In a move that caught just about everyone by surprise, the Bulls traded Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks Wednesday afternoon. The move signifies the end of an era that will be remembered by all with mixed emotions ranging from the highest of highs to the lowest depths that exist in basketball fandom. Derrick Rose was never just a basketball player here in his home town. Rose’s first few years were the first time this city dumped it’s hopes and dreams into a Bull since the departure of Michael Jordan. And how could you not when he was doing this and this. Rose captured our hearts with his humble demeanor and our excitement with his physics-defying drives to the hoop.
Rose tore his ACL in the first round of the playoffs in 2012 while leading the deepest team he would ever play for in Chicago and was simply never the same. Two additional knee injuries robbed Rose of nearly three entire years in his prime. Rose’s 66 games played this year were an incredible accomplishment to those of us who wondered if he would ever string together a few healthy months again. While it was encouraging to finally see his ability to withstand the rigors of the NBA, it was clear that the Rose who treated gravity like an optional feature would never return. And so, with one year and $21 million left on his contract, the Chicago Bulls have decided to turn the page.
While the idea of Derrick in Knickerbocker garb is sickening to many Bulls fans, the front office should be commended for haul they brought back in return for the former MVP. Here’s the full trade:
New York Receives;
Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday and a 2017 second round pick
The big prize for Chicago is veteran center Robin Lopez, who will be entering year two of a four year, $54 million contract next season. Lopez’s brother Brook garners more attention around the league than Robin because of his smooth post moves and reliable mid range jump shot. But where Robin is lacking on offense compared to his brother, he more than makes up for on the other end.
Robin is one of the more underrated defenders in the NBA. He’s not going to erase your shot like DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside. He’s not going to blitz and trap the pick and roll like Serge Ibaka or Draymond Green. What he will do is put himself in the best position to wall off the basket and help his team win every possession. According to NBA.com, Robin defended the eighth-most shots at the rim of any NBA player. Racking up contests at the rim is often more an indicator of scheme than skill, especially when you consider that Brook Lopez and Pau Gasol rank in the top four in this category. While Robin’s limited athleticism force him to play exclusively in the conservative, drop back style, he was one of the absolute best at it. Of the ten players who defended over 600 field goal attempts at the rim, nobody forced shooters into a lower field goal percentage than Robin Lopez.
What Lopez lacks in athleticism he makes up for with positioning and intelligence. Lopez is someone who can always be counted on to be in the right places and help cover for his teammates. The Bulls perimeter is not going to be much better next season if Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic play big minutes. But with a steady presence in the paint, their mistakes will be far less glaring.
Judging just by a box score, Lopez appears to be a very poor rebounder for a center, averaging just 7.3 per game. Piling up high rebound totals is often an indication of excellent leaping ability, a trait Lopez has never possessed. While Lopez is never going to lead the league in raw rebounds collected, he is still able to make important impacts on the glass. Lopez is an expert at boxing out and creating opportunities for his teammates to grab loose balls. The Knicks were an overall average rebounding team in 2015. But when Lopez, who averaged 27 minutes a game, was on the court, the Knicks rebounded at a top five rate in the league.
Lopez is not and has never been interested in being the focal point of an offense. In his eight years in the league, Robin has only finished one season with a usage rate around 20%. Instead, Robin scores many of his baskets by creating space with his body and tipping misses into the hoop. Lopez rebounded 13% of his teams own misses this past season, the 13th highest rate in the NBA. Lopez is a below average finisher at the rim, shooting 61% between zero and three feet, but he at least consistently puts himself in the position to attempt those makeable shots.
Acquiring Robin Lopez heading into this bonkers free agency period when there are no other starting caliber centers on the roster (sorry Cristiano Felicio) is a huge weight off the Bulls’ shoulders. Lopez is going to make $13.5 million per year over the next three years, which sounds like a steep price for a guy who has never averaged more than 11 points a game. But when you compare his contract to the ones likely to be given to Bismack Biyombo, Ian Mahimi and Festus Ezili, Lopez, who is just 28, will become an overnight bargain. While the trade did not create any cap space for the Bulls in 2016, they essentially filled their greatest hole without having to dip into their roughly $25 million of space.
Jerian Grant had a rough rookie season, but there is reason to hope he can develop into a solid NBA point guard. After four years of running spread pick and roll at Notre Dame, Grant went missing in the Philmuda Triangle. Grant never grasped the offense in New York and was never given a great opportunity to learn on the job, averaging 16.6 minutes per game behind long time veteran Jose Calderon.
That Jerian was never able to earn more minutes was a moderate indictment on Grant’s ability to do anything on offense. Grant shot a miserable 22% from three and a discouraging 52% within three feet. Some of that struggle could be attributed to him getting the ball in unfamiliar spots and being asked to do unfamiliar things. Still, a lack of true NBA athleticism may prevent Grant from becoming a quality guard. Grant will find himself in a familiar system under Fred Hoiberg, and if he has any chance to succeed the Bulls will have three cost-controlled years to find out.
Jose Calderon is a great shooter, averaging over 40% from three in each of the last four seasons. Unfortunately, shooting is pretty much all the 34-year-old point guard can do at an NBA level anymore. Calderon has seen his assist rate plummet since his peak days in Toronto as his athleticism has declined. Calderon was never a great athlete, but his threat of shooting used to be enough for him to create penetration and set up his teammates. Time has robbed Calderon of what little speed he ever had, limiting his ability to facilitate an offense. Calderon is also a turnstile on defense. The Knicks held opponents to three fewer points per 100 possessions when Jose was on the court versus when he was off.
The trade also allows the Bulls to sharpen their focus as the draft and free agency approach. With the center position firmly covered between Lopez and Felicio, the Bulls can focus their attention on adding a point guard and deepening the wing rotation. This is not a draft or free agency class deep at either of those positions, but if the Bulls can snag Wade Baldin at 14 and throw a big contract at Kent Bazemore or someone in his ilk, they will be right back in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.
A quality center on a value contract, a mildly intriguing prospect and a veteran shooter are a pretty good haul in return for an injury-riddled Rose who could leave in free agency in July 2017. Jake Weiner and I had been discussing whether the Bulls should trade Rose or Butler this offseason and I had been mostly against trading Rose, simply because I thought we could get nothing back for him better than cap space. By those low expectations, the Bulls made out like bandits in this trade.