Derrick Rose has been called a lot of things this season: MVP candidate, inefficient scorer, the most explosive point guard in the game, an elite floor general who isn’t an elite passer. So when his pass found teammate Luol Deng for the game winning three-pointer last Thursday against the Heat, some may have considered it an aberration. Despite ranking 10th in the NBA in assists per game, Rose’s distribution skills are generally not held in the same regard as the likes of Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul or Steve Nash. Upon closer inspection however, the 22-year-old is remarkably efficient with the assists he does dole out.
HoopData tabulates a statistic called Assist + which is simply assists per game with added weight for assists leading to three-pointers. Rose sees a 13.6% increase in his assist numbers when factoring in three’s, the third highest increase of any player ranking in the top ten in the NBA. Only Raymond Felton (14.4%) and Steve Nash (14.3%) see a greater increase when incorporating the perimeter shooting of teammates. Yet Rose manages this degree of augmentation playing on a team that is only average when it comes to both three-point shooting efficiency and sheer volume of shots.
Chicago attempts 16.2 three-pointers per game, which puts them in the bottom half of the league at 18th. For perspective, New York (the team Felton has spent the majority of his season with) and Phoenix are among the most trigger-happy perimeter teams in the NBA, shooting 24.8 (2nd) and 22.9 (3rd) three’s per game respectively. Furthermore, the Bulls hit 36.3% of their total shot attempts from beyond the arc, which ranks 12th, while the Suns (37.8%) are 5th and the Knicks (36.4%) sit at 10th. As a whole, Rose ranks 7th in the NBA in three-pointers assisted per game despite running an offense that attempts a low number of perimeter shots and is only an average shooting team from this range. This is despite the fact that the Bulls lack three point shooters at either forward position don’t play a style that encourages a great deal of perimeter shooting. These numbers back up a simple truth that is palpable when watching Chicago play: Rose is one of the best when it comes to getting his teammates excellent looks from three.
With his explosiveness off the dribble, Rose has the ability to penetrate against nearly any defense. This routinely forces opposing defenses to collapse into the lane, but what gets lost in the catalog of floaters and tough lay ups is the excellent court vision he exhibits also in this setting, consistently finding open shooters once he has placed the defense in a position where players have to scramble on a kick out. It should also be noted that opposing defenses tend to collapse so aggressively because of his propensity to look for his shot in this setting. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Rose passes 25% of the time when he isolates with the basketball, which is not a particularly high mark, but consider that when including passes out of this setting as well he produces a scoring efficiency of 1.125 points per possession with an adjusted field goal percentage of 54.3. Not only do these mark rank higher than other elite point guards like Nash, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams and Chris Paul, but also well above other primary scorers including Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Dirk Nowitzki.
This isn’t simply a matter of Rose capitalizing on his physical gifts though, he is showing the ability to create scoring opportunities without attacking off the dribble. Yes, he’s an excellent isolation scorer, but he is also making the kinds of passes that are vital to his team’s success. Chicago’s personnel doesn’t afford it the luxury of launching contested or even quick catch and shoot threes (save for Kyle Korver), so the Bulls rely on Rose to generate open looks from the perimeter. Regardless of the fact that he hardly fits the stereotype of a traditional pass first point guard, his effectiveness as a distributor is undeniable.
As long as Rose continues to carry Chicago’s offense to the ridiculous degree that he does – he ranks 4th in the NBA in usage – his scoring exploits are almost certain to overshadow his production as a playmaker. Even with that said, it’s easy to argue that Rose may in fact be an even better creator than his base numbers would lead us to believe.