Derrick Rose is not a great basketball player anymore. When he won his MVP, whether you believe he deserved the award itself, he was a great player. He’s very different now, after a few very rough years with recurring major injuries. He’s a good point guard. The problem is that things like his history and contract weight in Chicago, along with the murky future of the team and the ascension of Jimmy Butler, mean that he doesn’t really fit there anymore. He’s a middle piece that Gar Forman and Bill Paxson are still trying to fit onto the corner of a puzzle. So, where does he fit?
Rose averaged a respectable 16.4 points-per-game this year, good for third on the team. He added 3.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists. However, he also averaged 2.7 turnovers per game and just 2.7 free throw attempts per game. That’s not many free throws for a player who made a name on interior scoring and attacking the basket. His shooting splits were less than impressive too, sporting a 42.7/29.3/79.3 FG%/3PT%/FT% line. According to some reports, he’s also on the wrong side of a rift in the locker room between the team’s veteran leaders like Joakim Noah and the younger players with Jimmy Butler at the helm. Make no mistake, the Chicago Bulls are Butler’s team now.
Rose, whether it’s what he actually thinks or not, still casts the shadow of the team’s most important player by virtue of his legacy and his salary ($20.1 million this year and $21 million next year before his contract ends). For the quality of play he provides, that contract might as well be concrete shoes in the river of public opinion. That means that there are basically two options for him after his current tenure in Chicago. The first is to take a significant pay cut and accept a new role for his hometown team, which could be difficult; he’d have to redefine himself in a place where he already has an 8-year history. It’d basically be the same as trying to totally rebrand yourself going into high school, except you’re gonna be with all the same people. Impossible at worst, arduous at best. Door number two is going to a new team, which seems more likely to me right now.
Rose still generates threat due to his sheer speed, and he has decent passing ability. His jumpshot’s gone off a cliff, but if he could shore it up a bit and decrease his 3PT attempts (dude, you can’t make ‘em), he’d be more than serviceable. You can’t win a championship if Derrick Rose is your best player, or even your third best. Maybe if he starts for you, with a dominant frontcourt and a playmaking 2-guard lined up next to him. He’s exactly the kind of guy that a bad team would throw a mid-level contract at hoping he regresses towards a mean of the player he was in 2011 and the player he is now. Someone like Brooklyn could easily take a flyer on him with a 2-3 year deal with a team option worth $10 million per year with incentives(ish). No one’s paying him north of that once he’s off this contract. He’s way more likely to get something in the neighborhood of $5-7 million per year over 2 or 3, maybe with an option.
The more intriguing option, and the one that I’d rather see, is for him to go the Shaun Livingston route. With some more selective offense, Rose could turn himself into a killer 6th man with the right set of guards rotating around him. Swapping him in and out with a pair of guards who play well off the ball and take the pressure off of him to generate assists with efficient scoring could potentially put him in a very good place. Seeing Rose emerge as a frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year is something I could see happening if he’s willing to accept a role like that. You can’t win a championship if he’s your third best player, but if he’s your third best guard? Definitely possible.
That’s why I think he could be great in a place like Portland. Damian Lillard is a star scorer and a good passer. CJ McCollum stepped seamlessly into a high usage role without missing a step in efficiency and he’s shown flashes of playmaking ability. Slotting Rose in as a sixth man on a team based around those two as the starting guards plus two solid big men is a solid basis for a winning team. In a structured role where his place is clear and he’s not asked to do too much, he could really succeed. Other intriguing options that are a bit more realistic would be Dallas or Orlando.
What we have to ask here is whether or not Rose is willing to redefine himself. Does he have the ability to stay in Chicago, a shade of the hometown hero he was five years ago, and hand the reins over to a better player? If not, is he open to stepping into another role for another team? Or will he do whatever he can to hang on, allowing a low-tier or desperate team with cap to overpay him into his 30s?
Derrick Rose is a good point guard, but in a starring role, he’s not enough. He takes too many threes, doesn’t drive the basket enough, and either lacks the explosiveness he once had or isn’t willing to use it (probably a bit of both). There’s scoring ability, passing, and speed there, but at high usage it gives way to inefficiency and turnovers. Now that he’s played a decent season on this side of his injuries, it’s fair to say we know who Rose is. Question is, does he?