I love Derrick Rose.
Not only do I love Derrick Rose, but if you, by any chance, do not love Derrick Rose, chances are that I don’t like you as a person.
He is young. He has the sort of athleticism that is usually preserved for mutated cyborgs. In his free time, he teaches Slovenian basketball players where babies come from. And – don’t let the NCAA hear this – he would have led his college to the national championship as a freshman if it weren’t for Mario Chalmers. It’s impossible not to relate to that – every single one of us, at some point in our life, has had our dreams ruined by Mario Chalmers.
All this, and more, does nothing to change the fact that Derrick Rose, as presently constructed, is overrated.
Now, before I am stoned to death by angry Bulls fans, allow me to clarify what I mean by overrated. The word overrated is defined by the free online dictionary as “to overestimate the merits of; rate too highly.” And yet, it is usually taken to mean “absolutely terrible.” For example: I think Kobe Bryant, until this season, has been overrated as a clutch performer. What I mean by this is that Kobe, while a great clutch performer, had an overblown reputation as an absolute clutch assassin, before catching up to that reputation this season (and man, it’s been mind-blowing to watch). What most people probably see in that sentence is “I hate Kobe Bryant and want him him to spend the rest of his life in Siberia without a coat.”
Such is the case with Derrick Rose. He is currently a very good basketball player and will hopefully evolve into an extremely good basketball player in the near future. However, the general conception that he has already made the leap to superstardom (as evidenced by his All-Star appearance and by numerous “is Derrick Rose a top 5 point guard/top 20 player” discussions throughout the web) is premature.
So, what makes Derrick Rose overrated?
First of all, he is an inefficient scorer. He’s not nearly up to Monta Ellis levels, but his 20.4 points per game average is much less impressive once you factor in that he needs 17.6 shots per game to reach it. In fact, his true shooting of 52.4% is a staggering 195th in the league in the league amongst qualifying players (228th overall), and 35th (of 67) among point guards. Pretty mediocre for a player whose main skill is scoring the ball.
But Rose’s offensive deficiencies go deeper that a random number that turns out to be middle of the pack. His overall offensive arsenal just isn’t there yet. Most of Rose’s points come off the same move: he uses his elite speed to blow past his defender, before either stepping back for a mid-range jumper or taking a floater/layup at the rim – usually the former. This is a problem with Rose: he has a very good mid-range jumper, making 43% of his long 2s while only being assisted on 34% of them (courtesy of Hoopdata), but it is still the least-efficient shot in basketball. And yet, of Rose’s 17.8 shots per game, 7.2 of them come from between 16 to 23 feet, with an additional 2.4 from 10 to 15 feet. In fact, Rose is 3rd in the league at shot attempts from that range, despite being only 112th in the league in percentage from that range. This is an obviously skewed stat – better players take more shots, regardless of the range – but it does tell you that Rose is taking way too many long 2s.
On the flip side, of the three most efficient ways to score the basketball – taking shots at the rim, getting to the free throw line, and making threes – Rose only excels at the first. His three point shot is nearly non-existent, making 22% of his 0.4 attempts per game, and he shoots only 4.1 free throws a game despite the athleticism and skill to get to the line whenever he wants to.
In fact, let’s take this analysis of Derrick Rose’s scoring habits one step further. Up until March 13, Rose has scored over 29 points 8 times this season in 64 games. No way around it – that is an impressive figure, especially considering how Rose was clearly far from full strength until mid-December.
However, a closer look reveals that every one of those games can be placed into at least one of three categories:
Category A – Rose took an excessive amount of field goal attempts (season average: 17.8).
Category B – Rose made an excessive amount of long jumpers (16 to 23 feet. Season average: 3.1 makes).
Category C – Rose took an excessive amount of free throws (season average: 4.1 attempts).
