Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bulls Should Sit Rose Until He's Healthy

By the time the Bulls suit up tomorrow night against Cleveland, Derrick Rose will have sat for nearly a week without playing a game. Rose, nursing a nagging turf toe injury, looks to miss the next couple of games for the Bulls this weekend as well. The Bulls are handling this perfectly, and if I'm Tom Thibodeau, Gar Forman, or John Paxson, I make benching D Rose a permanent thing until he's 100% healthy and ready to play.

Besides the basic logic that an injured player shouldn't play until that player's injury has healed, there are additional reasons that the injured Rose should stay on the bench until he's healthy. First, the Bulls have demonstrated that they can win without him. If you look at the three games he's missed this season, the Bulls have won two of them (against Washington and Phoenix) and lost only one (Memphis). And with the game that they lost, it was a weird 12 noon starting time on Martin Luther King, Jr. day, so I'll give them a pass on that one. In the games against Washington and Phoenix, the Bulls absolutely dominated without Rose. Granted, those are bad teams, but the reality is that the Bulls' core is a playoff team even if D Rose didn't exist on the Bulls.

Deng can help the team step up
For me, it all starts on the perimeter with Luol Deng. Deng is vital to the Bulls' efforts with or without Rose, but he's the type of player that can serve as a catalyst for the Bulls both offensively and defensively while Rose sits. His game has been consistently excellent all season, something he will need to continue to do until D Rose returns. Other than Deng, Carlos Boozer has rebounded from a slow start to really come into his own in the Bulls offense. The most recent game against Phoenix shows how great of an offensive player Boozer can be, forcing mismatches all night against Marcin Gortat. With Boozer, he is an excellent outside shooter for a big man and at the same time can step it inside and post players up. The versatility he gives the Bulls on the inside, in addition to his rebounding, helps make up for the offensive shortcoming of Joakim Noah, who is also starting to come around after a horrible start. Earlier this season, Noah looked so out of place on both offense and defense. Now, we never expect him to do much on offense other than the occasional huge energy boosting tip in or put back, but one thing he NEEDS to do is play solid defense and rebound.

In a way, Noah and Boozer need to find a way to develop great chemistry on the court because their strengths and weaknesses offset each other. It was hard last year due to the time they both missed due to injury. But this year, both seem to be coming on at the same time, making me think that they are finally developing that chemistry. I certainly hope so, because if they can keep it up, and the Bulls can keep outrebounding teams, they're going to win plenty of games even without D Rose. Rebounding is such an underrated trait in successful basketball teams. Being successful with defensive rebounds not only limits the opponent to a single chance on a possession but also creates fastbreak opportunities, something the Bulls dominate with when Rose is healthy but can still do well even without him in the lineup. And obviously, the Bulls success with offensive rebounds gains extra chances/possessions and much of the time will create open looks for shooters who did not crash the boards after a shot. Not only is this a byproduct of the high level of rebounding the Bulls receive from Boozer and Noah, but it is further aided by the high level of passing skill exhibited by the Bulls. When you combine these traits with the Bulls' outstanding team defense, you have a team that can survive an injury to the reigning MVP and still make the playoffs.

Rose on the bench is the right choice
Put simply, the Bulls from top to bottom are just a great basketball team with no patent flaws. This is so even without D Rose, so if you look at the current NBA standings in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls could play above average basketball the rest of the way and still easily make the playoffs. The Bulls already sit 6 games ahead of the Knicks in the 8th spot, and do you really think that even without D Rose, the Knicks will catch the Bulls? Not a chance. Not to mention that this is a shortened season, meaning that you will see weird things happen for teams to get into the playoffs. The last time there was a shortened season, the 8th seed Knicks made the NBA Finals. When there is a different structure to a season, anything can happen. And that's even assuming that in some bizarro world, D Rose doesn't come back and play this year. That's the hidden factor here. How long will he sit out? Rose is the type of player that chomps at the bit to get out there and play. I would even surmise that it's extremely difficult to get him to sit, even if they come out and say that he agreed to it. But on top of that competitive streak, he always considers, does, and knows what is best for the team. And here, that means sitting out until he's fully healed. I have no doubt that he'll do so.

And just think of what it means long term if D Rose does sit out. If he's out for an extended period of time, that just means that he'll be that much more rested than anyone else in the league. Remember that D Rose wore down in the playoffs last year, and now imagine him having been fully rested. I've read that recovery from a turf toe injury can take somewhere around 3 weeks, maybe even longer than that. That would mean that, just guessing here, D Rose could be fully healthy in the middle of February if he kept resting his toe. Thus, that would leave him with about 35 games left to play, and even so, the Bulls could either continue to rest him or give him random nights off. With a shortened schedule, it's easier for a team like the Bulls, as deep and young as they are, to coast into the playoffs and be fully healthy and ready to go. Not only that, if Rose didn't heal, it could turn into a more debilitating injury and limit the things he does well (cutting, slashing, foot speed, cross over, etc.) and also further limit the things he still doesn't do as well (long range shooting and defense, especially against quick guards).

Obviously, it will be tough to go a big chunk of the season without seeing D Rose. We all know how electrifying and deadly he can be. But our eyes should be on the big picture. Would we rather have D Rose rush back so we can get that #1 seed right now? It'll be easy, considering that Miami is playing a chunk without Dwyane Wade. Or would you rather have D Rose sit until he's healthy, get at worst around a 6th seed (and likely much higher), and be able to turn it up in the playoffs? The answer is easy - if you don't sit Rose, sure, he'll fight through it like Kobe fights through every injury. But when the playoffs come, we'll see a repeat performance of last year, when the Heat capitalized on an exhausted Rose and Deng (who still plays too many minutes) and exploited the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. No - the right thing to do is put Rose on the bench, put the ball in the hands of CJ Watson, Deng, Boozer, Rip Hamilton (if he EVER stays healthy), Noah, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, and most importantly, Thibodeau's defense. You do that, and the Bulls will be just fine until the real season begins.