Derrick Rose has been back for three games in four days over the recent week and showed signs for optimism to Bulls fans. He has scored 43 points to go with 12 assists, 12 rebounds, and four steals in only a little more than 68 minutes, translating to roughly 22.8 points and 6.4 assists per 36 minutes, in the Bulls two wins and one loss, since returning from surgery to repair torn meniscus in his right knee.
The sample is as minute as it is relevant on its face, but the eye test shows explosiveness through holes to attack the rim and the utilization of his dribble to collapse the opposing defense, with the court vision to find open shooters across the court and cutters to the hole.
The drives will always be there with Rose, as his tendency is such. But the identification of the holes through which to drive and the options outside of himself of every drive are a holistic view of the years-removed MVP as a championship-caliber weapon.
The Bulls played a well-paid JV squad on Saturday evening, but Rose logged well over 28 meaningful minutes against a defense that challenged him to move the ball. And Rose didn't just get rid of the ball; he found immediate scoring opportunities with his passes.
These aren't all textbook motions of the head. When his dribble drive is blocked, he uses his dribble to draw defenders away from the off-ball screen or patiently allows his teammates to create efficient shots. He passed defenders to draw help and fired the ball inside, established strong sides on the wing as shooters went weak and fired pinpoint cross-court passes to the open man, and beat a trap by finding Taj Gibson on a hard cut.
The Bulls struggled more than they should have against the 76ers, but Rose took the game over--not only with his penetration--but with his court vision. Those looks won't always be there. And, yes, Rose is shooting at career-low percentages across the board this season, no matter what his health status. But his contribution to any potential playoff success for the Bulls will be through his passes. And his assists begin with his aggression.
It is troubling that only 16 of his 43 shots have come within ten feet since returning from his injury, compared to 14 three-point attempts and eight long two-point attempts, despite his jump shot, historically, being a liability.
Just as many NBA teams live and die by the three-pointer, from night-to-night, the Bulls live and die on their ball movement.
The Bulls have always been a strong inside-out offensive team in the Tom Thibodeau era, but getting inside is the part that depends on who is healthy that night and how well the Bulls can wear down a defense. Getting inside and finishing is always the best way to turn defenders' backs on the three-point line. But, when the game slows down to the better teams in the playoffs, the Bulls have to deceive the opposition into bad footwork.
Rose doesn't have to be a dominant 25-point-per-game scorer. He doesn't even have to shoot 45%. He simply needs to break the defense away from the higher-percentage scorers to be effective. There is no usage difference for Rose in wins and losses, but he is still an extremely high volume player, making his performances still crucial factors that decide wins and losses for this team.
|31 Wins with Rose||18 Losses with Rose|
|AST per 36 min.||6.13||5.36|
|TOV per 36 min.||3.49||4.14|
That begins with penetration, on his part. But he can be on the court in units with great passers like Nikola Mirotic, Joakim Noah, and Pau Gasol to creating a more beautiful offense. The Bulls outscore their opponents most with Rose when he is paired with tall shooters Gasol and Mike Dunleavy, largely because of them as expanded scoring options to stretch the floor and punish collapsing defenses:
Rose's playmaking ability is all the more noticeable given how the other Bulls PGs have fared this season. Aaron Brooks has shouldered the load to be a serviceable replacement in the rotation during Rose's absence. He is one of the best shooters on the team, but his impact over wins and losses is nowhere near as imperative, looking at his splits. In 21 starts, his FG%/3P%/TS% slash line dramatically drops from .434/.426/.556 off the bench to an abysmal .394/.314/.491. The team goes into the red, as well, scoring only 99 points per 100 possessions with Brooks on the court as a starter, compared to 105 with Brooks on the court off the bench.
Kirk Hinrich is having a historically terrible season, as a liability that this team can no longer afford. His overall .373/.342/.468 slash line is embarrassing and his 6.8 PER is D-League material, no matter one's opinion of the polarizing stat. The Bulls' eFG% drops from .496 with Hinrich off the court to .478; the offensive rating from 108.6, which would be the 7th-best in the NBA, to 105.8. Hinrich's past prowess as a defensive plus doesn't show in the data, either, as the Bulls are only allowing 0.8 more points per 100 possessions with him off the court versus on the court. If this were a player at the bottom of the rotation, he's simply giving others a rest, but Hinrich has played a whopping 41% of the Bulls' minutes this season.
The rumor has always been that Rose didn't want to be The Scorer in high school, college, or the NBA. That his dream is quarterbacking his offense over rushing in every touchdown. Any whispers that the Bulls can advance in the playoffs without Rose, that Rose is a 'minus' player, that Rose is a liability rather an asset to the offense are simply untrue, despite his low shooting percentages.
Rose is still this team's quarterback on whom the Bulls will live or die.
Stats via Basketball-Reference.com.