(Originally published in 2013)
This wasn’t what every Chicago Bulls fan hoped for when Derrick Rose returned. We were all duped by his prodigious preseason in which he had a ridiculous PER and seemingly had never taken any time off. There was a minority that believed he would return and all would be well and the Bulls would coast to the NBA title. These were probably the same people that were infuriated that he didn’t play last season, nevermind the fact that the recovery time was 8-12 months and exactly one year was in April, right as the playoffs were starting. Hasn’t that “controversy” passed yet? I still see people complaining about it occasionally on my Twitter feed. Hasn’t the first three games of this regular season been clear evidence that he couldn’t just jump into playoff basketball and be effective? I mean, who could? The thought that he quit on the Bulls and was being selfish was preposterous. Do you think Jerry Reinsdorf would’ve allowed it? Of course not. D-Rose is the franchise and he’s thinking long-term. Why shouldn’t he?
However, the expectations of “The Return” have led Bulls fans to be slightly disappointed. The franchise is averaging 14 pts, 4 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and shooting 28% from the field. The guy we’re seeing in the regular season is not the guy that was tearing up the preseason. This is the current Derrick Rose and realistically, the one we were destined to see for a while. You would be hard pressed to find a similar circumstance in NBA history as to the one Derrick Rose is currently facing. There have been players with chronic knee injuries that plagued them and stripped them of their talent, either because they were too fragile or they tried to return too quickly under the pressures of the team and the fan-base. Among those would be Gilbert Arenas, Penny Hardaway, Antonio McDyess, and Greg Oden. None of those guys were anywhere near the level of Derrick Rose, in my opinion. Arenas was a multi-time All-Star, Penny was probably the next coming of Magic Johnson, and McDyess was neck and neck with Garnett for the first few years, but none of those guys was a multi-time All-Star, the face of the franchise, and a former MVP. Not just any MVP, the youngest MVP ever in NBA history. The expectations for Derrick Rose are so astronomical that it would almost be considered a failure if he didn’t become a top-25 player in NBA history.
The only two similar circumstances I could think of were Bernard King in the 80s and Michael Jordan (the infamous #45 return). Bernard King was a prolific player hitting his prime, a 4-time All-Star, playing in New York for the Knicks, and then suffering a torn ACL in his right knee. He basically sat out two entire seasons and was eventually traded to Washington, where he would eventually make another All-Star team in 1991. I don’t think Bernard King is a fair comparison because the knee injury happened nearly 30 years ago and medical science has come a long way. Physically, Derrick Rose looks to be the same or even better.
Michael Jordan in 1994-1995 after his tenure in baseball is another interesting case. Obviously, MJ didn’t suffer any injury, but he did come back to the NBA after a prolonged absence, something Derrick Rose is trying to do. It isn’t fair to compare D-Rose to the greatest player ever, but that same greatest player struggled in those 17 regular season games averaging 27 pts, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.8 steals on 41% field goal shooting. Those don’t look like struggling numbers, but when you look at his stats in 1992-93, he averaged 32.6 points per game, 6.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.8 steals, and shot 49% from the field. The field goal percentage is probably the most telling. Jordan for his career was 49% from the field. The next time he shot below 45%? His two seasons with the Washington Wizards when he was between 38-40 years old.
If you look at the game-by-game breakdown of Michael Jordan’s 1994-95 season, you’ll see a pattern and one that is familiar to those of you following Derrick Rose this season. The pattern is this: He had good games and bad games. How’s that for advanced analytics? You see games like 7 for 28 (his first game back against the Pacers), 7 for 23, 13 for 31, 9 for 21, and 11 for 29. You’ll see games with 4 turnovers (high for Michael Jordan). Playing in preseason action is one thing, but translating that to the regular season? Quite another. Jordan showed flashes. He had his first buzzer beater against Atlanta, in which he scored 32 points for the game and 20 in the 3rd quarter alone. He had the Double Nickel game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. After those 17 games, the stats get much better in the playoffs, but there were still blips. There’s Nick Anderson’s infamous steal on Jordan to win the game. After that game Nick Anderson said he could never do that to #23, which prompted Jordan to bring back his old number and then Nick Anderson blocked his patented fadeaway. After 27 full games, Jordan wasn’t completely back. If you watch some of those old playoff games, Jordan almost looks awkward in the offense with his teammates, some of which he played with for many years. Derrick Rose is undergoing the same issues. Sometimes he looks awkward in the offense and the Bulls aren’t sure what to do. This will improve as the season goes along.
Granted, MJ jumped into the late regular season and the playoffs which is a totally different beast than what Rose is facing today, but let’s be reasonable Bulls fans: The full-fledged Return is going to take some time. We’re going to see flashes. We already have actually. We saw D-Rose sink the buzzer beater to beat the Knicks. We’ve seen him drain a couple of jumpers in a row and start to heat up. We’re going to see more and more of it as the season progresses. But let’s come to this realization: It’s probably going to take about 20-25 games. If we’re still seeing this version of Derrick Rose in February or March? Then it’ll be time to hit the panic button. Be patient. The best things in life are worth waiting for. We’ve waited 18 months just see Derrick Rose on the basketball court. Trust me, when he hits his stride it’s going to be awesome. We already saw flashes of it in the preseason. It won’t be long till we see it again.