Thursday April 9th, 2015

For the seventh time this season, Derrick Rose is back. The former MVP had been absent from Chicago’s rotation for 20 games after undergoing surgery for a torn right meniscus in February, though his complete injury history is obviously more substantial. The trajectory of his career and the Bulls’ title contention were knocked off course by a string of buckles and tears, the sum of which have brought unfortunate closure to the question of whether Rose will ever truly be himself on the basketball court again.

[daily_cut.NBA]Success can be had, though, in Rose playing as something other than a superstar. The Bulls can only hope that their lead point guard finds the balance to do so. A hard boundary separates Chicago from Cleveland and Atlanta within the Eastern Conference hierarchy. Their vaunted defense still isn’t anywhere near the franchise’s usual standards. The offense is compelling when it isn’t cluttered. The Bulls have had problems all year in getting out of their own way with the inevitable result of having too many players of erratic range. Rose alone cannot solve these problems, but he could theoretically ease things along in other ways, provided that he adjusts to his new reality.

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Rose’s every game from here on out this season should be viewed through that lens. On Wednesday, he logged just under 20 minutes in accordance with his expected limit and showed rust plainly. Rose committed four turnovers in the Bulls' 105-103 loss to the Magic despite handling the ball minimally. His offense came from the outside, which was expected in his first game back from knee surgery, but ineffective all the same. He finished with nine points on 3-of-9 shooting. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton had little trouble getting around Rose and into the lane as he needed, challenging the returning guard’s ability to keep up laterally. There were errors in judgment, too. Rose really has no reason to ever take a shot like this one:

If he can rein in some of those poor choices, though, Rose still has enough end-to-end explosion in his game to give the Bulls a shot of scoring when they need it:

And better yet: Opponents still react to Rose with respect for what he’s capable of. He may not force defenses to collapse on his drives the way he once did, but defenders still instinctively twitch when they see Rose bounding into open space and linger just a half-beat longer while hedging against his drives. It would be a disservice to reduce Rose entirely to a decoy at this stage after Chicago found a nice offensive balance earlier in the season with him playing an integral part. That said, Rose has clear, accessible value in the hiccups he nudges a defense into:

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It’s up to Rose to seek out those moments. So much of Rose’s game now will boil down to taking what the moment allows. The exception is the way he can create for others, a strength foregone too often for the sake of an early, pull-up jumper. There is a medium in assertive play for Rose that allows for some of everything: the jumpers, the facilitation and the burst drives once he’s comfortable. It just wasn’t found on Wednesday and has eluded Rose for much of this season. Any conceivable way forward through the playoffs is predicated on its finding. The Bulls may have evolved beyond their complete Rose dependence, but still they’re reliant on him as a means of redefinition.

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