All posts by Josh Simons

How the Bulls can stay afloat in Rose’s absence

One of the most talked about players in all of sports is back in the news…and not in the way we all hoped. Chicago’s own Derrick Rose, the homegrown prodigy that made it out of Englewood, is sidelined with a meniscus injury yet again. The one-time Most Valuable Player has turned into the league’s Most Fragile Player and Chicago’s reaction has been all over the place. However, with three seasons of experience in compensating for the lack of Rose on the court, Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls have plenty of experience figuring out how to win games without their star.

As Chicago holds their breath in hopes that the reports that Rose will be able to play in 4-6 weeks hold true, the Bulls fan base has grown cautious around this optimism. Will Rose come back, be our savior, and bring us the championship we’ve all been salivating over since Jordan left? We’ll see. But for the time being, I wanted to take a closer look at the numbers to see just how much Rose’s absence will affect our beloved Bulls on the court, and discuss how Aaron Brooks can thrive in Rose’s absence.

To begin these observations, I first took a look at the player who will be the prime beneficiary for #1’s absence. That man is #0, Aaron Brooks, and while he may have gotten less minutes than long-time Thibs favorite Kirk Hinrich before, Brooks will be shouldering much of the offensive load left behind by Rose’s absence. Brooks has started each game in Rose’s absence thus far.

Looking at a per 36 minutes comparison between Rose and Brooks, the difference in production is encouraging (statistics via basketball-reference). Surprisingly, one of the areas that Brooks edges Rose is turnovers, averaging 3.2/36 minutes vs. Rose’s 3.7. An additional area that Brooks will undoubtedly outdo Rose is effectiveness from the three-point line. Brooks is shooting 42% on 6.2 attempts per 36 minutes vs. Rose’s abysmal 28.7% on 6.3 attempts. As mentioned by Jacob Bikshorn in his post about Jimmy Butler’s pick-and-roll dominance, the issue in years past whenever Rose went down is finding production from the perimeter. While this year’s clear answer is Jimmy Butler’s incredible effectiveness on the pick-and-roll, Brooks’ efficiency behind the three-point line can help move defenders up towards the perimeter, helping to clear the post for Butler to make an even greater impact. The overall per 36 minute comparison between Rose and Brooks:

brooks rose comparison
via Basketball-Reference

While that comparison shows a drop-off of an assist per game transitioning from Rose to Brooks, that should be compensated for by Chicago’s hard-nosed, outspoken center and leader, Joakim Noah. With Rose out all but 10 games, Noah posted a career high 5.4 assists per game last season. That is 1.4 more assists than Noah is dishing out this year, right on pace with his assists numbers posted with Rose on the court. With Derrick out, it can be expected that the offense will run much more through the vocal Swiss/French center. The early returns have backed up this idea.

In saying all this I want two things to be clear: 1) these per 36 numbers are based off of production Aaron Brooks has had predominantly against the second lines of NBA teams. As the Bulls starting point guard during Rose’s absence, we should expect a slight decline in this performance (as evidenced by Brooks 2-15 effort against Minnesota on Friday). 2) The absence of Rose from the lineup pushes each member of the team up a slot in the depth chart. This results in new lineup combinations and a changed team dynamic. While Brooks’ production is encouraging, let’s not forget that the Bulls will inevitably be hurt by losing such an important part of their depth!

The next avenue I explored was Chicago’s most effective lineups through NBA.com’s awesome stats pages. To no Chicago fan’s surprise, the most effective lineup included each of our opening day starters: Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol, and Joakim Noah. This group yielded a 15-4 record when starting as well as an offensive rating (the number of points scored per 100 possessions) of 107.4 and defensive rating (the number of points allowed per 100 possessions) of 104.2.

However, when digging a little bit deeper, I also found a lineup that has displayed a high degree of success, albeit from a much smaller sample size. This group is comprised of Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic, and Pau Gasol. In the 13 games this group has played together, they have yielded an 11-2 record with a staggering 114.4 offensive rating and an even more staggering 76.2 defensive rating. This second lineup’s production has come in a far smaller sample size, but this is an example of one combination Thibs may want to explore further utilizing. The likely absence of Taj Gibson for the near future may force his hand regardless.

As a die-hard Bulls fan and lifelong patron of the greater Chicago area, I have all the hope in the world that Derrick Rose will have a speedy recovery, return to the court, and score the winning basket to give us the championship we have all desired since MJ left. But as I write these words I ask myself, “is that idea still realistic?” Time will tell, but with the emergence of Aaron Brooks, the insatiable pick and roll abilities of Jimmy Butler, reliability of veteran Pau Gasol, and facilitation of Joakim Noah, I have to maintain faith that with or without Derrick, the Bulls are good enough to compete to bring the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy back to the Windy City. Get well soon Derrick, your city is still behind you!

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