Many words can be used to describe Derrick Rose's campaign thus far this season. Inconsistent, flashy, and up-and-down come to mind above all else. Starting off the season with an orbital bone fracture, Rose's 2015-16 season was seemingly doomed from the start. After going into the previous offseason completely healthy for the first time in many years, hopes were high that Rose would return to form and compliment Butler swimmingly in the Bulls backcourt. However, during the Chicago Bulls' first practice of the year, Rose caught an inadvertent elbow to the face from Taj Gibson and had a facial fracture, causing him to require a face mask. Throughout the first six weeks of the season, Rose had been claiming that he had been dealing with double vision. Double vision would be insanely difficult for a guy like Rose to deal with as he likes to weave between the defense and get a layup at the rim. Double vision caused his depth perception to be thrown off, meaning he wouldn't be able to fully recognize how far away his defenders are, where exactly the basket is and how much English he may have to put on the ball.
That double vision caused Rose to statistically be one of the worst shooters in the league in the early portion of the season (he shot 37% from the field in October and 35% in November). Many people were speculating that he couldn't coexist in the backcourt with All-Star Jimmy Butler, a notion quickly turned down by both Rose & Butler. One thing was for sure though: Rose was playing much better than his statistics were showing. Rose runs coach Fred Hoiberg's quick-paced and free-flowing offense better than anyone on the Bulls, which is a notion heavily apparent watching the six games Rose has missed this year. While Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich are serviceable backups to Rose, they don't create nearly the opportunities for their teammates that Rose creates. Rose is only averaging 4.6 assists per game this season, one of the lowest averages of his career. However, he creates more opportunities for his teammates than anyone else on his team. How many times does Pau Gasol get a wide open shot at the top of key due to a hook pass by Rose?
Since the Christmas break, however, Rose has looked different. He has been attacking the rim like we are accustomed to seeing. He is driving to the basket more so than he has at any point this season, something that was very apparent in last night's game against the Sacramento Kings. Rose noted that it's a process [learning to play like he used to], but that process is showing positive results over the last month and a half.
I think it's just me getting back to used to just playing. Seeing openings, training my mental to be prepared and training my body to be prepared so that if I see a gap or if I see an opening, I'm hitting openings and gaps within a couple of seconds to be able to get to the rim. So it's all about just reading the game, and I think I've been doing a better job with just making sure that I'm getting there and getting contact with whoever's there.
While Rose's driving has been a really encouraging sign recently, he's still not getting the foul calls that he is arguably deserving of. The blatant lack of calls has even caused the Bulls franchise to send tapes to the league regarding the blatant no calls that happen when Rose drives to the rim. However, his lack of foul calls should not detract from how he has been playing recently. Rose has been converting his shots all around the court at a higher percentage since the years changed from 2015 to 2016. In the 2015-portion of the season, Rose had been averaging nearly eight shot attempts per game around the rim while only converting nearly three and a half per game, a percentage of 42.5, which is poor from three feet or closer. In the 2016-portion of the season, Rose has averaged 9.6 shot attempts per game around the rim while making 4.9 of his attempts, good enough for a percentage of 51, which is much, much better.
Rose's ability to drive to the rim with relative ease, especially on the fast break, has caused defenses to collapse in on him. He is very adept at passing the ball with a seemingly impossible angle, or passing the ball while gliding through the air. The reason his assist numbers are down can be explained very simply: missed shots. For reference, go back to the Golden State Warriors game, where Rose was the only guy on the Bulls that showed up before garbage time. He tallied 29 points but only had one assist, and if you didn't watch the game, that number could be misconstrued in the box score. This was a game where Pau Gasol shot 0-8 and Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic looked like D-League players with how many wide open shots they were bricking. Rose averaged a paltry 3.3 assists, and the Bulls underperformed in January. While Rose doesn't deserve to be completely exempt from the blame, he and Butler were the best players for the Bulls consistently throughout January, even if Gasol had better statistics than Rose.
Another big reason for Rose's play-style resurgence is the lack of three pointers. Rose was taking 2.4 threes per game and shooting a career-worst percentage from the three in the 2015-portion of the season. While he has only improved that percentage by just under five percentage points, Rose has slightly cut down on his threes since the start of 2016, only averaging two threes a game. Over his last ten games, Rose has averaged 18.1 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 44% from the field. Rose knows how much better the Bulls are when he attacks the rim. While he isn't putting up his MVP-like numbers (and he may never again), he is learning to play as an updated version of his former-MVP self.
[Me] attacking opens up the game because it puts so much pressure on the defense, but it takes me actually going through it and experiencing it and learning it all over again for me to really understand it.