The Chicago Bulls entered this season with a roster nearly identical to last year’s. The biggest difference, Fred Hoiberg replacing Tom Thibodeau as coach. As a result, fans have witnessed major changes to the Bulls: a high scoring offense, less defense, more minutes to role players, and, most notably, a change in the starting lineup. Despite these changes, one narrative remains the same: What is going on with Derrick Rose?
The Former MVP
Much is made about Derrick Rose’s past: his past accomplishments, past injuries, and past form. Deantae Prince, in an article for SI.com, wrote about Rose’s return to MVP form against the Thunder. While it is nice to highlight his improvement and mention his MVP award, it simultaneously hurts the player that he can become.
Rose will not win another MVP, he may not make another All-Star or All-NBA team and that’s okay. Right now, he and the Bulls have a shot at something better, their first NBA title since the Michal Jordan era.
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Prince notes the improvements that Rose needs to make: “Stripped of his physical gifts due to a long list of injuries, Rose has yet to make the adjustment needed to get over the final hurdle. He entered the season emphasizing the need for an improved floater, but his drives can still be an odyssey at times. Of course, the major issue Rose faces is defenses don’t have to honor his outside shot.”
Rose's athleticism will probably never be the same as it was during his MVP year in 2011 when he was seemingly performing gymnastics in the air on the way to the basket. Again, that’s okay. He can change his game and still remain effective starting with the outside shot and floaters. These will help limit stress on his body and make him a viable offensive threat.
More importantly, Rose needs to get healthy as currently he is still recovering from an orbital fracture which forced him to miss almost all of preseason. Let’s keep in mind that the Bulls have played six games this season, Derrick Rose played 51 games last year, his most since 2010-’11, and played in one preseason game. He still needs time to get his body adjusted to the NBA, and will most likely be inconsistent for a stretch of time.
During this inconsistent shooting period, the best thing Derrick Rose can do is remain a distributor. Attacking the defense and missing is better for this team than not attacking at all. Those drives will eventually yield results, but will also allow for Rose to find teammates for open shots.
So far this season, Rose has made only one three-pointer, to go with his career and is shooting a poor 36% from the floor, but he has been dishing out assists, which is a positive. Through seven games, Rose is averaging 6.5 assists per game.
The biggest challenge for Rose will be learning that he is no longer the offense. For the first time in his career, he has a complementary piece alongside him (although one could easily argue that Rose should be second fiddle) in Jimmy Butler, who was named the NBA's most improved player last season.
Not only this, but he is now surrounded by shooters in Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, and Pau Gasol. It’s a tough mental adjustment, but the second that Rose embraces his part in a system, rather than being the system, he can be part of a championship team.
Tinker, Tinker, Tinker
Aside from Derrick Rose figuring out his new role in the offense, it is on Fred Hoiberg to figure out the starting lineup and proper minute distribution. One thing is for certain, Joakim Noah needs more minutes.
Noah has only surpassed twenty minutes twice. In the blowout loss to Charlotte, he had just 17. He provides the team with a defensive anchor in the frontcourt, passing abilities in the offense, and an overall positive and tough attitude.
Zach Lowe, in an interview with Coach Hoiberg for Grantland, asked about Noah coming off the bench. Hoiberg said, “Jo actually came to me and talked about that. He said, basically, ‘I’ve always played well with Taj.’ He said he thought Niko and Pau played very well together, so let’s go that route."
There is no absolute need to start Noah. He provides energy off the bench, but simply needs the opportunity to play more minutes. Hoiberg seems to know that as well, as he played for 26 minutes against the Thunder. However, going back to the duo of Gasol and Noah in the starting lineup would provide a more balanced offense/defense situation and would allow Mirotic to be the top option coming off the bench.
Right now, there is no definitive answer as Hoiberg will keep tinkering (I mean, Doug McDermott has started the last two games) and will eventually find what works best for him. Two things, however, remain clear. Firstly, Noah needs an increase in minutes. Secondly, Hoiberg is doing a much better job than Thibodeau regarding minute distribution, giving all of his players a chance to shine.
The Bulls are in limbo. The regular season has started, but they seem to be stuck in the preseason. Rose is still adjusting to the pace and recovering from injury while Hoiberg searches for the perfect distribution of minutes.
It would be nice for everything to come together right away, but this team needs time to gain trust with it’s new scheme and coach (and vice versa). When that moment happens they have a chance to be the top team in the east. They’ve already beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder and suffered losses to the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons, but that inconsistency will fade.
It is time for the Derrick Rose era to fade, and the team era to begin; it’s no longer a one-man offense. Let’s take the time to mourn the loss of Derrick Rose MVP, and begin to celebrate this Chicago Bulls team.
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