The Chicago Bulls, one of the most fickle teams in the NBA, entered the all-star break hemorrhaging losses. Fred Hoiberg, in his first year as head coach, recently watched his team (27-25) plummet to seventh in the Eastern Conference standings after dropping four straight and seven of the last 10.
A portion of the team’s tepid pre-all-star performance can be traced to the loss of Jimmy Butler, perhaps the team’s most critical cog on both ends of the court. The organization has also failed to address the elephant in the room: Derrick Rose.
The 27-year-old suffered a left orbital fracture in late September, and the Bulls continued to play him despite his acknowledgement that he was experiencing double vision more than a month after his surgery. That Chicago would continue to play the former most valuable player is somewhat puzzling: Rose hasn’t played a full season in four years, and his injury-riddled track record has caused upper management to tread carefully each time he so much as hiccups.
With a salary of just more than $20 million, the Bulls’ hometown point guard is riding out one of the worst contracts in the league. Much has certainly changed since Rose was an elite player — and much of it beyond his control — but regressions on four fronts are noticeable this season, and should warrant Hoiberg playing him from the bench rather than the starting rotation should things continue to head south.
Rose has forgotten how to get to the free throw line
The 6-foot-3 guard used to be known for slashing to the basket, expertly navigating around pick-and-roll sets to the rim and thunderously burying a two-handed jam on baby-faced Goran Dragic.
This season, however, he’s taking a career-high 15.9 percent of his total field goal attempts from 10-16 feet and hasn’t yet dunked. He hasn’t stopped attacking the basket, though, he’s averaging the 10th-most drives per contest (9.4) of any player in the league. The issue, rather, is that when he’s driving to the rim, he isn’t generating whistles, averaging the fifth fewest free throws per contest (2.8) of any player in the top 20 of NBA.com’s drive-tracking metric.
What makes this retrogression more glaring is that Rose led the Bulls in total free throw attempts in three of his first four seasons in the league, including the 2010-11 regular season in which he attempted more than 27 percent of the team’s total. This season, he’s accounted for 11 percent of the team’s total attempts and is connecting on the lowest percentage (79.7 percent) since the 2009-10 season. Ten times this season he’s finished a game without a free throw attempt, the most games without getting to the stripe in any regular season since he amassed 14 during his rookie campaign.
Furthermore, he’s averaging a career-low 1.78 free throw attempts per field goal attempt.
His shooting remains a liability
Rose’s explosiveness has always been used to counteract his inability to shoot at a high percentage from most spots on the floor. While point guards Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyle Lowry demand attention along the perimeter, and stretch the floor because of it, Rose is borderline comatose outside the arc.
Over the past two seasons, Rose has taken 373 three-pointers and connected on 102 of them (27.3 percent), the worst percentage among players with at least 200 attempts.
Admittedly, Rose was an at-times serviceable perimeter shooter during his MVP campaign, but this season he’s shooting 25.5 percent, the fourth lowest percentage of any player who has amassed at least 100 attempts.
In total, Rose averages 0.99 points per shot, which, according to ESPN, is the second lowest average among the 123 qualified players listed.
He isn’t setting up teammates
Rose has the ball for 5.8 minutes per game, according to NBA.com — more than Curry, Jeff Teague and LeBron James. Despite this, he ranks 24th among point guards in assists per game, dishing out a career-low 4.8 each night. Divide his assist points created (11.2) by his minutes per contest (32.2), and you’ll find that he has a lower assist-to-minute average than Aaron Brooks, one of Chicago’s backup point guards, who could play in place of him.
By passing on just 24 percent of his drives (Rajon Rondo, for example, passes on 42.7 percent of his drives) and contributing 6.6 percent of team assists while on the court (Russell Westbrook, for example, contributes 10.8 percent of team assists while on the court), Rose ranks last in pass and assist percentage among all players ranked in the top 15 in drives per game. Moreover, Hoiberg sees nearly a 5 percent increase in assisted baskets when Rose sits compared with when he’s on the floor.
Rose and Butler aren’t successful together
Chicago has 12 two-man lineups that have racked up at least 600 minutes of playing time together this season. The Butler-Rose tandem ranks 11th among those groups in net rating (minus-2.4), and has the third lowest assist percentage, likely because both players are capable of creating their own shots off the dribble.
Pairing Rose with Butler, who is being used on a career-high 24.9 percent of team possessions, is counterproductive. As previously mentioned, Rose — who is being used on 26.9 percent of possessions, the second lowest percentage of his career — can’t do much without the ball in his hands. His services would be better utilized with the bench rotation, where he can govern the offensive ecosystem, instead of standing dormant away from the play while Butler, who is increasingly becoming Chicago’s go-to offensive option, makes his way to the rim. This tandem wasn’t particularly lethal last season, either: the Butler-Rose grouping ranked seventh on the team in net rating among tandems who logged more than 1,000 minutes together.