It was the cute little statistic of the Bulls’ season, thrown around far too often like some sort of comforting blanket.
It gave fans warmth and hope as the postseason started.
Then it betrayed everyone.
Stats can lie, but the idea that the Bulls were 18-9 without Derrick Rose during the regular season did more than tell a fib. It put a false sense of security in believing in the cast around Rose. Those days are over. They ended in Game 1 of the first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers when Rose tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Since then, the Bulls have been slightly better than a lottery team. Not good enough to advance in the playoffs, not bad enough to have their logo on a Ping-Pong ball in May. NBA no-man’s land.
Rose was the igniter, the finisher, the eraser. He covered up the lack of talent around him. And like a great player does, he made the players around him better. Way better in some cases. There’s a reason Luol Deng was in the All-Star Game, and he should have hugged Rose every day for it.
“When Rose was playing, Luol seemed to be playing very well off of him,” 76ers coach Doug Collins said Tuesday. “Derrick would create so many opportunities. You start looking at Rose, and pretty soon Luol is cutting to the basket, slashing, back-cutting, getting all those baskets in the open court.
“Luol was a very opportunistic player. I don’t think there is any doubt that with Derrick not being out there that it’s hurt Luol.”
So what about when Rose returns?
It’s obvious he’s a Batman with no Robin. It’s also obvious that he’ll need to adapt his game post-knee surgery.
That means the explosions to the rim have to be fewer. The three-point shot has to be improved. It’s time to be more Chris Paul than Allen Iverson.
Paul should be the model for Rose. The Los Angeles Clippers point guard tore his left meniscus during the 2009-10 season. Since then, he has been less reckless attacking the rim, more deadly from the outside. Before the injury, Paul averaged 174.4 three-point tries per season and shot 35 percent from long distance. Since the injury, he has averaged 198 attempts per season, hitting 38 percent. Rose is a career 31 percent shooter from three-point range.
Improving that will be a good starting point.
Collins knows a little bit about great players changing their game, considering he had Michael Jordan in his early years, as well as Scottie Pippen. Neither had to make changes because of injury, but there was one common thread in their transformations.
“Hard work,” Collins said. “It takes a little time. Brad Sellers started for me when Scottie was a rookie.”
As far as Rose, we might never see the player we saw since he burst on the scene in 2008. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Your move, Derrick.