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The Extra Pass: What can we expect of Derrick Rose in his return?

Feb 4, 2013, 9:05 AM EDT

Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose looks on from the bench against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Chicago Reuters

The Extra Pass is a column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at what to expect from Derrick Rose when he returns.

This was supposed to be a lost season for the Chicago Bulls. Even the most ardent believers in Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system didn’t see this coming. The Bulls didn’t have depth, they didn’t have room for improvement, and most importantly, they didn’t have Derrick Rose.

But what do the Bulls have now? A 29-19 record, the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, and a legitimate chance to catch the East’s leaders as the All-Star break approaches.

It was once easy to assume that Rose would return from his torn ACL to a floundering team just trying to stay alive. Instead, he’s coming back to a flourishing one.

That success has altered the expectations for Rose in his return. He is no longer required to be a savior, but rather a solid contributor. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Bulls actually have a decent shot at winning a title. That would sound preposterous a few months ago — and to some it still might — but according to Memphis Grizzlies front office employee and former ESPN writer John Hollinger’s playoff odds, the Bulls currently have a 16.5 percent chance at making the finals.

That may surprise some, but Chicago’s 4th ranked defense is suffocating. They have two scary wing defenders in Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler to throw at Miami, they have the passing big men to dice up a slow defense like New York, and you have to imagine they’d welcome a grind out battle on their terms against an Indiana or Brooklyn. Point being, we know this is a very capable team. They’ve proven that early on.

That said, what we don’t know about the Bulls looms large in the big picture. What can we expect of Derrick Rose when he makes his return?

The good and the bad

The hopeful few will quickly cite the name of Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back who won the league’s MVP award and put together his best season after an ACL injury. The line of thought isn’t hard to follow — Peterson is an athletic wonder that shines over his peers, and Rose is cut from the same cloth. Special athletes are more equipped to deal with this sort of thing, you would think.

Ignoring the apples and oranges that is football and basketball for a second, it’s important to remember that we can compare players physically, but we can’t do the same mentally. Although I wish I weren’t speaking from experience, the mental hurdles after an ACL injury are the most difficult to overcome. Trusting your knee not to give out when you euro step, not hesitating to take off in traffic for a floater — these are things that take different amounts of time for everyone. What Peterson did was as much a triumph over mind as it was body. That’s not to say Rose can’t do the same, but success following an ACL injury goes deeper than what you can do physically.

That said, we should deal in what we know and what we’ve seen in the past from NBA players coming back from ACL injuries. Last season, Kevin Pelton broke it down at Basketball Prospectus:

“Going back to the 1999-00 campaign and not including this year’s (2012) results, I found 40 ACL tears suffered by NBA players in games, practices, or even during summer workouts while under contract.

Of those 40, 22 involved players had usable pre- and post-injury numbers to compare. That’s a relatively small sample size, but such is the nature of rare injuries. On average, these players saw their per-minute winning percentage drop from .452 to .405, a 10.4 percent decline in their effectiveness. 15 of the 22 got worse.

A comparison of some of their key statistics before and after the injury:

Period     MPG    Usg    TS%   Reb%   Ast%   Stl%   Blk%   FTA%   Win%
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Before    24.0   .206   .528   .113   .026   .013   .013   .119   .452
After     21.7   .194   .502   .114   .024   .013   .012   .114   .405

Pelton goes on to explain that the biggest differences in players that come back from ACL injuries are found in usage rates and shooting percentages. This is particularly noteworthy for Rose, a player who contributes primarily with his ability to score.

More recent examples of guards with ACL tears foretell a difficult path ahead for Rose. Although Iman Shumpert and Ricky Rubio have very different games than Rose, they have suffered massive drops in shooting percentages this season. In eight games so far, Shumpert’s True Shooting Percentage is down from 48.4 percent last year to 43.3 percent. In 19 games, Rubio’s percentage is down from 47.6 percent last year to 42.7 this year. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Eric Maynor is down from 46.6 percent to 40.3 percent as well.

Corey Brewer is probably the last perimeter player to come back strong from an ACL tear. Brewer averaged his highest points per game total of his career after his injury, and he saw a bump in his percentages as well.

But again, Rose is not Rubio, Shumpert, Maynor or Brewer. He’s a much more explosive scorer that uses almost a third of Chicago’s total possessions. He’s a star. History indicates he might not be that right away coming off his injury, but the Bulls might not need him to be, either.

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