Let’s look at those games, again, with the irreplaceable help of Hoopdata.com:
December 19 vs. Atlanta, 32 points
Category A: 24 shot attempts, made 14
Category B: 7 of 13 from 16 to 23 feet
Category C: 4 of 6 from the free throw line
Verdict: Categories A and B
January 2 vs. Orlando, 30 points
Category A: 23 shot attempts, made 11
Category B: 7 of 11 from 16 to 23 feet
Category C: 8 of 10 from the free throw line
Verdict: Categories A, B and C
January 1 vs. Washington, 37 points
Category A: 33 shot attempts, made 16
Category B: 4 of 12 from 16 to 23 feet
Category C: 5 of 7 from the free throw line
Verdict: Category A
January 22 @ Phoenix, 32 points
Category A: 21 shot attempts, made 15
Category B: 7 of 11 from 16 to 23 feet
Category C: 1 of 3 from the free throw line
Verdict: Category B
February 3 @ Philadelphia, 30 points
Category A: 22 shot attempts, made 10
Category B: 4 of 11 from 16 to 23 feet
Category C: 9 of 10 from the free throw line
Verdict: Category C
February 16 vs. New York, 29 points
Category A: 18 shot attempts, made 14
Category B: 7 of 10 from 16 to 23 feet
Category C: 1 of 1 from the free throw line
Verdict: Category B
February 26 vs. Portland, 33 points
Category A: 25 shot attempts, made 15
Category B: 8 of 11 from 16 to 23 feet
Category C: 3 of 4 from the free throw line
Verdict: Categories A and B
March 6 vs. Dallas, 34 points
Category A: 22 shot attempts, made 15
Category B: 10 of 13 from 16 to 23 feet
Category C: 4 of 4 from the free throw line
Verdict: Category B
Final Tally for 8 games:
Category A: 4 times
Category B: 6 times
Category C: 2 times
Now, granted, 8 games is a pretty small sample size, but to my humble eyes, the correlation here is too large to ignore: for Rose to score big, he has to either take an excessive amount of shots, get hot on long 2s or get to the free throw line.
Of those three categories, only one is dependable. Taking too many shots is bad and inefficient in a team game. Getting ridiculously hot from 16 to 23 feet every now and then is nice, but can’t be counted on when you’re a 43% shooter from that range. Once again, only one conclusion can possibly be drawn from these figures: Rose needs to get to the line more frequently.
Sadly, of these three categories, getting to the line is the rarest.
This is something Rose simply HAS to improve if he is to ever become an elite scorer. And there is no reason to believe he can’t: again, he can get by his man at will. It’s just a matter of finishing aggressively and drawing the foul instead of pulling back for the long jumper.
Same with developing a three-point shot: if he can make them from 22 feet, he should be able to make them from 24. Once he gets those two things down, he can be unstoppable as a scorer on a nightly basis. He might even develop a post game down the road – he is certianly tall enough for it to be effective. But that will require adding a lot of muscle.
From scoring we move to Rose’s other supposed strength: passing.
Coming out of college, Rose was touted as the point guard of the future, and yet he seems to lack the see-all court vision possessed by the true greats of the position. It’s not like Rose’s 5.7 assists per game are bad – it’s good enough for 15th in the league. And he’s still only 21 years old. But one expects so much more from him. Also, that figure becomes much less impressive when you factor in how much Rose is on the court, and how much he handles the ball. He is just 82nd in the league in assist ratio among qualifying players and a startling 56th among point guards. He is also 45th in the league (35th among point guards) in assist to turnover ratio. He ranks better in assists per minute (26th, 23rd among point guards), but this still isn’t the stuff of legends.
Again, let’s use some numbers to create a slightly unfair yet still intriguing argument.
The Chicago Bulls’ second best passer is Kirk Hinrich, who weighs in at 4.5 assists per game. Simple math shows that this is 1.2 less than Rose. Now, using Hoopdata.com. let’s look at the way Hinrich and Rose get those assists.
As you can see, from 15 feet in both players get their assists more or less the same way. The difference is caused by the long 2s (+0.5 Rose), and the three-point shots (+0.9 Rose).
Why, then, are Rose’s and Hinrich’s assist numbers identical from inside 15 and different from outside? Well, it’s simple: Hinrich and Rose pass to the exact same players … except that Hinrich passes to Rose, and Rose passes to Hinrich. And, indeed, Hinrich makes 1.4 threes per game, and is assisted on 1.29 of them while Rose makes 0.1 per game and is assisted on 0.02 of them.
The difference: Hinrich is assisted on 1.2 more threes per game than Derrick Rose. Derrick Rose gives 1.2 more assists per game than Kirk Hinrich. If both those numbers look like the same number, it’s because they are.
Now, the previous sentence probably has you thinking one of two things: “Wow, now isn’t that an interesting coincidence, I never thought about that” or “this guy is completely incapable of creating a valid statistical argument.”
And yes, as I said, this is hardly a complete stat. Obviously, saying the difference between Rose’s and Hinrich’s assist numbers are caused solely by Rose having more one more three point shooter to pass to than Hinrich is foolish. Hell, I just dismissed it with the chart above. But personally, what I’m looking for (and also seeing) here isn’t an absolute solution to all unanswered questions – just an unusual occurrence that might show more than it seems.
There are plenty of factors which could affect this stat in Hinrich’s favor, meaning the difference should be bigger than 1.2: Hinrich has Rose to pass to and yet trails in passes to long 2s (as mentioned above, Rose’s favorite zone) and inside 15 feet, where Hinrich only 1.1 makes a game and is assisted on 0.4 of them, and Rose makes 5.5 shots from inside 15 feet and is assisted on 1.6 of them.
