I've been debating about how long to wait before writing this piece, and I've been hoping that it would become unnecessary over time. Even now, I hope I look like a moron in a month, and the stupidest man alive in two years, but I think it's time to discuss where we are at with Derrick Rose in an honest way.
I'm sure most of my readers are aware of the hour long podcast I did describing Rose's game prior to the draft. You know that I was a 50/50 fence rider between Rose and Beasley. I projected Rose to have a higher ceiling while Beasley would have a higher floor and would be a better fit on the roster. A patient franchise willing to rework it's roster could be much better off with Rose down the line, but if Rose didn't live up to that potential then reworking an entire roster for a guy who fails you would kill the team for a half decade.
Make no mistake, the process of rebuilding the entire roster has begun. Ben Gordon's gone, and we've already seen signs that Luol Deng and Rose aren't a great fit going forward if neither can shoot the three and both continue to take up the same kind of lanes cutting to the basket. Hinrich's a solid player, but he won't be maximized playing SG, so it makes sense to reallocate his cap number to a guy who's playing to his potential.
So where is Rose at right now? First, let's start off with the good, because there is plenty of good.
In his transition from college to the NBA, Derrick improved his jumper faster than I ever dreamed possible. I didn't think he was going to have any real jumper in the NBA for several years. Even in his rookie year, he's shown an ability to nail the mid range pull up jumper. We're not talking about an open look, but a hard cut, stop on a dime, rise and shoot jumper. It's not an easy shot, and for Derrick to shoot it as well as he does given the type of shooter he was in college has been very impressive.
I don't know if he'll ever be a three point shooter because he doesn't put as much arc on his shots as you typically see good three point shooters use, but I'm confident that Derrick can continue on to become a great mid range shooter, and that's really all Tony Parker and Dwyane Wade do.
Coming into this season, someone must have spent a lot of time locking him in the film room and going over his defense, because his defensive positioning has improved dramatically. I wrote in my defense article to give VDN credit for putting together this defense with his personnel and ripped on Rose's defense, but I was speaking about how I viewed Rose going into this season as a player I wouldn't count on defensively.
He's still not a tremendous defender in that he's not aggressive in bothering the ball handler or ever smothering his man to ramp the pressure up on him, but he's no longer getting completely lost on pick and rolls nor is he so flat footed that guys are killing him in isolation. Derrick's positioning and effort are much improved, and I'd say he's no longer a liability on defense, and my hopes for him becoming an asset on defense are improved considerably. He has the athletic potential to become a beast defensively at some point, and he's made steps in that direction.
Not everything is good news though. There are a few problems with the way Rose has played so far this system and trying to figure out if they trace back to the ankle or not is the question. My first intuition is to say it has to be the ankle. Afterall, he was driving at will last season, so why wouldn't he be able to do it this year? A second theory is that there's too much defensive attention on Rose due to the Bulls lack of three point shooting. A third theory might be that the league has figured out Derrick, and he's yet to adjust.
Whatever theory you subscribe to, Derrick isn't driving the lane nearly as frequently anymore. He's not able to get where he wants on the floor, and he's not hitting the inside shots when he gets there at nearly as high a percentage. Perhaps more disappointingly, one of our biggest hopes going into this offseason was Derrick ramping up his free throw attempts, but Derrick is still driving to avoid contact rather than to generate it, and he's not getting to the line significantly more frequently.
What worries me most about watching Derrick play is that when he gets the ball out in transition, he's no longer th one man fast break. He used to push the ball so hard and beat back other guys that he generated a couple baskets a game that he had no right to score by out running everyone with the ball in his hands and scoring. He's rarely been able to do that, and on top of that, when he is in transition and only has one man to beat he looks scared to try.
In one on one or two on two situations, Rose isn't pushing the issue, but he's instead setting up the regular offense. For a guy who's primary skill is driving the lane isn't going to see a better opportunity later in the offense when all five guys are back. Last season, you would have expected Derrick to take all of those opportunities and score on 60-70% of them. This seems like an issue with the ankle or an issue with confidence in the ankle.
His passing has been a mixed bag. If I wrote this column before the Charlotte game, I would have noted that he's shown a great improvement in his ability to pass. He's definitely creating more inside, open scoring opportunities at higher rate this year. Those are the kinds of plays that make great point guards great. After one of the sloppiest passing games I've ever seen him have, it's harder to commit to those words.
All in all, I'd like to give him credit for improving and call a mulligan on that Bobcats game. However, after seeing Brandon Jennings play against us, it reminds me what a guy with natural court vision should look like as a young player. I was a massive Jennings hater in the draft, as I thought he looked awful in Europe, but seeing him in summer league, preseason, and the regular season has opened my eyes to the kind of creator he is.
I've never seen Rose flash that kind of passing vision or creation ability, and I don't think he's likely to ever do so. It's not necessary for him to become a great player, but it was one more avenue he could have gone down to do so. I think Rose steadily improves his PG responsibilities on the team, but I also think he'll always be a threat to pass because he's such a threat to score more so than his ability to find guys with amazing vision and passing ability.
If I had to list just one fear with Rose though, it would simply be this: I'm nervous that he doesn't have the type of personality to become the supreme alpha dog. On both ends of the court he's prone to getting passive for long stretches of time. I'm trying to think of other players who were like that and went on to become great. In my memory, most of the greats came out firing right away and didn't stop even if it was to their detriment. Rose is going to need to learn to stay amped all game instead.
Right now, I don't know what to think of or expect from Rose. Is his confidence shaken? Is his ankle still a factor? Does this team simply not space the floor enough to give him a chance? Is this simply a small slump to start off the season that he pulls out of?
It didn't take long for me to decide Rose was going to be worth rebuilding around last season. He came out the gates far stronger than I'd ever hoped. A year later though, and I'm beginning to worry again as his progression from year one to year two isn't what I'd hoped so far. It's not panic time, especially with a central leading 4-2 record, but it might be time to remove the teflon coating and stop pretending some of these issues don't exist.