Timberwolves Player Profiles: Derrick Rose

Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Charlie Johnson (@CJohnsNBA) contributed to this story.

The Minnesota Timberwolves preseason is here. Additional player profiles below. 

Last summer, Derrick Rose signed a one-year deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After 16 volatile appearances, he was sent to the Utah Jazz as part of a three-team trade. Upon being immediately waived, the former MVP remained a free agent for almost a month before he was acquired by the Timberwolves in early March. The signing reunited Rose with Tom Thibodeau, his former head coach, as well as Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Aaron Brooks – teammates from his time with the Bulls.

Following an effective playoff run, Rose was re-signed to a one-year deal that will pay him a veteran minimum salary in 2018-19.

Let’s dig into his player preview.

Statistical Preview

  •  Rose’s statistical profile includes games played with both the Cavaliers and the Timberwolves.
  •  His Heatmap suggests little consistency in terms of shot selection, outside of his efficient ability to score from the paint (a characteristic that has persisted throughout his career).
  •  For the first time, Rose played fewer than 30 minutes per game (16.8).
  •  Rose’s usage rate was greater than 25 percent for the eighth consecutive season. The highest rate of all Timberwolves.
  •  He attempted a higher portion of his shots from within three feet of the basket than he has during any other season.
  • Ranked 91st of 100 point guards by ESPN’s real plus-minus.

Role on the Wolves

When Rose signed with the Wolves, it was unclear what role he was destined to fill. Presumably, the team had 48 minutes of point-guard play all but accounted for; not only was Jeff Teague signed to a lucrative deal just months prior, Tyus Jones had been playing valiantly as his backup.

In front of a Target Center crowd waiting to see how Thibodeau would deploy his brand-new weapon, Rose’s first game in Minnesota was March 11 against the Golden State Warriors. With 3:36 remaining in the opening quarter, Thibodeau made his second substitution by inserting Jones for Karl-Anthony Towns; fifty-four seconds later, Rose entered the game to replace Andrew Wiggins.

The lineup that remained – Jones, Crawford, Rose, Gibson, Towns – was indicative of the way that Thibodeau would operate for the rest of the season.

Thibodeau does not see Rose as a pure point guard, at least not in the context of this roster as assembled.

According to Basketball Reference’s Position Estimates, 94 percent of Rose’s 112 regular-season minutes with the Wolves came as a shooting guard.

The other seven minutes saw him playing as the team’s small forward. It’s difficult to analyze which position someone is playing at any particular moment, and 112 minutes over nine contests is somewhat insignificant. Still, it’s a useful measurement, that meets the eye test, when projecting Rose’s job on this team.

In 2018-19, there may be an additional opportunity at both of those positions should he manage a healthy campaign.

When Jamal Crawford turned down his $4.5 million player option for the upcoming season, the Wolves lost their first option off the bench. And while they drafted two excitable rookies, signed former EuroLeague player James Nunnally and added C.J. Williams on a two-way deal, the team’s wing depth remains littered with question marks.

Assuming that Thibodeau is inclined to use Rose in a similar manner to what we saw last year, he’s likely in line to be the second unit’s instant offensive threat. Given the level of comfort and trust between player and coach, it’s easy to imagine Rose soaking up most of the minutes left in the wake of Crawford’s departure.

Moreover, should the moves that the front office made to bolster the depth behind Butler and Wiggins fall flatter than expected, Rose will be a de facto option to fill that void on the wing.

One of the most reassuring aspects of his stint with the Wolves thus far has been Rose’s apparent willingness to take on a lesser role. But as games intensified in importance, Thibodeau has turned to him with heightened frequency. In the playoff series against the Houston Rockets, he played nearly 24 minutes per game while Jones – an admittedly less palatable option against the Rockets’ physically imposing backcourt – averaged just 13.5.

There’s a reason that Rose was eager to re-sign with the Wolves: his comfort with Thibodeau is likely to provide him an opportunity to capitalize on a roster lacking in perimeter depth.

Film Clipboard

For a long time, Rose has been lost.

The hopeful thought, and bet by Thibodeau, is that he is on his way to being found now that he is with Minnesota.

Rose became lost because, physically, he could no longer be the 99th percentile athlete he used to be — in terms of speed, lateral agility and strength relative to his position.

