If you haven’t already, it’s time to forget about the Derrick Rose you once knew. The 2011 NBA MVP is just not that guy anymore.
He’s now had more surgeries than Amanda Bynes and, on top of all that, is coming back from a fractured face. His game is drifting away, which threatens to send his Chicago Bulls in the same direction.
Rose is not the offensive creator of old. His usage rate is around 25%, down from his average of 30% when playing a meaningful amount of games. He barely dishes out the most assists on his own team, with Joakim Noah and Aaron Brooks just below him in assists per 100 possessions. The rest of the league is showing him up as well. He’s 22nd in the league at 5.7 assists per game, sandwiched between rookies Emmanuel Mudiay and TJ McConnell.
But it’s not just creating for others, his own scoring is even more disappointing. You don’t even have to dig deep into the numbers; he’s shooting 36.3% on field goals and 23.4% on threes. That’s on more than 15 shots per game, the highest rate of all Bulls players. Only Noah, in his worst season as a pro, and Tony Snell have worse percentages and they take more than 10 less shots per game than Rose. He’s approaching Kobe Bryant levels of usage and inefficiency.
Bryant has nearly 50,000 NBA minutes slowing him down. Rose has three three surgeries on his ACL and meniscus. Either will take athleticism away from you. It’s easy to see this point of concern while watching their games. He can’t attack the basket anymore, shooting only 2.6 free throws per game. His backcourt partner Jimmy Butler gets 7.5. Watching him drive into the paint, jump in the air with no discernible plan, then launch an awkward pass backwards somewhere near an unsuspecting teammate is infuriating. I just watch this video over and over and cry.
Now he shoots nearly half his shots at the rim and converts them 16% less than the league average. Now he does things like this:
He even recently cut his hair, which had been looking better than ever.
But the drop in athleticism affects his defense just as much, if not more. He gets murdered on pick and rolls, his legs failing him as he tries to maneuver around wide-shouldered and big-butted big men, allowing point guards wide lanes to the basket. Chicago’s Defensive Rating is a whopping 20 points better when he’s off the court.
Even though the Bulls are 12-8 and seem to be in solid shape in the East, their point differential is 0.4 per game this season, meaning they’re playing more like a .500 team. On average, teams outscore Chicago by 1.4 points per game when Rose is on the court. That’s only a slightly better number than the 10-14 New York Knicks have posted this year. In short, he’s not helping Chicago win.
So how can Rose make himself more useful? After that, it starts with understanding what his role needs to be. He’s never been a knock-down outside shooter, and now he’s struggling to finish inside. His number of shots has to come down. There are plenty of outside shooters and inside finishers on his roster, he needs to focus on getting them passes that they can easily turn into quality shots. And the most important but most difficult change, improving his defense. It’s not as easy as telling him to “try harder,” especially with surgically repaired knees. But he has to find a way to keep opposing guards in front of him.
Rose is a former MVP, but he can’t keep playing like it’s 2011. Less could be more. Slower could be faster. Smarter would be better. That could be the difference between a solid playoff team and a Finals contender. That’s how Rose, with his Most Valuable Player days behind him, can be his most valuable in 2015.
* All stats from nba.com/stats