Bulls vs. Knicks: Rose & the cognitive dissonance of 'Hero Ball'

Derrick Rose is doubtful for Tuesday's matchup with the Knicks after tweaking his ankle in Sunday's game in New York. He's officially a "gametime decision", but John Paxson's remarks on WMVP today suggest he's unlikely to play:

Rose said he hurt in the second quarter, but scored a heroic 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting (3-for-4 on 3s) in the third quarter, as the Bulls turned a nine-point deficit into a three-point lead. But he spoke today of how the ankle slowed him down as Sunday's game wore on, adding that sitting out tonight's game adds to the risk of not being in sync with his teammates come playoff time:

"It was something I knew was big," Rose said. "(In the fourth quarter) that's why I was walking the ball up the majority of the time. I wasn't running because of the throbbing; I was just trying to win the game and it definitely hurts losing the game and definitely have to sit out this game if I do choose to play or choose not to play. It's definitely going to hurt. That game hurt a lot."

[...]

"Right now, every day it's getting better," Rose said. "I got a lot of treatment [Monday], coming back in this morning. Every day, every treatment, it's getting better."

Rose did not think this would keep him out the rest of the regular season. After missing 22 games, Rose said it's important to get back in a rhythm with his teammates.

"It's huge, especially right now we have to catch a rhythm where I've been out the majority of the year with all these injuries," he said. "A couple other players have been out a little bit. But if anything we're happy that we've been together; this is basically the same team from last year. We know everybody's tendencies on the team. We know how to play with one another. But it's going to take a little time for us to jell."

Rose continuing to play was a bold effort in itself, that -- in hindsight -- raises the question of toeing that fine line between tough and stupid. Whether his bad play was still better than having C.J. Watson in the game for the fourth quarter is unknown, as Rose was a long part in growing the lead that gave them a cushion to get to overtime at all.

But the play was bad. Really bad.

Jason Patt relayed the play-by-play of Rose's "Hero Ball" effort and how Rose's usurpation of the offense resulted in constant failed possessions:

I think it's a fitting time for the discussion, because in Rose's return from a groin injury on Sunday against the New York Knicks, he decided to turn crunch time into an episode of "Derrick Rose Hero Ball Theater." After the Bulls took a 10-point lead, it felt like nearly every Bulls possession was a Rose clear out with the occasional ball screen. After taking a look at the replays via Synergy, that was exactly the case. Here's every Bulls possession after they took the 10-point lead with 3:45 left:

Rose > P&R Ball Handler > Turnover

Rose > ISO > Jumper > Miss 2

Rose > ISO > Turnover

Rose > P&R Ball Handler > Jumper > Miss 3

Rose > ISO > Jumper > Miss 2

*Deng and Rose take turns missing two free throws each

Rose > ISO > Jumper > Miss 2

*Game heads to OT

Rose > P&R Ball Handler > Jumper > Miss 2

*Noah grabs rebound of Rose miss and splits free throws

Noah > P&R Roll Man > Layup > Make 2 > And 1

Rose > Transition > Layup > Make 2

Rose > P&R Ball Handler > Jumper > Make 2

Noah > P&R Roll Man > Turnover

Rose > P&R Ball Handler > Jumper > Miss 2

Korver > Off Screen > Jumper > Miss 3

Rose > P&R Ball Handler > Turnover

Rose > Hand Off > Jumper > Miss 2

*Game Over

As you can see (and I'm sure you all can recall), the results were disastrous. During this stretch, Rose went 2-9 with three turnovers. And while Rose technically only went iso on four of these possessions, on many of the pick-and-rolls, he did not even look at the roll man. The screen was there to simply try and free him for an easier look. Only twice did Rose pass to the roll man, and it worked once in the form of a Joakim Noah and-1. Besides this, there was only one other legit play that ended in something other than a Rose attempt or turnover, and that was a wide open three from Kyle Korver that he unfortunately missed.

Patt then added that Rose is shooting just 32% in NBA.com-defined "crunch time" situations this season, adding: "And proving that hero ball often takes effect, his shots per 36 are way up in these situations while his assist numbers are down. His usage is also up over 40 percent, which is crazy high."

The problem with over-using those numbers is that sample size is ridiculously small. The data only covers 50 minutes over 15 games, as opposed to 167 minutes over 43 minutes last season where he shot 40% with a much higher 52.7% usage rate. More important, his points-per-shot were huge last season "in the clutch", scoring 35.8 points-per-36 in 27.4 shots because he was shooting 90% on 14.7 free throw attempts (FTAs). This season, only 26.6 points per 29.5 shots because he's only shooting 58% on 13.7 FTAs-per-36.

The large difference is his shot attempts at the rim. This season, only 25 of his 41 (60.9%) clutch shots have been in the paint, compared to 80-of-127 (62.9%) last season. Last season, he shot 47.5% in the paint in the clutch, compared to only 36% this season. Remarkably, Rose is actually shooting the exact same percentage at the rim this season as last (60%), so the fatigue catching his hurt body as games get deeper is likely more a factor than him lacking a mythical "Clutch Gene". And there's no question that he's progressing toward his pre-season goal of making more efficient decisions, as he's taking less long-2-point jumpers, is logging more assists with less turnovers, lowering the bad portions of his usage rate.

Add that because Sunday's game going into overtime, makes that game -- his first in over three weeks against some great defense by Iman Shumpert -- account for about 20% of his 50 "in the clutch" minutes this season. Again, the sample is so tiny that one or two games could easily bring him back to last season's numbers and the points are moot, right?

Well, not so much. Not so much because Rose was a hell of a lot healthier last season. There's a difference between failing due to chosen inefficiency and that of Lady Variance just being cruel. It's a completely different story when Rose did what he did on Sunday: attempt to perform actions of which his body was incapable due to injury. That's what made Rose's Hero Ball effort more a vice. But in the long run, it's moreso a virtue.

It's as easy to scream at the television when Rose was being innocently foolish as it was for Knicks fans to cheer on ridiculous shot selection by Carmelo Anthony as Anthony made buckets like a god. Basketball is such a fast game that emotions run extremely high and our reactions to Hero Ball are pretty much always irrational gut instincts in the moment. The players are just as human, but so elite that it's difficult to separate their irrational actions from their bold at times. As observers, we find ourselves being unfairly results-oriented, cheering buckets and jeering bricks.

What's correct is Rose did what he felt he needed to do for the Bulls to win and you're not going to hear any Bulls players or coaches say otherwise, just as all heroes need the support of their team to succeed in those situations. If you discourage scorers' Hero Ball defaults, you run a much larger risk of damaging his confidence to get the ball enough, let alone be aggressive, so maybe you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

But there's a huge difference is 'Melo jacking long threes and Rose attempting to play above the limitations his injury put upon him. And that logic maybe applies to him playing that fourth quarter at all and every game over the next couple of weeks and just another injury is added to the list of risk, just as every game missed adds to the risk of being out of rhythm for the playoffs.

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