That won’t come back. It will never be found.

What can be recognized is a player who, physically, acknowledges his shortcomings and transitions from a 99th-percentile athlete to something less but still (physically) well above-average.

For Rose, this is a mental battle. For his whole life, prior to his first ACL injury, every time Rose stepped on a basketball court he was the most physically dominant player out there. That’s no longer the case and (I believe) he knows it, but sometimes struggles to, in the moment, remember.

This was Rose’s first shot of the season last year in Cleveland:

On the Cavs, as he did on that first shot, Rose often did more than what the coaching staff was asking. They wanted a “role player,” but he didn’t know how to be that. While this was a fair request by Tyronn Lue, it was such a delineation from the style Rose was accustom to that it didn’t work.

Putting Rose in a box led to hesitation, and thus ineffectiveness.

Here, is another example from that first game: Rose finds himself in the corner, with space, again against Horford. A decade ago, this would have been an obvious time to attack. But now, as he learned on the first drive, attacking is probably not the optimal play. This takes time for Rose to process and that processing is illustrated by the dribble he takes.

Dribbling is the physical manifestation of thinking in basketball.

Rose is not a player who thrives on intellect; his game has always been reactionary. A natural feel that worked wonders in the past. Now, he needs to find a middle ground. One that includes on-the-fly analysis.

This play is a good example of Rose’s still imposing physicality as he completely torches Jarret Jack with a right-to-left cross off-the-bounce. However, the play’s timing comes with very little analysis.

The shot being blocked is the difference between MVP Rose and Cleveland Rose. Timing be damned, the old Rose probably could have used his extra ounce of strength, speed and explosiveness to finish before Kyle O’Quinn gets there or through him.

But again, that’s gone.

However, with a better analysis in picking his timing, Rose could still make this play work. The first step of the process is beating Jack — which he does with ease. But if Rose were to have waited an extra second for the Tristan Thompson screen, O’Quinn would have moved another step towards the perimeter.

If Thompson can pull O’Quinn out of the lane, that would make up for the half-step Rose has lost.

I’m not sure Rose’s timing and discipline improved immensely after moving to Minnesota. As Wolves followers remember, the first handful of games were a struggle. Rose looked so much like the player from his Cleveland film: a lost athlete.

Rose’s first shot in Minnesota looked very similar to his first shot in Cleveland; an errant belief that he could still finish over an elite defender — in this case, Draymond Green.

What did seem to happen, in time, is that Rose began to find a comfort in Thibodeau seemingly forcing him to think less. It’s fair to say that Thibodeau let Rose play.

Sometimes, by telling someone to do something they are less apt to intuit the thought than allowing them to find it themselves. This appeared to happen with Rose as, through the freedom, the hesitation dissipated and improvements rolled in.

On this play, Rose is in a nearly identical situation to the situation he was in on Cleveland when Horford was closing out onto him. He receives the pass from above-the-break and has Houston’s center (Clint Capela) closing out onto him with space to work. This time Rose is decisive. There is no dribble — no thinking — as he pulls in the face of the closing Capela.

It has become folklore that Rose made 70 percent of his 3s in that playoff series against Houston — which is, of course, an unsustainable rate. What is sustainable is smarter and more decisive decision-making. Through this, Rose can have a more efficient output that contributes to winning.

This does not suggest that Rose should become a spot-up corner-3 shooter. As a historically poor shooter from deep, that would be an ineffective use of his skillset. However, if he is going to shoot them, the decision should be quick. And when he opts to forego the shot, his next decision to pass or attack should also be purposeful.

Again in the corner, in Game 3 of that Rockets series, Rose receives the skip here from Crawford. With his defender (Gerald Green) closing out erratically, Rose is correctly resolute in his attack. On the fly, he is imposing his physical will while also effectively reading the floor. In this case, the read is a kickback to Crawford.

This coming season, with an adjusted — and likely bigger — role, Rose will have to continue to better understand this new body so as to make even more intellectually sound decisions. While this will always be an internal battle for Rose, determining how and when he can assert his physical will be a critical ongoing calculation. The hope is that a coach like Thibodeau — who theoretically knows Rose better than anyone — will be able to walk that line alongside his old friend.

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