The Bulls didn't have many avenues to improve their team in the off-season. Over the cap with no real plausible way to enter the free agency race for some of the bigger names, the team was only armed with its draft pick (#22) and the mini mid-level exception to upgrade the roster. With a need for more help on the perimeter as well as a new back-up point guard, neither positions were really addressed. Aaron Brooks would be return as Derrick Rose's main back-up, making him the first of the scrap heap point guards of the last three seasons to last on the team for more than one year.
'Point guard' is a position which should be used sparingly to describe the 30-year old guard. Brooks is a capable NBA player. With the ledger certainly favoured against him, particularly in stature and defense, he has managed to find a niche within this league as a microwave bench scorer. There is certainly value in this type of player for some teams in the league, though for Chicago, his fit is questionable. Given the lack of on-ball creativity and play-making at the point spot within the second unit, retaining Brooks, who repeats a lot of things Rose does, makes little sense.
Perhaps I'm being harsh on Brooks. The expectations should have never been high. After all, we knew he was a flawed piece who was only being paid the veterans minimum. Derrick Rose, on the other hand, was largely terrible last season. Unlike Brooks, he didn't come cheap. Being paid $18.9 million to put up 17.7 points a game on 40.5% from the field is, well, not ideal. He did have some terrific periods, often reminding us how dominant he once was - and could still be - though any objective fan can't overlook the 49.3 TS%, particularly when he was shooting the ball 16.4 times in 30 minutes of play.
2014-15 would be the re-assimilation of Rose to the NBA game. No one should have been expecting the greatness to resume immediately, though in an attempt to recapture his own offensive form, he forgot about his teammates. With little consistency in running an offense, the Bulls would often find themselves stuck in a rut, searching for a score that inevitably would go missing at the wrong times.
The ACL tear - followed by a spate of meniscus surgeries - clearly affected the star point guard's ability to move laterally and attack the lanes. If your lead guard is not getting inside the seams and moving the defense around with his dribble penetration, all whilst settling for way too many three-pointers (5.3), he is not performing the duties of the role. Rose would only average 4.9 assists per game in 2015. Compounding the lack of assists were the 3.2 turnovers a night. This resulted in a 1.56 assist-to-turnover ratio, a figure which would rank him 71st in the league, with teammate Aaron Brooks only being marginally ahead at 1.66, finishing 69th. Not impressive at all.
When he entered the league, the inevitable comparison John Wall would consistently draw was Derrick Rose. True or not, the similarities would be based on the athleticism both would possess, something that had rarely been witnessed at point guard position. Wall would never become the individual dominant scorer that MVP Rose certainly was. He would, however, find his place in the league as one of the best play-makers in the game today.
Wall would average 10.0 assists per game in 2014-15, only behind arguably the league's best offensive creator, Chris Paul (10.2 APG). It would also be the first time in the All-Star guard's short career that he would register a double digit assist average. Meanwhile, in Chicago, totaling the assist average for Derrick Rose (4.9) and Aaron Brooks (3.2), the two could only muster together 8.1 assists per game. On his own, Wall would rank 2nd in total assists (792) assists and 4th in the league in assist opportunities created per game, giving his teammates 18.9 passes that potentially could have created points. Rose would rank 48th with 9.7 assist opportunities created, with Aaron Brooks ranking 91st with his 6.9.
Is it an outrageous statement to suggest that the Wizards guard ran a tighter ship himself than both Rose and Brooks combined? I don't think so.
Even with Rose back, offensive creation was often still needed. With Joakim Noah unexpectedly growing into a terrific passing hub, Tom Thibodeau would continue to run offensive sets through the him as a release valve to when the inconsistent Derrick would show up. The center would lead the Bulls in passes per game (56.8), total assists (312) and would place second with his 4.7 assists per night, only marginally behind Rose. Could an argument be made that Noah was actually the better play-maker for the team last season?
As a team, Chicago would rank 14th in the league in team assists per game in 2014-15, collectively dishing out 21.7 dimes. In 2013-14, without Derrick Rose, the offense efficiency of the franchise would rank 28th. Shots would thud off the ring. Dribble penetration was scarce. Despite this, the team would rank 10th in assists per contest (22.7 a game). Initially, this is a strange realisation. How could anyone have improved their assist number after losing their superstar point guard?
The more you think about it, the more it makes sense. Without Rose, a reliance on one player to create out of isolation was simply not an option. No one outside of D.J Augustin could create off the dribble. The ball needed to move. It needed to find players in their spots, ready for them to pull the trigger upon receiving the ball. The Bulls have always had good passers on the roster, particularly in the front-court. Both Boozer and Noah are terrific passing big-men. Mike Dunleavy has always been an underrated passer, choosing to always make the right play. With Augustin and Noah dominating the ball, the production wouldn't be efficient, but it would certainly produce smart, fundamental basketball that could get the team good shooting attempts.
Fast forward one year. The return of Rose would always find a way to take precedence, even with Jimmy Butler finding stardom. The pair would have difficult moments adjusting to each others ball dominance. The ball would stick, often finding itself being pounded into the hardwood repeatedly without advancing further than a few feet. Though the offensive efficiency would prove to be much better in 2015 (11th), there is certainly a notion that suggests the offensive execution and the way the ball spread was far greater in 2014, albeit without the talent to complete the offense i.e. making shots. That, in itself, is an indictment on the Bulls point guard production.
It wasn't all bad for Rose. He did have nights where his floor game mimicked his 2012 self. He was brilliant against Boston, guiding the team to a win by scoring 29 for himself and dishing out 10 assists. On the very next night against the breakout Hawks, Rose again would clock up a double-double with 23 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds in a loss. These games, along with several others, were the moments that had fans giddy. It was certainly the type of performances that brother Reggie had predicted. Sadly, those types of efforts would only serve to be an occasional treat.
As the league progresses to a more perimeter orientated style of play, with more quality point guards entering the league every season, Chicago may find themselves behind the curve, if they aren't already.
Looking forward, if Derrick Rose and Aaron Brooks are going to continue to lead this team in usage, both need to find a way to not only get their own offense, but to create for those around them. An 'isolation-mode', me-first scoring guard is not what the offense needs, nor do the sets coach Hoiberg plans to implement.
Fortunately, there should be reason for optimism. A faster, free flowing offense will enable better spacing and more driving lanes. The product will be a more efficient offense, thus making it easier for Rose to score for himself as well as setting up his teammates. Should Hoiberg's offensive methodology translate to the NBA, assuming health, we may have our point guard back. Finally.