Larry Bird once said that he did not play to post certain specific statistics but rather he played for that moment when he controlled the game.
That statement is a bit disingenuous – Bird was known to ask what the scoring record was in a certain arena and then do his best to break that mark – but it is true that the touchstone of greatness is not measured by numbers alone but by impact.
An average player might shoot 0-7 from the field in a game but a great player would not do that (unless an injury forced him out of the contest in the early going); a great player would keep shooting because he would think that he is due to make his next seven shots in a row.
When a great player keeps shooting he is putting pressure on the defence because the opposing team usually has to tilt their defence toward him, meaning that his missed shots are more likely to be recovered by his own team. In contrast, when an average player forces shots it is less likely that his teammates will get offensive rebounds because an average player does not attract extra defensive coverage.
Derrick Rose’s value as a basketball player is more than the sum of his individual statistics. His impact can be seen in the standings. The Chicago Bulls were 33-49 in 2007-08, the year before Rose joined the squad; by his third season in 2010-11, they had the NBA’s best record (62-20) as Rose became the youngest regular season MVP in league history.
Rose led the Bulls to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals but he tore up his knee in Chicago’s first playoff game in 2012 and the Bulls have never been quite the same since that injury.
Rose played in 51 games in 2014-15–his most games played since 2010-11–and, not surprisingly, the Bulls posted their best 82 game regular season record since 2010-11 (50-32, including 33-18 when Rose played). He averaged 19.0 ppg and a team-high 6.5 apg during Chicago’s 4-2 first round win over Milwaukee.
Rose increased those averages to a team-high 23.0 ppg, a team-high 7.3 apg and 6.3 rpg (second on the team) as Chicago took a 2-1 lead over Cleveland in the second round. The Bulls swiped home court advantage at Cleveland in Game 1 and they maintained it in Game 3 after Rose hit a game-winning three point shot at the buzzer.
One of the things that I most respect about Derrick Rose is that he is a no-nonsense player. He does not say much, he does not make excuses and he does not whine: he just plays. After he hit the game-winning shot, Rose did not act the fool and jump around like he had just clinched the NBA championship. His stoic reaction showed that (1) he expects to make big shots, and (2) he understands that there is a lot of basketball to be played before the championship is decided.
If the Bulls beat the Cavaliers and go on to win the NBA championship, Rose’s three point shot may be remembered as one of the defining moments of this season and his career. Rose did not have a great shooting game (10-26 from the field) but he made the big shot when it mattered most – and, even more significantly, the Bulls outscored the Cavaliers by 10 points when Rose was in the game.
Rose scored 14 of Chicago’s 25 points in that pressure-packed fourth quarter, so he did not just show up at the last second to hit one shot; he controlled the game down the stretch before delivering the coup de grace.
Every year when the newest group of top free agents become eligible, teams and players try to recruit stars to join forces with them – but not Rose. He always has the attitude that his team has enough talent to win now, that he will not disrespect his teammates by trying to replace them and that he is not going to beg anyone to play with him.
Is Rose aloof or just quietly confident in himself and in his teammates? For all appearances, Rose has welcomed new teammates as they have arrived – much like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Julius Erving did in the 1980s when they were competing against each other for championships – but Rose has not publicly tried to form a super team the way that LeBron James has on two occasions.
LeBron James has many physical and skill set advantages over Derrick Rose, including size, shooting touch and the ability to guard multiple positions. I expect James’ Cavaliers to eventually prevail over Rose’s Bulls in this series – but James has lost playoff series before while being outshone in key moments by lesser players, including Rajon Rondo, Jason Terry and Kawhi Leonard.
Derrick Rose, who is a great player and former MVP in his own right, has a tremendous opportunity in front of him right now.