At Around 25 PPG, Rose is Getting to the Line Enough; Shut Up

On criticism of Derrick Rose not getting to the free throw line enough.

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When the season began, I wrote the next step in Derrick Rose's evolution to become an elite scorer was to get to the free throw line more:

It's clear that new head coach Tom Thibodeau recognizes something special in Rose's athleticism and guts to give him free reign to be a 20-shot per game volume shooter. He a 48% shooter, so even being conservative, there's little reason to believe his per game line can't look like 9-for-20 from the field -- with two 3-pointers every three games -- on top of going 6-for-8 from the FT line. The conservative result is a 24.7 PPG by actually slightly simplifying Rose's natural game a fraction of a notch. And-1s are easy threes, right?

20-shot per game volume shooter? Yes, he's taking 20.6 per game. 48% shooter? No, he's making 9.5 per game, so only 46%. Hitting 1.5 threes per game? He's hitting 1.8 per game, shooting slightly over 42% -- over 15 points better than last season. Averaging 6-for-8 at the FT line? No, he's averaging 3.9-for-5.1 per game. So not getting to the line, his scoring total must be greatly underwhelming my conservative estimate, right? NO!

He averaging exactly 24.7 PPG as of Tuesday. So, yes, he's getting to the line enough. Maybe not to make certain heights on irrelevant power ranking lists, but enough to score enough to be a 24+ PPG scorer. And damn sure enough to make every single person on every team in the league look like high schools for a entire game.

What fans want is for Rose to, at 22-years-old, continue taking progressive steps toward being an elite scorer and eventually an elite point guard. If a guy can score 40 PPG without getting to the line, I'll take that guy over Kevin Durant praying for cheap whistles 36 minutes a night all day -- let alone Russell Westbrook.

John Hollinger at ESPN applauded Rose's bod of work so far this season, but said that not getting to the FT line is what holds him back from being an elite point guard.

The problem with the argument is that it looks at FT attempts in a bit of a vacuum. He noted that 32 point guards this season have a higher Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGAs).

Zach Lowe took a good look at Rose's numbers, noting:

Whatever you might think about why Rose gets so few foul shots, it's indisputable that he does not earn as many as players who carry a similar offensive burden. Rose has used up 31 percent of Chicago's possessions this season, according to Basketball-Reference. That's a huge number, and it means that 31 percent of Chicago's possessions while he's been on the court have ended with a Rose shot, turnover or trip to the line. Only five players have higher usage rates, and only one of those players (Kobe Bryant) has one that tops 32 percent.

As mentioned before, Rose is averaging 4.8 free throw attempts per 36 minutes. That's the best mark of his career, and it would seem to indicate that Rose gets to the line a fair amount; he's not Mickael Pietrus (six free throws in 19 games) or anything.

But if Rose's usage rate and free-throw numbers stay at their current rates, he'd become only the sixth player in three decades (since the introduction of the three-point line) to post a usage rate greater than 30 percent while attempting fewer than five foul shots per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.* The others: Ben Gordon, Chris Webber, Vince Carter, Baron Davis and journeyman Freeman Williams, who did it while playing for the Clippers in 1979-80.

In other words: It's extremely rare for a player who carries such a heavy load to get to the line this sparingly.

Hollinger seemed to piggyback this topic and I really think the numbers tell a better story when they're taken as a whole, as Matt Moore expanded at CBSSports.com:

Following up on the data Lowe presented, Synergy Sports pegs Rose as the 40th best player with at least 50 possession in the pick and roll at drawing fouls. In isolation, he's 42nd among players with 50 possessions at drawing a shooting foul, and 27th in getting any free throws period. That's worse than Brandon Roy, who has no meniscus. He's also posting a 30+ usage rate, fifth best in the league. This isn't to say that he's not making the most of his usage, he is. He's brilliant. That three pointer which has so often flagged off and held him in check? It's falling, and in key situations. His jumper's still a work in progress but it's forgivable when you examine his ability to get to the rim. Quite simply, he's an elite player in every category except drawing fouls. And that category is one in which he is so bad it does impact his status. I won't go so far as to say he's not elite. He is. But he needs to learn to get those fouls, and that may mean absorbing more contact.

Then again, Dwyane Wade absorbs a ton of contact and has his entire career. He's also missed hundreds of games due to injury.

