Veteran point guard Derrick Rose was electrifying as ever on Wednesday, helping the New York Knicks earn their first playoff win since 2013.
Rose had 26 points with 5 rebounds as well as 4 assists during the victory over the Atlanta Hawks. However, it was nothing like how it was when he was winning individual awards more than a decade ago.
Last week, he had a long Instagram post detailing how upset it makes him when people classify what he is doing now as “vintage” because of just how much his game has evolved since playing college basketball for coach John Calipari at Memphis.
Rose, while still playing some of the best basketball he has played in recent memory, wants to be celebrated for his growth. He isn’t turning back the clock. He is reinventing himself whenever he is on the floor.
Even though he was selected at No. 1 overall in the 2008 NBA draft and he went on to win Rookie of the Year behind 16.8 points per game, Rose wasn’t the most efficient player during his first few years in the league.
He averaged 0.89 points per possession as a rookie, per Synergy, which put him in the 44th percentile (or below average) among NBA players. Even in the season that he won MVP, which was somehow already a decade ago, his 0.96 points per possession (67th percentile) was still far from elite.
Rose was productive but with an incredibly high volume and usage rate, as he described it in his own words when reflecting on his early years, he was also reckless.
Now that he is a seasoned veteran, he has been able to choose his spots far more carefully. While he already has eleven years of experience, his most recent three seasons were also his three most efficient since turning pro.
During his first few seasons in the NBA, perhaps the most dominant physical trait that Rose offered was his verticality and ability to jump over anybody at any given time.
As former teammate Carmelo Anthony explained, Rose was so synonymous with dunking that it was hard to imagine him otherwise (via ESPN):
“I don’t think he would ever be the same Derrick Rose, coming down and dunking. But he’ll be great at being a different type of player now. That’s kind of what he’s showing.”
You can get a taste of how fun he used to be when he was flying towards the hoop by looking at any highlight compilation.
During his MVP campaign in 2010-11, he recorded a career-high 32 dunks. For comparison, that is exactly as many as 6-foot-11 fellow All-Star Tim Duncan threw down that season.
But in the decade since then, during the 406 regular-season games that he has played, he has not reached as many dunks combined as he did during that 81-game stretch.
Rose did not record any dunks this season and he has actually not dunked at all during a regular-season game since Nov. 1, 2019.
At this point, if he never dunks in an NBA game again, it wouldn’t be shocking. But maybe he doesn’t need to in order to help his team win.
One of the most electrifying plays in basketball is when someone is able to take the rock he fall length of the court and score.
During a recent appearance on All The Smoke, former teammate Rajon Rondo said that anyone who guarded him was on their heels all night and he described him as a one-man fastbreak every single game.
We know that Rose used to be one of the most feared threats to go coast-to-coast. Watch any of his highlights from when he was in his prime and you can see how few options opposing teams had when it came time to slow him down.
Anyone who watched him dominate will remember just how much of a wrecking ball in transition and anyone who had to guard him likely still has nightmares about the assignment.
While tracking data from Second Spectrum does not date back from the beginning of his career, we can compare the speed Rose played at once it became available to where it is now.
During his 2014-15 campaign, which was his first full season back from his torn ACL, he operated at an average speed of 4.78 miles per hour on offense.
This season, during his time with the Knicks, that rate is just 4.44 miles per hour. While that may not seem like a ginormous drop-off, it can end up as the difference between scoring and getting stopped in the open floor.
That has impacted his ability to score on fast-break possessions in general, but statistically, the closest tool we have to measure this is his ability to score as the ball handler in transition offense.
In that sense, this is the lowest rate that we have seen from Rose since he entered the league in 2008-09.
When he wasn’t flying through the lane to finish over somebody on a slam, Rose also had one of the more impressive layup packages in the NBA.
During his peak performances in Chicago, Rose would be celebrated for his acrobatic maneuvers and a perfect touch near the basket. It was hard to stop Rose knowing that he had the option to dunk on you or finesse you with an up-and-under layup.
But as he said, even that is no longer as much a part of his game as it once was. Rose had 37 reverse layups during his MVP campaign in 2010-11 and 30 reverse layups in 2016-17.
This season, he converted on the move less than 10 times, connecting on just eight reverse layups during the entirety of the regular season.
While it might not be classified as his signature shot, Rose has used his floater and his push shot as his lethal weapon when it mattered most.
He used it as a game-winner against the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas and it has been in his arsenal dating back to high school, using it as a game-winner during overtime of a state championship game.
Even this year, according to ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry, it was the most accurate floater in the NBA.
Back in 2012, Beckley Mason explained what allows it to work so well (via ESPN):
“It’s not quite a floater and not quite a runner, but Rose’s phenomenally accurate one-handed push shot is one of the masterful shots in the game. Like no player before him, Rose has the ability to go from full speed to a two-foot stop, rise up (and often over much larger players) then coolly flick the ball either straight in or off the backboard with sublime touch.”
Rose led the league in shots classified as runners in 2010 and he finished among the Top 10 during each season between 2009 and 2012.
After he was able to return from his various injuries, he joined those ranks again in 2014-15. Then in 2015-16, he finished with the second-most points scored on runners.
Yet despite all of that success, this season was actually his most productive one yet when it came to his scoring on teardrops. So, yes, even that is very different than it was when he came into the league: it’s better.