Derrick Rose Returning May Help the Chicago Bulls More Than Expected
Everyone feels fairly certain about what to expect from the Chicago Bulls. They play great defense, bring toughness and tenacity and a rare willingness to share the ball. It was enough to win a playoff series and frustrate the defending champion Miami Heat. That alone is commendable. However, it isn’t enough to win a title. Experts are convinced the Bulls are one or two moves away from having what it takes. What they may not realize is the needed move may not have to come from a trade, free agent signing or draft pick.
Rose already played smarter during last NBA playoffs
Bulls fans have the image burned into their memories of a year ago when their team was wrapping up a Game 1 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Rose drove to the basket, jumped in the air and as he passed the ball off to Carlos Boozer landed awkwardly. The freak accident tore the ACL in his left knee and left Chicago faithful completely deflated. His teammates were no better. Philadelphia went on to win the series in six games. Rose would go through the next year without logging a single minute on the court as he rehabbed the injury. Fans grew bitter with him for not at least trying to come back, especially after doctors had proclaimed him 100% physically ready. Rose stood firm. He wasn't coming back until he was mentally prepared.
Since then fans have tapered their expectations of the former MVP. They are no longer sure if his return will help the Bulls overcome the Heat. At best they expect he can at least lift their effectiveness on offense. What they fail to grasp is how well Rose was playing prior to the injury. Two years ago Rose dominated through the postseason on offense, scoring 27 points per game. His other stats were fair, seven assists and four rebounds. It didn’t matter. Miami crushed Chicago in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals. So when the playoffs came around the next year, there was a very different edge to Rose’s game. In the win over Philadelphia he posted just 23 points, but also had a block, a steal, nine assists and nine rebounds. That more rounded effort led to a 12-point victory over a team at the time that had frustrated the Bulls. It also reflected lessons of the Heat series the year before, when Rose struggled to pass the ball enough to teammates. If Chicago gets that same player from the Philadelphia game, plus a guy who will come back with another year of honing other weak parts of his game, then things should look far better quickly.
Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler
Adding on to the above argument is pointing out what Rose will inherit when he returns. A year ago Joakim Noah had grown during the season to become a consistent defensive presence and rebounder. Not until this past season did he bring his entire game together. Despite nagging injuries he averaged 11 points and 11 rebounds per game, not to mention four assists. His appearance in the All-Star game was validation of his growing impact on the team. The leadership he showed in the first round series win over Brooklyn showcased his value. Having that kind of presence in the paint will serve to help Rose find more open lanes to the basket.
The biggest new ingredient to the formula is Jimmy Butler. After a quiet rookie season, the young man out of Marquette blossomed into a rising star for Chicago. His defensive efforts in the playoffs and broadening offensive game has fans very excited about just how good he can become. The kicker is he did it all without playing a single minute with Rose. Getting them both on the floor together, with their superior speed and athleticism, is another facet of the Bulls arsenal waiting to get uncovered.
The players aren’t the only ones who used the 2012-2013 season to grow. Tom Thibodeau underwent the most harrowing season of his coaching career in Chicago. Not only did he have to deal with life without Rose, but also battled through an unusual string of injuries to other key players. In many cases such occurrences would drop a team from sight. Thibodeau refused to accept that. Using tenacity, motivation and constant shuffling of his lineup he got the most out of his men. Chicago took the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference and won a playoff series on the road against a Brooklyn Nets team that was hailed as a title contender when the season started. That experience of knowing how to succeed without Rose on the floor could prove most valuable when the team sets out on their journey again this fall.
No one should expect Rose to dominate the league next season. Not early on, at least. Both rust and the lingering fear of another injury must get shaken away first. Until then the Bulls will stick to what they do best by playing unselfish, defensive basketball. When their leader does start to regain his superstar form though, Chicago may be in for a bigger surprise than anyone expects.