Bulls guard Derrick Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP who missed most of the past two seasons, told reporters after his first practice with USA Basketball that his confidence is "through the roof" -- and that's good news for the Chicago Bulls. Rose's play may not live up to his words, but if he makes Team USA's roster for the FIBA World Cup (Aug. 30-Sept. 14), it could still be a big win for the Bulls as they prepare for the 2014-15 season.
Here's a look at how Rose's play with Team USA would likely benefit coach Tom Thibodeau & Co.
Tentative Rose typical of ACL return
Our last memory of Rose on the court is him struggling through the first 10 games of the 2013-14 season before suffering a torn meniscus on Nov. 22 at Portland. Surgery to repair the meniscus ended Rose's campaign, leaving him with negative wins above replacement player (WARP) by my rating system.
However, in the context of his recovery from the torn ACL that kept him off the court for all of 2012-13, Rose's performance looks much more normal. While my research has shown that players perform only slightly worse the season after suffering an ACL injury, looking at the schedule as a whole doesn't tell the entire story.
Instead, the numbers show that players coming back from ACL injuries are at their worst in their first handful of games on the court before quickly improving back to near normal. This shows up most dramatically in terms of shooting percentage, which was Rose's biggest issue. During his first four seasons, Rose made 48.9 percent of his 2-point attempts. In the 10 games he played last season, he shot just 35.9 percent on 2s.
On average, as the chart at right shows, players coming back from ACL injuries shoot 5.4 percent worse on 2-pointers over their first 10 games than their projection from my SCHOENE projection system, which uses performance over the previous three seasons adjusted for the development of similar players at the same age. They shoot about as well as expected from beyond the arc, which is also consistent with Rose, who made a career-best 34 percent of his 3-pointers in 2013-14.
Improvement comes quickly for post-ACL players. While they still shoot much worse than expected on 2-pointers over their next 10 games, from games 21 to 30 they're just 1.6 percent worse than expected. And by games 31 to 40, they actually surpass their season projections.
Rose isn't the only player who has returned from an ACL looking rusty. Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves, never an accurate shooter under the best of circumstances, shot 22.2 percent from the field in his first 10 games back during 2012-13. Iman Shumpert of the New York Knicks made less than 30 percent of his 2-point attempts during his first 10 games back the same season. The difference was that those players had another 30-plus games to improve their final stat lines, a luxury Rose never got because of his meniscus injury.
Shaking off the rust for Team USA
Few players opt for the slower-healing meniscus repair that Rose underwent, choosing instead the meniscectomy that gets them back on the court faster at a possible long-term cost, so it's difficult to perform the same kind of study of performance after the injury. A look at the most similar cases, including Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, suggests a similar adjustment period.
Westbrook, who had a second surgery to remove a stitch that came loose in his knee during training camp, shot 41.5 percent on 2-point attempts during his first 10 games back in the lineup last season. He made 46.9 percent of his 2s over the next 10 games and finished 2013-14 shooting 48.2 percent inside the arc, tied for the best mark of his career.
Chase Budinger of the Minnesota Timberwolves missed more than four months during the 2012-13 season after a meniscus repair. He made 44.2 percent of his 2s and 31 percent of his 3s in his first 10 games back, compared to career marks of 48.4 percent and 35.7 percent, respectively.
If Rose must go through another adjustment period, it's better for the Bulls that he begins that process as soon as possible. The experience of going through training camp with USA Basketball should help. There's some evidence that practice and exhibition games help the process; players who returned from ACL injuries midseason saw their 2-point percentages dip much more (17 percent worse than expected) than those who had the benefit of going through training camp.
Practice and preseason are not perfect substitutes for regular-season NBA competition. That's why even players with a training camp still have tended to struggle early in their return from ACL injuries. But playing against some of the league's top point guards -- such as Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and John Wall -- should provide the toughest test possible for Rose. Regardless of whether he passes, the experience should help him be closer to 100 percent at the start of the 2014-15 season.