Derrick Rose return sharpens the Chicago Bulls’ offensive horns
You can be forgiven if you don’t recognise the bouncing figure with the ball playing for the Chicago Bulls. Tom Thibodeau’s side have started their pre-season exhibition games and they have an unfamiliar player at the helm. His name is Derrick Rose, he won the MVP two years ago.
It’s been almost 18 months since the former No1 draft pick took to a NBA court having suffered a brutal ACL tear in the 2012 playoffs. Controversially, Rose could have returned at the end of last season to lead the Bulls’ playoff. Instead the notoriously single-minded point guard chose to extend his rehab in a bid to be back at his normal level come the start of this season.
Chicago fans love Rose almost as much as Michael Jordan but there was still dissent at his decision to let the Bulls down during their playoff run that saw them eventually knocked out in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Judging by his performances in pre-season however, it seems a vindicated decision. Rose hasn’t been allowed much time on the court and there is obvious rust, but it’s clear his appetite is still insatiable and his athleticism hasn’t deserted him.
One glance at one of the Bulls’ pre-season games proves the difference Rose makes. Their pace is faster in transition – a key part of the game for such a defensive minded team – and their offence is all of a sudden much more fluid.
Rose’s return will clearly change the playoff picture come next spring. Last year, they remained a top team because their defence is so miserly and their players so fiercely committed. But they lacked offensive punch.
In 2011/12, before Rose’s injury, the Bulls averaged 107.4 points per 100 possessions and conceded just 98.3 points per 100 possessions. But during Rose’s absence those numbers dropped to 103.5 and 103.2 respectively. Instead of a nine-point differential between scored and conceded, there was just 0.3 points – a truly huge swing.
Rose isn’t the only factor, especially considering the Bulls lost defensive expert Omer Asik to the Rockets, but it gives an indication of just how important he is. The Bulls finished second in a poor Eastern Conference last year with a win percentage of 54.9 – a drop from 75.8 the previous year.
The Bulls’ biggest advantage is they now have their closer, someone who can win the game in the final minute of a close game. They have such a strong defence that no matter who their opponent, they almost always get to within a point or two – if not winning – going into the final minute.
What they have now is an expert player who can grab those points by himself. None of this means that the Bulls will be holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy aloft in eight months time. But it is bad news for the rest of the league.
Lakers are going back to basics
Sometimes less is more. And the Los Angeles Lakers will certainly hope so. Pre-season games are largely meaningless but do give you a glimpse into the way a team might execute come the regular season.
An interesting thing to notice in the Lakers is a renewed sense of optimism and a greater cohesion, despite most people favouring them to miss the playoffs for the second time in two decades – a truly remarkable statistic.
Last year was one to forget. Dwight Howard a disappointment, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash chronically injured, and the Princeton Offence experiment bombed. Instead they scraped into the playoffs and were swept aside immediately by the San Antonio Spurs.
This year, the signings haven’t inspired much, just a slew of ordinary role players and veterans. But this is Mike D’Antoni, and if the divisive coach is good at one thing, it’s maximising limited talent. His spread offence is much more suited to a system where the ball is in the hands of one or two people.
With Howard gone and Kobe Bryant injured, the Lakers have looked more cohesive with Gasol able to work in the post, while Nash has already exhibited the playmaking that made him an MVP twice over.
Sadly for them, the Western Conference is far too talented to let the Lakers back into its upper echelons. But this might not be the horrific season many had envisioned.