Then again, there are many factors that show Rose is not a better passer than Hinrich: Hinrich plays less minutes, plays much more off the ball and plays most of his point guard minutes with the second unit, which is pretty inferior scoring wise. (Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick are nice, but Loul Deng is a beast). Not to mention Hinrich’s far superior assist ratio.
Whichever way you turn it, this is an interesting exercise. Comparing Rose’s assist numbers to Hinrich’s is much easier than comparing him to other point guards on different teams, since, as mentioned above, Hinrich and Rose have pretty much the same supporting cast. And until we have stats that show us not only the zones to which players pass their assists, but the players who receive them, the best we can do with these stats is say that to the naked eye it seems that much, if not most, of Rose’s assist advantage over Hinrich is due to Hinrich being a better option to pass to behind the arc.
All these considered, I find it hard to say that Rose is a much better passer than Hinrich.
Now, this isn’t a knock against Hinrich. He’s been much more successful doing what he does best (playing basketball) than I’ve been at what I do best (umm… eating? Let me get back to you.) Still, if you’re creating a world-class point guard from scratch, chances are you’re not saying “Oh, before I forget, you gotta give me Kirk Hinrich’s passing.”
But let’s move on from Rose’s offense to Rose’s defense, which is far from spectacular, to say the least.
It’s much harder to fully analyze, seeing how defensive stats are harder to come by, but the numbers we have are sub-par at best. 3.6 boards (2.8 defensive), 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks per game – all fit perfectly into the “well, it’s OK, but that’s it” mold. What’s disturbing about this numbers, though, is how they compare to last season: 3.9 boards (2.7 defensive), 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks. Basically, Rose has done nothing to improve on where he was last season.
This defensive stagnation can be attributed to what seems, to my eyes, to make Rose a bad defender: effort. Rose just doesn’t seem to try enough on defense. Probably the most telling figure here is that Rose has only drawn 5 charges all year. Drawing a charge is 100% effort – even bad defenders can draw charges effectively. Derek Fisher and Steve Nash, for example, are probably among the worst players in the league defensively at this point, and have drawn 46 and 34 charges, respectively. Even younger, less experienced point guards, like Stephen Curry and Aaron Brooks, have much more charges credited to their favor (24 and 18) than Rose.
Ditto with committing fouls.
Rose commits only 1.2 fouls per game: the league average is 2.1 fouls in only 24 minutes. If you’re playing 36 minutes a game and you commit just over 1 foul in that period, you are either fantastic at defending with your body and not your arms, or you’re avoiding contact and not trying hard enough. Rose hardly qualifies for the first category. Obviously, scarcely fouling is a good thing, but it’s a symptom of lacking effort, and that is inexcusable.
Again, this is something Rose has the tools to improve. He has monster athleticism and good size for a point guard, meaning he could be one of those Dwyane-Wade-esque freaks that average a block a game from the guard spot or those Jason-Kidd-esque freaks that average 7 boards.
But he’s nowhere near there yet. It’s not just the highly publicized things, like Rajon Rondo exploding against him for a near triple double average in a 7 game series last postseason. It’s also the small, random, unnoticable 16 and 9 from Randy Foye in February, or the Mike Conley drive that was just too easy. And sure, defense comes with time – Lebron James was a terrible defender early in his career and is now a 1st Team All-Defense kind of guy. It doesn’t mean we should ignore an entire half of the game when evaluating a player. And right now, Rose’s defensive half of the game is atrocious.
All in all, I hate knocking on the guy.
As I said, he’s a joy to watch, and I can’t wait to see how good he is when he matures and has a good team around him. And for all his faults, he’s still a very good basketball player. You don’t average 20, 4 and 6 just by playing 36 minutes a game and being a number one option – you need to have the skills to pull it off. It’s just too soon. Too soon to call him an elite player. Too soon to call him an elite point guard. Too soon to call him elite, period.
He’s great. He’s young. He’s exciting.
But not elite. Not now.
Let’s not make the mistake we’ve made so many times with so many guys. Let him develop. Let him learn what to do and how to do it. How to take those 9/21 shooting, 21 points kind of nights and turn them into 9/21 shooting, 13/14 from the line, 35 points kind of nights. How to find his teammates for 3 quarters and take over in the fourth.
And believe me, when he does all those things – when he’s the best guy on a title contender and smashing everybody in his way – you won’t need me or anyone else to tell you why he’s not overrated anymore. Everyone will know.
There won’t be a doubt in anyone’s mind.
Once the rest of his game catches up to his athleticism, Derrick will be destroying the League.