While many Chicago Bulls fans have spent the prolonged offseason thinking of scenarios in which the team could improve at shooting guard, they might be overlooking a player who likely fits the bill -- and, best of all, he’s already on the roster:
Derrick Rose, the reigning NBA MVP.
No, the Bulls don’t have to permanently give Rose the two-guard role and remove him from his usual ball handling duties, but if they fail to acquire a difference-making two-guard such as Jason Richardson, it might be a viable option for coach Tom Thibodeau to use at his disposal.
Leading the Bulls to a league-best 62-20 regular-season record last season, Rose was asked to do it all. He was the team’s leading scorer and passer and primary ball handler. The winning formula for the Bulls was to play tough defense for 48 minutes and allow Rose to run the show and orchestrate the offense. However, the Bulls hit a skid during the Eastern Conference finals and were eliminated in five games by the Miami Heat.
As the main ball handler, Rose allowed Miami, which was one of the top defenses in the NBA last season, to zone in and gear up for his attacks in a half-court offense. In the playoffs, each team comes into a series having studied their opponent's playbook. The Heat did their research and were prepared for the Rose-heavy plays Thibodeau called.
Whether it was a pick-and-roll or isolation set, Rose was swarmed by defenders, and it didn’t help his cause when Heat forward LeBron James became his primary fourth quarter defender following the Heat’s 21-point loss in Game 1. With the responsibility of being the main ball handler, Rose was an easy target for the Heat to have all of their attention on.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, the two-guard spot wasn’t able to shoulder some of the scoring burden and make Miami pay for constantly trapping Rose. The Heat didn’t particularly respect Keith Bogans or Ronnie Brewer from the outside during the series, and Kyle Korver, signed by Bulls management to provide a shooting presence, hit a paltry 28.6 percent from three-point range.
Unlike the regular season and through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Rose wasn’t able to find his rhythm and hot spots whenever his team needed a play in the East finals.
So how can Thibodeau put Rose in more comfortable scoring positions next season?
One solution might be to play the 23-year-old at off guard and yield some of the ball handling duties to another Bull.
When I spoke to Bulls backup point guard C.J. Watson in June, he said he would love to get more opportunities to play with Rose in 2011-12 because it could help relieve some of Rose's stress by having a ball handler who can shoot alongside him.
"It's tough to score on [James], especially when D. Rose is probably the only ball handler in the game that can create his own shot," Watson said. "It's tough on [Rose's] part. ... [Thibodeau] could've used me a little bit more different -- probably play me and D. Rose a little more.
"Hopefully, we'll do it a little more next season and [Thibodeau] has more confidence in me playing together with D. Rose."
Watson doesn't want to place any blame on the Bulls' trio at shooting guard, but feels that he would be a perfect fit next to Rose. Utilizing Watson at point guard would give Rose the freedom to move without the ball, take advantage of off-ball screens and showcase the post-up game he has reportedly been working hard on during the offseason. Would the Bulls really use more backcourt lineups featuring Watson and Rose?
It might be a viable option if Rose believes he would get an edge by spending some time at two-guard and general manager Gar Forman is unable to land a difference-maker at the position in free agency or a trade. Matched up defensively against the Heat, whom the Bulls would likely need to get past to reach the NBA Finals, Watson would guard Mario Chalmers, a free agent who is likely to return to Miami, while Rose would cover Wade. Bulls fans might not be receptive to the idea of using the hometown product as a combo guard, but it could simply be for stretches of a game, a week, a month or the entire season.
After suffering a disappointing end to last season's playoffs, you should bet on Rose coming into training camp, scheduled to start Dec. 9, stronger, more polished and, quite simply, better. And the Bulls could reap additional benefits from his scoring prowess -- he ranked seventh in the league last season in points per game at 25 -- while reducing the wear and tear that comes from handling the ball as the opposing defense's top focus for the majority of the 2249 minutes he's projected to play during the course of the 66-game regular season.