After a rough 5-3 start to the season, people were ready to give up on Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls as a team. ESPN writer Brian Windhorst, who seems to gladly criticize anyone in the NBA not named LeBron James, went as far as to say “the break up between Rose and the Bulls has begun.”
Not so fast.
The start to this young season has not gone as smooth as expected but Chicago is far from finished. There is no denying that Chicago has struggled to a 5-3 record, but the fact that they are struggling and still that record still says something. People who thought the Bulls were going to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders under new coach Fred Hoiberg have found that it will take more than the offseason to get adjusted to the new system.
This shouldn’t be a worry to Bulls fans; there are still 76 games left to figure it out, and with wins against Cleveland and Oklahoma City already in their pockets, Chicago has shown they will be a difficult team to take down just like every other year.
Most people will still agree that the Bulls will go as far as Derrick Rose takes them. If he continues to play the way he did against OKC, Chicago has a shot to go very far this season. Rose finished the game with 29 points on 48% shooting and also dished out seven assists.
In the three games prior Rose scored a total of 18 points and shot under 30%. The difference between Thursday night and the previous three games is his shot selection. Instead of settling for jump shots the way he has been known to do post injury, Rose got back to his roots and did what he does best: attack the basket.
Rose has never been a lights out shooter, so it is not a surprise that he has struggled with long range shots this season. So far this year he hasn’t made a three point shot in his nine attempts. His career average from the three point line is 30%. It is safe to say shooting the ball isn’t Rose’s best attribute. When you compare that to his shooting percentage closer to the basket it shows Rose is most effective when scoring inside.
This season he is shooting 57% when 0-3 feet from the basket. In his 2010-2011 MVP season he made 61% of his shots from 0-3. On Thursday against Oklahoma City, seven of the 12 shots Rose made came from inside the paint. A benefit of Rose’s aggressiveness came in the form of free throws. He made 5 of 6 free throws against the Thunder. From a statistical standpoint alone it’s easy to see the Bulls benefit greatly from Rose playing near the basket.
The Bulls benefit in multiple ways from Rose attacking the hoop aggressively. An obvious is that Rose is just plain more efficient when doing so as opposed to sticking to mid range and three point shots. The proof is in the percentages. A more efficient Rose means less wasted possessions and offensive droughts will be fewer and far between. This helps out the whole team. When Rose is attacking the basket and scoring at will it puts the defense completely on edge.
The defense will have to keep the paint on lock which will leave open space on the wings for three-point shots. With the three-point line wide open Doug McDermott, Mike Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic will all be able to drain shots at will. This also gives our other offensive stud Jimmy Butler more room to operate driving the lane as well or hitting an open jump shot. Teams can’t double team with Rose and Butler on the court together because if they do whoever they leave open will get to the basket and either score or get to the free throw line.
As mentioned earlier, another plus to Rose driving the hoop is the extra free throw attempts it creates. More free throw attempts not only gives a chance for extra points but also can put the other team into foul trouble or quickly get Chicago in the bonus where they shoot free throws on every foul which can quickly put a game out of reach.
Derrick Rose didn’t become MVP by shooting threes, he did it by driving the lane. Even after three knee injuries Rose is still a strong explosive player and has the matchup advantage on most of the opposing point guards in the league. I don’t think it is a physical battle as much anymore as it is a mental battle. Does Rose have the same athletic ability he did in 2010?
It’s hard to say but he has shown flashes multiple times that he can still speed down the court and throw it down. I believe Rose still has a mental hurdle to clear and is not 100% confident in his ability to stay healthy. After so many devastating injuries it is easy to see why Rose is cautious, but if he is going to get back to MVP levels he needs to play more aggressive the way he did against OKC.
Whether Rose can play at a high level every night is yet to be seen, but if he is able to consistently produce at that level the Bulls have the rest of the pieces to contend for a title.