New York Knicks‘ Derrick Rose, a former MVP, appears to be adjusting to his new role nicely. But could he be doing even more?
When New York Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson made the decision to speed up his plan and win now, he knew the first area to address was the point guard position. Finding a legitimate starter at the league’s most important position was job No. 1.
Trying to win without a good point guard in the NBA is like trying to win without a good quarterback in the NFL. No matter how much talent you have surrounding the position, it will always be an uphill battle. All eight Eastern Conference teams who made the playoffs last season (Cleveland, Toronto, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Indiana, and Detroit) had legitimate floor generals.
Jackson traded Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant to the Chicago Bulls for Rose. The Bulls had just missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season and wanted to shake things up by trading their most famous and highest-paid player.
Rose’s stock was at an all-time low coming off the worst season of his career, and his expiring contract kept the risk factor to a minimum. The Knicks were the beneficiaries. Jackson threw caution to the wind and took a calculated risk on the 28-year-old.
But how could it work? Derrick Rose has always been a superstar and the focal point of his team’s offense.
Rose led his high school team to two state championships and was a McDonald’s All-American. He played his college ball at the University of Memphis and took them to the National Championship game setting the NCAA record for most wins in a season (38). Rose was drafted by the Bulls with the first overall pick and subsequently named Rookie of the Year. He was named to three All-Star teams including an MVP Award.
It couldn’t have been easy for him to accept what was ultimately a demotion. He’d just been run out of town. Not just any town, but his hometown. What was once a promising career had been derailed by injuries.
Rose was damaged goods, and the Knicks were desperate. They were a match made in heaven.
So far that marriage has paid off better than anyone could’ve hoped. The Knicks have their best record (15-10) through 25 games since the 54-win season of 2012-13 and their new point guard is a big reason why.
While still struggling from the three-point line (.235) a vast improvement on long twos (shots 16 ft. – 24 ft. from the rim) has boosted his field goal percentage to .456. Through 25 games last season Rose was at .373.
The most important thing has been Rose’s good health. He’s missed just two games, and up until his recent back spasms, there were no injury concerns. It’s still early but it looks like the change of scenery has done Rose some good.
But could he be doing more? Or maybe the better question is could he be doing less?
One of the biggest concerns surrounding the acquisition of Rose was his ball dominant nature. NBA watchers were already complaining that Carmelo Anthony was taking shots away from Kristaps Porzingis. Now Rose could do the same to the Unicorn.
At face value, it looks like Rose has adjusted well to his role as the third wheel. He’s averaging the fewest FGA (14.4) and second-lowest usage percentage (25.5%) of his career. And his team is at their best when Rose plays to that role.
The Knicks are 8-3 when their point guard takes less than 15 shots, 9-0 when his usage percentage is less than 25%, and 7-3 when he has 5 or more assists.
But if you look deeper, it’s easy to see that Rose can stand to be more efficient. He could be smarter with the basketball too, as evidenced by his pathetic assist (4.4) to turnover (2.4) ratio.
The Knicks are just 5-7 when Rose takes 15-plus shots, 4-10 when his usage percentage is greater than 25%, and 6-7 when he has less than 5 assists.
Rose was always a scorer in Chicago, but he still racked up the dimes in his heyday. In his MVP season of 2010-11 and then again in 2011-12, he finished in the top-10 of assist percentage (an estimate of the percentage of field goals the player assisted on). Right now he’s at a career-low 23.5%. It ranks him all the way down at 69th.
According to NBA.com, he leads the team in touches (most point guards do) but is just seventh in points per touch. For context, Porzingis is second in touches and second in points per touch. Anthony is fourth in touches and first in points per touch.
The Knicks are third in the league in passes made, and Rose leads the team in the stat. Despite leading the team in passes, Rose is beaten out by his backup Brandon Jennings in every passing category.
Per NBA.com, Rose has 102 total assists and 210 potential assists. Jennings plays fewer minutes and has made fewer passes but has more total and potential assists than Rose. He also surpasses the former MVP in assist percentage by a mile.
The evidence is all there that Rose plays better when he passes more and shoots less. A nine-year veteran of the Association has figured that out after 25 games.
So then what does that mean for the team? Anthony and Porzingis are integral to the season’s success, but the Knicks will live or die based on the performance of Rose. The absence of Porzingis and or Anthony would be crushing, but there’s a sharp contrast between those two and Rose.
Rose controls the game. He plays the most important position on the court and whether he plays it like a true point guard or not the ball is constantly in his hands. Jennings is better coming off the bench in his energy role.
You can’t win without a good point guard in the NBA, and the Knicks will only go as far their guy can take them.