Sports Opinion & Analysis

Derrick Rose: What To Expect From The Former MVP

In NBA on January 17, 2013 at 10:13 am

By Jeff Weyant

You’ve probably never seen this image before. Especially not during a broadcast of a nationally-televised NBA game. And especially not during an overplayed Adidas commercial.

During the summer the general consensus was that Derrick Rose should sit out the entire 2013 season to make sure he was fully healthy and that consequently the Bulls should trade up for picks and youth and essentially tank the season in order to pair the return of the youngest MVP in history with a high lottery pick. Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls organization, naturally, had other plans. They’re 22-15, fighting in a large crowd for the second seed in the East, and Derrick Rose is ahead of schedule and looking to return as early as mid-February.

Which, justifiably, has the Eastern Conference a bit worried, because without Rose and after the departure of the anchor of their bench defense (Omer Asik, who went to Houston as a sought-after free agent), the Bulls are faring just fine. They’ve managed to assimilate several new faces into the lineup without much of a struggle, the defense is still all-world (3rd in the league in defensive efficiency), and they’re winning games with a bench backcourt of Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli (most unpredictable occurrence so far this year). Basically, they’re still coached by Tom Thibodeau, which means everything was probably going to be alright anyways and we all just got ahead of ourselves.

Interesting note: Thibodeau is often photographed in the middle of an operatic aria.

The question, then, is how will Rose fit back in? Assuming he returns at around 75% of where he was two years ago when he won an MVP (which isn’t far-fetched considering modern medicine: remember Adrian Peterson?), will that be enough for the Bulls to ease into a high playoff seed come April, ready to do some damage in the postseason?

Thankfully, our guesswork can be partially substantiated by historical precedent, which Derrick Rose kindly offered last season when he played through multiple injuries before going down in the first game of the playoffs: By most accounts (i.e. general per-game statistics which most people look at), he had a down year individually. He shot a career-low percentage from the field (a groan-inducing 43.5%), scored 3.2 less points per game, made a smaller percentage of his free-throws, rebounded worse, and all while playing roughly the same minutes. In sum, he missed 27 of Chicago’s 66 games and looked like the 2011 MVP in stretches here and there but never for very long.

Will he return to his MVP form?

That being said, if you look beyond the per-game statistics, he had a pretty great year. His true-shooting percentage was marginally lower than his MVP campaign, his free-throw rate was almost identical, and his field-goal percentage, if adjusted for other factors, is better than the adjusted-field-goal percentage of a similar player, Russell Westbrook. But the real beauty is what happened when Rose was on the court: even given the inconsistent season in terms of injuries, when Rose was on the floor, the Bulls averaged 1.12 points-per-possession (PPP) which is a very good number. By comparison, when LeBron James and Kevin Durant hit the hardwood, their respective teams averaged 1.11 PPP and according to just about everybody they had better seasons than Rose. Meanwhile, Rose held opposing point guards to an 11.0 PER per game whereas James and Durant held opposing small forwards to 10.6 and 12.7 respectively. When you take into account the quality of opposition Rose faced on a nightly basis compared to James and Durant (league-average PER last year for point guards was 14.58 and for small forwards it was 11.67), Rose’s “subpar” season begins to take shape as a great season indeed.

If this sort of analysis can tell us anything, then, it’s that a Derrick Rose who is playing below where we know he can play is still a force to be reckoned with. He’s also coming back to a system in which he doesn’t have to be great. He merely has to be good because a good Derrick Rose will probably give the Bulls a 2-seed for the playoffs. Now imagine where Chicago might wind up if Rose comes back without missing a beat, lighting up opposing defenses in crunch-time and willing his team to victories in much the same way as James and Durant. What was supposed to be a throw-away season might end up being special after all.

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