According the John Hollinger’s PER voodoo, Chris Paul (25.88) has been only marginally more effective than Derrick Rose (25.00). But by “Pure Point Rating,” which focuses mostly on assists and turnovers, Paul (11.1) blows Rose (5.4) out of the water. The numbers give credence to the opinion that while Paul and Rose are the two best players at their position, Paul is a significantly pointier guard.
This year, Derrick Rose is still setting the league ablaze with his sadistic crossovers and breathtaking ability to bound and shimmy to the rim with an entire defense focused on stopping him, even in the final moments of a game. But though his scoring-guard statistical profile has remained pretty much static, he does appear to be adding some classic point guard skills.
Rose is evolving in his ability to recognize, engage and manipulate weakside defenders. This video shows two passes. The first is one Rose makes easily as a rookie (though it is taken from this season). He drives hard, draws a defender from Kyle Korver who is in the ballside corner, and delivers an accurate pass that Korver converts into three points. The second is a pass that Rose has shown increasing comfort not just making, but also sensing. Unlike the first pass, which is a direct result of Rose’s ambition to reach the rim, the second pass is one that comes from Rose’s intentional manipulation of the backline defenders, in this case Ridnour and Anthony Tolliver.
Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love have Rose contained on the strongside, and Rose, it appears, has an opportunity to go right at Love and try to hop around him. However it’s a tight fit, so instead Rose approaches Love a second time, which causes Ridnour and Tolliver to nervously slide over. Rose makes sure he is fully engaging two defenders, then waits for Joakim Noah to cut, occupying Tolliver’s attention. Now, Ridnour is left to cover to players on the back side, and Rose passes to the furthest close out, embodied here by Luol Deng. The difference between the two plays is akin to using dynamite or an expert locksmith to unlock the safe.
This is Rose’s big step forward this year. It isn’t something as glaring as a newly reliable jumpshot, but his improved awareness of how to read and react to the second level of defense is important progress. Rose is so insanely elusive that he could often drive full speed into the defense and somehow manage to beat defenders to spots, hop laterally in ways that would make mush of a lesser man’s cruciate ligaments, and somehow spin in a layup. That isn’t to say he didn’t know how to wait for the right time to strike, but he was a player who could liquefy the first line of defense and worry about the rest as it came.
To an extent, that remains his modus operandi. His instinct is still to put his head down and go. But that’s an awfully grueling way to play, even for an absolute hoss like Rose.
For classicists (let’s stop calling them purists, that word has a creepy connotation) who drool over the likes of Steve Nash, Chris Paul and now Ricky Rubio, it’s the level of control these point guards exhibit not just over the players nearest to them, but the shooter tucked away in the weakside corner, or the final rotating defender, that is so impressive.
If the defense is trying to keep Derrick Rose out, it used to be he would simply ram down the door. But in the playoffs, teams like the Heat and Pacers–they barricade that door with Jeff Foster elbows and shooting guards that protect the rim. Rose is incrementally learning what seems to come naturally to Paul, which is how to pressure and ask the right questions of a defense, how to find the open window.
As the Timberwolves showed above, Derrick Rose can occupy the full attention of five defenders. He’s just now learning how to use each one of them to his and his teammates’ advantage.