The Deterioration of Derrick Rose
Following yet another injury on November 3rd against the Bucks, Cavs guard Derrick Rose is now contemplating his future in the NBA. Just six years ago, Rose was the league’s youngest MVP and hometown hero of the Chicago Bulls, but now, after countless surgeries and having played in only 56% of his regular season games since, he may retire at the young age of 29.
During Rose’s 2010-2011 MVP season, he dominated the league with superhuman athleticism, a quick handle, and dazzling finishes at the rim where he seemed to glide through the air for minutes. As a six-foot-three point guard, he captivated crowds with explosive dunks and a reckless-abandon mentality. Much of Rose’s game was predicated on his superior strength and agility.
After making it to the Eastern Conference finals that year, the Bulls fell to the Heat in five games, led by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Though sour, the loss was not totally demoralizing. After all, there were still tons to be excited about; the 22-year-old Chicago native averaged a career-high in points at 25 ppg, and put up a very respectable assist number at 7.7 apg. Championships seemed on the horizon.
That is, until Rose’s body began to fail him. After playing 81 games in that season, a slew of foot and back injuries the following year brought this total down to only 39. All that missed time culminated in the tear of his right ACL in game one of the Bulls’ first round matchup against the 76ers. The Bulls would go on to lose this series, and Rose would miss the entire 2012-2013 season. And thus began the demise of the once explosive superstar.
In the offseason prior to Rose’s torn ACL, the Bulls drafted Jimmy Butler, a raw swingman at the time, with the last pick in the first round. During his rookie season, Butler put up underwhelming numbers in a limited role coming off the bench (2.6 ppg, .7 apg, 1.3 rpg). His sophomore season, however, proved much more impressive. Without Rose, Butler capitalized on injuries to starter Luol Deng, and found himself with an increased role and stat totals that looked promising—8.6 ppg, 1.4 apg, 4.0 rpg. By the end of the year, Butler became an important contributor in the rotation.
The 2013-2014 season saw the long-expected return of Rose to the lineup. But the excitement was short-lived. After just 10 games, he suffered another major injury; this time, a torn meniscus in his right knee. And while it was back off to surgery for Rose, Butler continued to improve. Despite falling to another season-ending injury, Rose was not ready to give up. In his return for the 2014-2015 season, he and Butler led the Bulls back to a record of 50-32. They reached the Eastern Conference semi-finals where they lost to the Cavaliers in six games.
While a step in the right direction, Rose still missed 30 games due in most-part to a medial meniscus tear in his right knee, a holdover from the same injury he suffered the season prior. More importantly, though, during his return that season, Rose’s stat totals fell lower than that of his rookie year. The physical tolls of his injuries showed.
And why wouldn’t they? For a player like Rose who relied so heavily on his gifted athletic ability in his first two seasons, the damage to his knees removed some of the explosiveness that made the once-MVP’s drives to the rim so dangerous. In his MVP season, Rose attempted 584 shots at the rim and made 60.3% of them. In 2014-2015, he attempted just 282 at a less efficient 54.6%. And though playing less games certainly played a role in this depressed scoring rate at the rim, his drop in field goal percentage reveals his lowered effectiveness.
What’s more telling, though, is his increased three-point shooting at a worse percentage. In 2010-2011, 24% of his shots were three-pointers and he made 31.5% of them. Three years later, this ratio increased to 31% and he converted only 29.4%. Though less than a 2% decrease, he revealed himself to be a poor three-point shooter and began settling for this inefficient outside shot more often. Rose was losing both his offensive potency and the capability of playing his brand of basketball. As Rose lost his step, efficiency, and stat totals, Butler was named the 2014-2015 Most Improved Player of the year. His numbers: 20 ppg, 3.3 apg, and 5.8 rpg.
Then, in 2015-2016, the two stars clashed. Neither being an elite passer (Rose’s assist total had dropped to 4.7), the two ball-dominant players began playing a my-turn-your-turn style offense. The Bulls looked like a fractured team. And soon this rift manifested itself off the court also. According to Bleacher Report, Butler became frustrated with Rose’s work ethic and attitude:
“In Butler’s mind, Rose was the face of the franchise, and if the face of the franchise wasn’t busting his butt in practice every day, especially last season, what was the message to the rest of the team?”
The Bulls ended this dysfunctional season with a 42-40 record and missed the playoffs. Needing a solution, Chicago compared the steady improvements of Butler to the rapid declines of Rose and chose to ship the point guard off to the Knicks. When Rose first arrived in New York, it appeared like he was entering a new beginning. During the offseason, he compared his new squad, with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, to the Golden State Warriors, saying they were a “super team.”
Rose improved his numbers in this season with the Knicks, shooting his third best field goal percentage from the floor, his best free throw percentage, and upping his points total to 18 per game. Unfortunately, his individual successes did not translate to wins, as New York won only 31 games. To make matters worse, his uptick in production was overshadowed by his mysterious absence before a game against the Pelicans on January 9th, and yet another injury on April 2nd—a torn meniscus, this time in his left knee, leading to his fourth knee surgery in as many years. He played only 64 games for his new team.
In the 2016-2017 offseason, the Knicks elected to not re-sign Rose. He entered free agency where he later signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum, revealing his clear decrease in value.
Nonetheless, the move seemed smart for both sides. The Cavs, with recently acquired Isaiah Thomas, found themselves with a cheap former MVP to back him up and pick up the slack while Thomas recovers from injury. In Cleveland, Rose found another fresh start in a new potential sixth-man role. Playing less minutes and against second team defenses, Rose’s game looked primed to become more valuable again. However, before any sort of sixth-man or bench role could come to fruition, Rose was injured against the Bucks. Frustrated with this all-too-familiar circumstance and wanting to preserve his body for his later life, he now contemplates stepping away from basketball for good.
If Rose were to retire, he would almost certainly be left out of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He would be the first MVP to not make it in. And Rose’s story, as a whole, would be remembered like this article—as a story of deterioration, of once being a phenom and beloved hometown hero to walking away from basketball only years later following stat drops and disappointment.
For the sake of Derrick Rose, I hope he takes another stab at rekindling his career. Even without his incredible athleticism from 2010-2011, he is still a fast-paced, talented player with constant highlight potential. Plus, Rose had not yet began the newest chapter in his career: playing as a sixth-man or bench scorer on a contending team. Rather than fade away as a forgotten flash in the pan, Rose could be remembered as one who triumphed and reemerged as an elite in a new role.
photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune