberg and the offense he was running. Specifically, I wanted to see how Rose will fit in.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Hoiberg is all about spacing. I think in the analytics age we have a surface understanding where we think “spacing” equates to having a stretch 4 on the court hitting threes. While that certainly helps it, it’s only an aspect.
And here’s a screen cap of the court when Blue received the pick:
There are two noteworthy things here. First, see how far out everyone was, including Portis when he set the pick. Second, see how no one was in the paint for either team. Vander Blue was easily able to get to the rim.
For a guy like Rose, who can burst through the seams quicker than you can say seams, this is an easy two points.
Hoiberg likes to run drag screens where the big sets a pick in transition above the arc. There are multiple options he has out of these sets, but one of the primary ones is to get the 1 an open lane to the cup. Witness:
And again look at the space when Blue received the pick.
Let’s break this set down because Hoiberg ran a lot of plays out of this set. The first thing he did was run a weave with a double hand-off to group three defenders together at the top of the elbow three:
He also sent Tyrus McGee to the opposite corner, taking a fourth defender with him. Portis came out to set the pick for Blue. Once again look how much space there is when Blue got the pick set for him:
Only this time the switch did his job and got in the way of Blue. But it resulted in an easy dime and finish for the duo.
These are just a few examples to illustrate a larger point. When we think of “spacing” we shouldn’t just think of three-point shooting. A shot inside the restricted area is still more valuable than a three-point shot. Last year, a shot at the rim was worth 1.256 points. A three was worth 1.161.
And Rose is going to get a lot more easy looks there than he did in last year’s two-bigs, pass-the-ball-inside, even-if-you-can’t offense that Tom Thibodeau ran last year.
There’s an ironic notion that Hoiberg’s offense will encourage Rose to take more threes. The opposite is true. He took too many threes in Thibodeau’s offense because the defender would go under the screen. When the lanes are that crowded, it’s actually the “right” play because the lanes are too congested.
But with the picks set this high and with that much space for Rose to operate, the right play is for him to go to the rack.
Rose will be abundantly more efficient this year. And it’ll have a lot to do with an offense that monopolizes on his speed and burst.
The compound effect of this will be that his confidence will grow as he gets to the rim. He won’t be carving through four defenders and getting bowled over every play. He’ll be getting buckets.
He’ll be less concerned about his knees and more instinctive in his game. So, not only should you expect him to be better next year than last, you should expect him to be better at the end of the season than at the start of it.
This might sound like pie-in-the-sky optimism — heck, it might even be that — but objectively, it seems like there are a lot of reasons to believe we can still see more from Rose. I don’t mean to suggest that he’s going to win another MVP, but I do think he could see another All-Star Game, maybe even this year.