Beckley: After a week of playoff basketball, one of the leading stories is how much the top-seeded Bulls have struggled to beat the Indiana Pacers, a team that scuttled into the playoffs 8 games under .500. The other is that in escaping upset, the Bulls have leaned on Derrick Rose, intrepid buster of ankles, to a potentially unhealthy degree. Should that cause worry? After all, Rose lead the league in percentage of team points created during the regular season, and was second in Usage. One might argue that three tight wins in which their defense and Derrick Rose dominated the most important moments is essentially what the Bulls do. Then again, Chicago spanked the Indiana by 19, 13, and 21 during the regular season. Is this over-parsing a 3-0 series lead, or is there cause for alarm?
Ethan: THE REAL STORY IS HOW DROZE IS WILLING HIS TEAM TO VICTORY! Beckley, stop playing with stats, watch the game!
In all, or at least some, seriousness: Rose has applied an individually productive strategy to these 2011 playoffs. A long time ago, we wondered if he wasn’t getting fouled enough. Now he’s averaging 16.3 free throw attempts. Derrick’s passing less, driving more, all to a high 27.6 PER. But, he does this as teammates grow colder than being naked on the moon. Perhaps he’s suffocating the offense and perhaps he’s providing CPR until it gasps unassisted. So I ask, Beckley: Is Derrick Rose holding Chicago’s scoring back or compensating for that which holds them back?
Beckley: I wouldn’t say Derrick Rose is holding anything back, in any sense of the phrase. He is hurling himself into the paint and being greeted by a chorus of whistles, which will keep his play relatively efficient even when he seems, at times, to be wearing horse blinders. And for all his single-mindedness– attack and finish or kick, very few passes to just move the ball– it’s also an effect of the Bulls’ general offensive gameplan rather than a dearth of talent around him. Aside from Rose’s individual artistry, Chicago’s offense looks predictable and uninspired. If there’s one place to put some blame on Rose, it’s that he’s a weak screener. Perhaps it’s because he’s saving his energy in case he needs to absorb a Jeff Foster elbow to the mouth while moving at full speed, but Rose’s screens–and most of the off-ball action in Chicago’s offense, are toothless.
I wonder if a team can sustain a winning offense when it is so completely built around the ability of one player. Not because predictability is a liability, but because the Bulls, or any team, for that matter, must have all five players feeling invested and responsible for the team’s success. I suppose you’d cite the 2006 Heat as a counterexample?
Ethan: Sure, 2006 it is. And it’s a counter that stymies, frustratingly so. I’d like to rip how Chicago’s halting ball movement in favor of Derrick’s foul shot trawling. It’s not pleasant to watch and it goes against my basketball morals. But, the formula was effective back then, and this Bulls team is better than that 06’ Heat squad.
Chicago’s playoff offensive efficiency is almost exactly what it was during the regular season, so the strategy hasn’t exactly hurt. I still find Rose’s ball dominance a bit troubling because its degree is shocking. Derrick Rose posted a gargantuan 44.9% usage rate in Game 2, meaning: The basketball now smells like Derrick Rose and will till after the lockout.
Beckley: Gross. And creepy.
Ethan: I know! It’s like, stop going after that ball like a stalker ex-girlfriend.
Beckley: I meant your “smells like Derrick Rose” comment.
Ethan: Oh. Fair. Anyway, what are your feelings on Rose-centrism going forward?
Beckley: I love that Rose is willing to take full responsibility for his team’s offense, but I have a philosophical aversion to this style of play. Tonight the Pacers basically announced that they feared no Boozer, no Deng, no Noah, by trapping Rose as soon as he crossed half court. Rose had more charges than made layups, and only attempted a handful of field goals around the rim, after taking 11 such shots in Game 2. Without his mighty dribble drives, Rose was like He-Man without the power.
Then, Rose turned the corner, figuratively and literally, and gashed the Pacer’s pick and roll defense for his only made layup of the night. Good timing, it put the Bulls ahead for good with just seventeen seconds remaining.
Rose’s style of play has a similar effect on media as it does on opposing defense: they forget about the other guys. Kyle Korver has made a number of clutch shots not just in this series but all year, and it was Luol Deng who pushed Chicago’s offense forward in the first half of Game 3. The thing is, it may not be possible to cover Derrick Rose–for writers or opposing teams–without losing perspective on the rest of the squad. We can attribute this to Rose’s soloist style, but must also credit his success in that mode.
But Can Rose sustain this level of energy and will for six straight weeks, against increasingly intricate and disciplined defenses? Thibodeau seems determined to put the Bulls’ offense in Rose’s hands alone, while opponents toss him chainsaws to juggle. I’m not sold that this philosophy will work over the course of 48 minutes and seven games against top opponents, but there’s nothing wrong with handing him the rock and telling him “go” with game in the balance–no one can stay in front of him, and he finds open shooters if the help comes.
Ethan: So I think we’re in grudging acceptance of selfish-ball?
This, I believe: The Rose-centrism of Chicago’s offense is good for Derrick Rose. I mean that in terms of branding, gaining fans, wooing media. Divorced from production, people follow the guy who controls that mystical orb. To have the ball is to have “possession.” We respect someone who has “possession,” and subconsciously assume he has it for a reason. Rose will get more respect from a wider audience than ever before.
This respect is growing as current fans defend Derrick’s honor against the evil statistics that would glove slap his cherubic face. Derrick’s late-game buckets are hardening into cudgels, thwacked against “stat-heads” who questioned his MVP cred. Is that fair? Is it stupid to look for postseason validation of a regular season award? Is it right to believe such validation comes from the end of games?
Well, perhaps that’s on-docket for the next Meme.
Beckley: Until then.
Thanks to John Converse Townsend for the Foster-Rose image!