February 09, 2011
We know NBA players don't usually read our tomes. We know that they usually keep their interaction to the media, beyond having to deal with us at the stadium or practice, to limited bits on the drive to work. Sports talk radio, interviews on the radio, and the odd cable TV viewing that usually finds ex-players (usually not the best analysts) doing all the talking.
And, frankly, we don't want NBA players reading our suggestions. We'd rather they be working on that left hand, those free throws, or picking up that high score on whatever video game console they brought on the road. Do video games still have high scores?
Sometimes, though, a happy coincidence (via TrueHoop) takes place. And when John Hollinger debuted a widely ridiculed piece in December that rightfully pointed out Derrick Rose's(notes) issues in getting to the free-throw line, the Bulls guard was averaging just 5.6 free-throw attempts in 21 shots per game, a terrible percentage for a player that spends most of his time dominating the ball (as his team desperately needs him to do) and putting his body on the line while driving to the hoop. He wasn't an elite point guard (back then), Hollinger pointed out, mainly because of this. Because the distance between Rose's attempts and his peers was too great to make him an over-the-top offensive player
John was right, and while (as a Bulls fan) I'm stomping on the avenue constantly screaming about how Derrick doesn't get enough respect from the officials, this wasn't on the referees. Derrick avoided contact. Not because he's a wimp. Just because he's not an NBA cynic like Dwyane Wade(notes), or Russell Westbrook(notes). He played to score, and forget the refs. Others just throw their bodies into defenders. Rose's intentions were far more pure, though they weren't exactly helping Chicago win games.
And all of that, in another wonderful coincidence, has changed.
Because Derrick has gotten to the line way, way more since Hollinger's piece was put up. And though there's no flippin' way Rose was lording over free-throw rates-per-shot attempts (pace and possession-adjusted, mind you) and decided to take in a bit more contact once Hollinger's Insider piece went up, Rose has turned it around. Maybe not in the game following its Dec. 10 publishing (when Rose failed to get to the line), or two days after (three attempts, in 39 minutes), or two days after that (when he didn't shoot a free throw); but things done changed.
Kevin Pelton, because this is what he does a hundred percent of the time, did well to define the difference through his research:
An intriguing possibility is that Rose has in fact absorbed the critique of his game and is now seeking out contact on a more regular basis. While I doubt Rose loaded up Hollinger's column, I suspect that he knows he could help himself by getting to the free throw line more frequently. However, it is hard to find much evidence of this in Rose's game. Comparing clips of him from early in the season to now using Synergy Sports, the same pattern is evident: Rose goes for either the spectacular play (a more difficult shot fading away or off balance) or the easy one (passing out of the paint) rather than going through defenders to draw the foul.
That leaves one handy explanation for why Rose is attempting more free throws: a friendlier whistle. In the limited video I saw, Rose drew a couple of fouls in January and February that I don't think he would have gotten in November and December. As Rose has established himself as a superstar over the course of the season, it is not unreasonable to believe that he has earned the benefit of doubt at times from referees who might not have given him borderline calls before, especially since Rose is not a demonstrative player and does not tend to call attention to the contact he does draw. I am not certain that the way Rose's game is refereed accounts for the entire increase in his free throw rate the last two months, but I am convinced it has been a factor.
I can't completely get behind this. It appears to me that Rose just seems more comfortable with taking in that extra dollop of a defender's left arm these days, and while he's not exactly tossing himself into the torso of an opponent a la Wade, he does appear to be paying extra attention to the center in his midst, as opposed to the open rim on the weak side that he can jump and lunge his way toward. Also, charts that show his shot attempts around the rim aren't going to reflect the shot attempts that are taken away in the box score, due to his being fouled, not unlike the baseball at-bats that aren't counted when a player walks.
That isn't to say he's completely turned around his ways. As Kevin points out, Rose still goes for the pure basketball make above all, and I don't want to completely discount the impact of those stupid jerk referees that hate Chicago and love the other 29 teams getting their heads out of the sand, but things have changed slightly, on both sides. And with a player like Rose who has the ball a ton, drives quite a bit, and plays big minutes? Those slight differences mean a lot.
In Rose's case, this now means he's amongst the league's best at drawing fouls, even with that six-week free-throw swoon to start the season. And that Chicago is winning and winning and winning, despite that two-game slide since Saturday.
The next two Bulls contests? Against Deron Williams(notes), and Chris Paul(notes). The celebrated best that this league has to offer at his position. The reason it took this paragraph so long to write, is because I was giddily rubbing my hands together in anticipation.