Rose will never be the same, but even healthy he’s never going to win an NBA title.
My friend Otherwise is a Chicago Bulls fan. I’m a Denver Nuggets fan. So we commiserate sometimes.
Back in 2009, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose won the Rookie of the Year award. The next year he was an all-star. And in 2011 he become the youngest player in history to be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
The following year he was fantastic again, right up until he blew his ACL. As he was rehabbing, I suggested to Otherwise that Chicago should trade him, then and there. Yes, he was hurt, but there was no reason to think he wouldn’t bounce back and at that moment in time I’m guessing league GMs would have lined up around the block to offer the sun, moon and stars for him. Heck, who could have known that he was going to rip up his knees every 15 minutes, right?
I had two reasons for proposing that the Bulls ship Rose out. First, while medical technology is insanely advanced when it comes to fixing knees (I’ve had both of mine opened up, including once to reconstruct a catastrophic ACL/meniscus injury in 1998), the truth is that you never get 100% back. Further, the impact is different for different kinds of players. If you’re a muscular 6’10”, 260-lb power forward, cat-like quickness is nice, but is less critical than if you’re a PG who relies on, you know, cat-like quickness to break down opposing defenses.
So I was convinced that Rose wouldn’t fully recover, although there was every expectation that he would mostly recover, and when you’re that damned talented, “mostly” is still going to get you into every All-Star Game.
Which meant his trade value was still through the roof.
But this was only part of the reason why I felt the Bulls should see about putting together a blockbuster. The truth is, I’d have traded him before the injury, right after his MVP season, when his trade value would have been at epic levels. I’m guessing that Chicago could have gotten an all-star, two high picks and a solid support player or two at that moment in time.
You have to thinking I’m off my nut. Why the hell would you trade an MVP, though? That’s insane!
Maybe, maybe not. It has to do with understanding history and how the game works. In brief: teams whose point guards are their go-to scoring options do not win titles.
I grew up in North Carolina, the cradle of basketball civilization and home of the short, non-leaping white boy point guard. As such, I’ve always held the philosophical belief that the PG needs to be the creator, not the finisher. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if actual data supported my dogma, though. So I sat down and did some research. The question was simple: how often has the NBA title been won by a team whose PG was its leading scorer? I looked at the last 40 years – 1975 to present.
The answer is: four times, with a caveat.
- 2014 San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker
- 1990 Detroit Pistons: Isiah Thomas
- 1987 Los Angeles Laker: Magic Johnson
- 1979 Seattle Supersonics: Gus Williams
Here’s the caveat. In three of these cases – Parker, Thomas and Johnson – it can be argued that while they led the team in scoring, they weren’t truly the go-to/alpha option in the offense.
Instead, a close look at those team stats suggests that each was the top producer in an ensemble cast. For one thing, none of them scored much more than their teammates, and second, in each case the team won another title within a year of two and these players were not the top scorers on those teams.
Yes, they scored, but scoring was part of the job, not the main job.
In Rose’s rookie season his performance fit this winning profile: he led the team in assists and was its third-leading scorer. Over the next two seasons, though, it isn’t a huge stretch to say he became the offense. There’s no arguing with his talent or his output – none at all – but from where I sat he reminded me a lot more of Allen Iverson than he did Parker, Isiah or Magic. Nobody ever questioned AI’s ability, but there was a zero percent chance of him ever winning a title.
I anticipate that some people out there will … not share my view … on this question. Great – tell me why I’m wrong.
Meanwhile, hey Bulls fans, queue up that 20/20 hindsight and tell me you don’t wish they’d pulled the trigger a couple years ago when they could. Because right now there’s not a GM in the league who’d give you a stale doughnut for Rose, and as presently constructed the Bulls are looking down the barrel at a decade of mediocrity.