The Importance of Rose's Third Season

Through all the discussions around here about what to expect from the Bulls this season, one caveat keeps getting thrown out there:  None of this matters if Rose breaks out.  Which got me thinking, how likely is that Derrick would break out in his third season?  After all, most players show their greatest improvements between the first and second seasons.  Shouldn’t we have already seen his biggest jump?  Even if he does “break out,” what kind of improvement could we realistically expect?

I started out looking at the first three seasons of all players drafted since 1998-99 to give myself 10 draft classes to work with.  I further limited the list to players who had played a minimum of 1000 minutes in each of their first 3 seasons (an adjustment was made to account for the lock out shortened 1999 season).  What I found was confirms the earlier assertion: players, on average, have a bigger improvement between the first two seasons than between seasons 2 and 3.  Just looking at PER (but this was true across the board) players improved by 9.01% during year two and followed with a 6.22% improvement in year 3.  That’s still a nice improvement, and if Derrick followed that course, he’d post a 19.76 PER next season.  Good, but far from the great needed to make this team a contender.

Looking for some hope, I broke out groups of players who were under the age of 22 as rookies, point guards, and players who posted a USG% greater than 20 each season and various combinations of each.  There were no significant changes in my findings.  Some groups had greater improvements from year to year, but still not enough to make me think Derrick had a chance to be on his way to a Top 10 player.

My final step was to take a look at a subjectively identified list of players.  I wanted to pick out those that were perimeter players considered to be franchise cornerstones either when drafted or within the first 3 seasons.  That left me with 7:  LeBron; Wade; Melo; Roy; Durant; Paul; Deron.  

This group left me feeling hopeful and concerned at the same time.  The hope came from they’re bucking the trend of greater improvement between the first 2 seasons.  This group improved their PER by a substantial average of 18.88% between years 1 and 2.  Things got better, though, as from year to year 3, their PER improved by 22.24%.  This wasn’t a fluke caused by one or two outliers.  Look at the below second to third year improvements.

Brandon Roy    23.71%
Carmelo Anthony    31.74%
Chris Paul    28.64%
Deron Williams    21.64%
Dwyane Wade    19.48%
Kevin Durant    25.96%
LeBron James    9.34%
LeBron’s the lowest, but he was following up a 40.44% improvement from rookie to second year.  If Derrick were to follow a similar improvement schedule, he’d be at a 23.84 PER next season.  Does Derrick even belong being mentioned with this group?  In looking at their second year PERs, I’d say yes.  

Derrick Rose    18.6
Brandon Roy    19.4
Carmelo Anthony    16.7
Chris Paul    22
Deron Williams    17.1
Dwyane Wade    23.1
Kevin Durant    20.8
LeBron James    25.7

So, why does this leave me concerned?  Because I think the course of this season could determine whether Derrick makes that elite jump or is just another high volume, low efficiency scorer.  In other words, this could be a make or break year.  

I followed up looking at the fourth year of the available players from this small pool (minus Durant, obviously).  After big jumps in their second and third seasons, each player saw either a regression or a significantly smaller jump from their third to fourth season.  The percent change from years 3 to 4 was actually -2.51%.  Again, this is a very limited pool, so the conclusions drawn from it probably shouldn’t be taken all that seriously.  Still, it seems that these very elite, perimeter players made immense improvements from years 2 to 3.

One more thing I want to call attention to is Derrick’s FT/FGA ratio compared to this pool.  His inability to get to the line has been much maligned and deservedly so.  It really, though, stuck out like a sore thumb compared to these guys.  The average FT/FGA for the group in their second seasons was .32.  Derrick’s was .19.  The lowest in the group was Deron at .21.  However, he jumped to .29 in his third season.  If we’re going to see that jump from Rose, I think it’s going to be because he’s getting to the line far more than his three point shot.

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