Moore's final point is actually the most important, as I noted when I first discussed this topic:

Not drawing contact is kind of a waste of Rose's elite speed, ball security, court vision, and aggressiveness. No one here is saying that Rose should start offering himself to be tossed around like a ragdoll as Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade have done to create Hall of Fame careers because -- and I think Thonus shares this sentiment -- we'd like Rose to actually have a very long career where he plays a lot of games per season on a consistent basis. But Rose's speed should be forcing opponents into instinctual damage control measures that put him at the line and negate his missed shots.

Afer looking at those numbers, there are a few very basic ones most are ignoring. The central reason why Rose not drawing contact wasn't because good player draw contact. The criticism was that it was holding him back from being an elite scorer.

But, of course, the criticism isn't really about Rose not drawing contact. No idiot can watch him take the bumps he takes and say he should draw more contact. They're saying he doesn't put higher numbers in their box scores under "FTA."

No point guard gets better by drawing more contact. They just get some easier scoring opportunities, but absorb more contact. It's simply not a little man's game and people need to get used to that. All season, Rose has taken scary falls and run into huge men. The rate at which he's doing it now is pretty high and he needs to learn at which spots in the game it's OK to not attack everyone at a billion miles per hour.

But the way the critics are talking, they're asking him to be Iverson and Wade. Both are or were great players. AI is one of my favorite players ever and Wade's probably one of my top 15 favs, but you people can have those little on your team. I prefer my 6'3" franchise player stay a point guard and not miss a total of 62 games over the two seasons he's 25- and 26-years-old.

In the meantime, Rose had scored 25.1 PPG through this season's games up to Hollinger's article -- up from 20.1 last season and 16.8 in his rookie season. His FTAs had gone up to 5.2 per game from last year's 4.3, but so had his FGAs to 20.8 from 17.6, so his 25% FTR is the same as last year's.

But his FTR has actually kinda' gone up because those shots aren't being added at the rim. Going into Monday's game, his shots at the rim are actually down to 5.5 per game from 5.6 last season and 5.9 in his rookie season. The argument of him not going to the line enough keeping him from being an "elite point guard" is contrary to what everyone criticized him for before this season: that he didn't have a jumpshot.

How he has a jumpshot and is scoring more per game with less shots at the rim, yet the problem is he doesn't get to the line enough?

The point is scoring, facilitating, protecting the basketball, keeping other teams from scoring. I understand the importance of FTs, but no one's dumb enough to say that Rose getting to the line eight times per game without actually scoring more points is a good thing. Scoring more is the reason to want him to get more FTs. I get that and would like to see him get there more, too.

Watching the way he plays, at what point are people going to be so fickle about a ~25 PPG scorer who provides all of the arousing highlights they could ask for attacking the paint as much as Rose does?

What doesn't get counted in FTAs are the insane amount of calls he doesn't get. A lot of that probably is that when he doesn't get knocked around, he can contort his body in a way to get the best look and angle in a way that looks as if he's getting hit. So when he actually gets hit, in the heat of the moment, refs too often figure he moved in a certain way on purpose.

There's also the reasonable possibility that he's so strong, a lot of the contact he does draw doesn't disrupt his body motion and therefore gets unnoticed.

There's no question that if he thinks he can contort in a manner to make a shot, he'll do it when he knows contact will stop him from making the shot. He's cut down on that a lot -- hence his FTA/Rim Shots going up.

Sure, it can get better, but picking on FTs is almost as stupid as criticizing a slugger for striking out too much despite going .275/.385/.475. The critics ignore that said slugger is less likely to hit double plays and accumulates more total bases per plate appearance than the gritty, gindy contact hitter who goes .280/.335/.390.

Rose's job is to score, take care of the ball, manage the pace, get others the ball in high percentage situations, and stop others from scoring.

He's shot way up in all of those categories. Shut up.

What keeps him from being an elite point guard is simply the fact that no one in the league is in the same class as Deron Williams and Chris Paul. It's impossible for two classes to be elite. That's what distinguishes a class as elite.

Rose has become an eight-assist-per-game with sub-par timing on the quick screen-roll. That'll only get better and as he continues to play at a high level, the FTAs will go up. The guy's 22-years-old. Calling him an elite point guard, the second-best Bull ever, etc. is premature to a juvenile degree. What he's become is fun to watch, highly efficient, and getting more efficient at a more rapid pace that critics are realizing.

Advanced Stats via Hoopdata.

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