The Derrick Rose conundrum
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
What do we have in Derrick Rose? We have a player who was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and three years later was named the NBA's youngest ever MVP at 22 years old.
But we also have a player who has been consistently banged up or injured since his MVP season. What comes to mind first is his torn ACL that he suffered in Chicago's first playoff game of the 2011-12 season that caused him to miss the entirety of the following season. Rose then tore his meniscus in his right knee 10 games into his comeback season in 2013. Even getting away from those serious injuries, Rose has had to miss time due to toe, foot, groin, back and most recently, hamstring problems.
It's too soon to say whether Rose will be robbed of the athleticism and explosiveness that made him the best player in basketball, but it's safe to say that we will never see the amazing prime years of Rose's career that we should have seen. When Rose talks about sitting games because he's concerned about his life after his career, that's a player whose injuries have affected not only his body but his mind, his psyche.
Even though Rose thinks about the long-term ramifications of missing games, the focus should be on this season. The smart thing to do is to sit Rose in the regular season when he's hurting in any way. Of course it is. The Bulls know too much about Rose now to feel comfortable letting him play with a bad hamstring, or a bad anything in the lower extremities for that matter.
From the start of the 2011-12 season to the end of last season, the Bulls were able to win without Rose. Chicago went 106-75 in games he didn't suit up for and even won a playoff series in 2013 without the hometown kid. Joakim Noah became the heart and very vocal team leader, and anchored a defense that just beat the hell out of the other team.
Here's the problem. Chicago isn't faring as well without Rose this season as it had been previously. The Bulls are 3-2 without him, which doesn't scream panic, but all five games have been against teams with better chances of getting a lottery pick than a playoff spot.
Here are the five teams the Bulls played sans Rose: the Timberwolves, Magic, 76ers, Celtics, and Pacers. They lost to Boston and a barren wasteland of a Pacers team. Of their wins over the other three, none were by double-digit margins. All five games were also played at home.
It's still early in the season, but this trend cannot continue for Chicago. How many games Rose will have to sit out this season depends on how cautious head coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls' training staff are with their star point guard. The Bulls would still make the playoffs even if Rose didn't play another game this season, but for a team with aspirations of getting multiple home series in the postseason, it's a very dangerous balancing act they find themselves in.
It seems more and more likely that the Bulls will have to go the San Antonio route and potentially sacrifice playoff seeding for health. The Spurs are quick to sit Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan out a game at the drop of a hat, and the Bulls should do the same with Rose. They can't afford to lose Rose for an extended period of time, not when they also rely so heavily on a couple of 34-year-olds, in Mike Dunleavy and Pau Gasol.
An early indication that Chicago might already be doing this with Rose is that he's only played 28 minutes a game so far this season, which is a very un-Thibodeau-like thing for Thibodeau to do. In Rose's previous five seasons, including the two injury-riddled years, he never averaged less than 31 minutes a game.
The good news is that when Rose has played, he's played well. He's averaging 23 points, seven assists and three rebounds per 36 minutes, which is on pace with how he played in the 11-12 season before he tore his ACL. More importantly, in the five games he's played, Chicago is 4-1.
Maybe this season won't be the comeback tour we were hoping for Rose, but that's for the best. He might not even be given the full minutes workload until the playoffs. But given how many promising players' careers have been cut short because of leg injuries, Chicago should be wise to make sure Rose isn't the next name on that list.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo