If back in August I had told you that Derrick Rose would be the biggest headline in the NBA you probably wouldn't have believed me. I sure as hell wouldn’t have believed me. But here we are, in the year 2018, and Derrick Rose just gave us the most entertaining night of the young NBA season. Halloween night was the perfect stage to watch Derrick Rose dress up as a twenty-two year old 2010-2011 NBA MVP.
With Jeff Teague out and Jimmy Butler missing the game due to rest (or sitting out waiting to be traded according to Shams), the stars aligned for Rose to take on the lead guard responsibilities that he became accustomed to while a member of the Chicago Bulls. And Rose delivered. Fifty points. These weren't empty numbers either, the wolves needed all fifty to get the much needed win. The game ending block on Dante Exum’s three-point attempt was icing on the cake for Rose.
The NBA has changed so much since Rose won the MVP during the 2010-2011 season. After winning the award at twenty-two years old and dealing with devastating knee injuries, we’ve all wondered what could have been. Last night gave us a glimpse.
I've heard people claim that Derrick's game doesn't fit the league anymore because he never developed a reliable three ball; but the game has evolved perfectly for someone like him. With the emergence of the stretch five, every team wants to go five out. This has created more space on the court than ever before, leaving the entire paint wide open. For a drive and kick player like Rose this is a dream. Surround Rose with four floor spacers and teams wouldn’t know what to do. We forget how special Derrick was athletically sometimes. Teams are also looking to push the pace every chance they can. In Rose’s MVP season the Bulls ranked twenty-second in average pace (an estimate of possessions per 48 minutes) at 90.4. Contrast that pace to today and there isn’t a team in the league playing that slow. During the 2017-2018 season the slowest average pace was 94.9, played by both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Sacramento Kings. In 2011 that number would have ranked you as the fifth fastest pace in the entire league. These two developments have created avenues to get much easier buckets, which is why league scoring is getting so high.
Rose is still a lightning bolt end to end and his handle is tight enough that he is still too quick for defenders one-on-one. Give him a little bit of room and he is blowing by you. When Rose gets to the rim he’s a crafty finisher. That craftiness has been both a gift and a curse during his career. Rose typically finishes with a flashy acrobatic move where he avoids contact. It looks pretty but it leads to lower free throw attempts than he is capable of. Even during his MVP season, Rose couldn’t break seven attempts a game. The NBA analytics era is all about efficiency and his lack of free throw attempts has always limited his ceiling as a scorer. If Rose had looked to absorb contact from defenders instead of trying to finish around them, his career true shooting numbers would be more aligned with the elite scorers.
Injuries have humbled Derrick. When you go through that many knee surgeries they take as much of a toll on your mental psyche as they do physically. Rehab is tedious and when it’s a reoccurring theme every off season, there isn’t much time to add new wrinkles to your game. This year Rose has claimed that he is finally comfortable with his new style of play and that comfort has helped him find a better rhythm. You can tell he is more comfortable as a person as well.
Rose has said that his goal this year is to win the Sixth Man of the Year award. If Butler is traded, he might not get that opportunity. A Butler trade could open up a role for him in the Wolves starting line-up. Thibs trusts him and you can see how well respected he is from his teammates by how they showered him with emotion after last night’s fifty-point game.
Nobody believes that Rose will return to MVP levels. The NBA season is long and at thirty years old he’s as much of an injury risk night to night as he’s ever been. Rose’s PER (a measure of per minute production) is the highest it has been since 2011 at 18.6 but it’s still only slightly above the league average of 15 (Jimmy Butler has a PER of 27 this year for comparison). His BPM (a box score estimate of points per one hundred possessions a player contributed above a league average player, translated to an average team) is a negative .6 and his VORP (a box score estimate of the points per 100 TEAM possessions that a player contributed above a replacement-level (-2.0) player) is only 2.1 points higher than replacement level. Rose never was an advanced stats darling but he can still fill a valuable role as a scorer that puts constant pressure on the defense. If he can up his assist rate he becomes even more valuable.
If last night showed us anything concrete, it’s that the NBA is way more fun with a healthy D-Rose. Last nights’s game could be a turning point of sorts for the Wolves. Maybe Rose’s performance inspires the Wolves to play with that fire and passion that Butler so desperately wants to see. If the Wolves go on a run sans Butler with major contributions from Rose it would make one hell of a story. With more spacing than he’s ever had, a confident mind & body, and a consistent offensive role with a coach and teammates that have his confidence; why can’t D-Rose be D-Rose again? Why not? In the new NBA why can’t he do that?