Yesterday, in a polarizing move for fans, the Minnesota Timberwolves agreed to a contract with Derrick Rose for the rest of the current season. Reuniting him with former coach Tom Thibodeau and teammates Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler (injured), a few fans hold out hope that Rose can recreate the magic of his former self, but skepticism remains about what Rose can really contribute to this team. That prompts the question: what exactly are the Timberwolves getting in signing Derrick Rose?
When some fans hear the name Derrick Rose, they naturally think of when Rose first came into the league. Drafted first overall by his hometown Chicago Bulls in 2008, Rose offered hope to the Bulls of a turnaround with his dynamic offensive ability. After acclimating to the NBA from college in his first two seasons, Rose broke into the conversation of the game’s elite in the 2010-2011 season Rose took home the league’s Most Valuable Player award by being the best player on the league’s best team. That season Rose averaged 25 points per game, 7.7 assists per game, and had a +8.3-net rating on a team that excelled defensively, but required his dynamic offense. That Bulls team lost in five games to the Miami Heat led by LeBron James, but had regularly been a thorn into the Heat’s side up until that point, winning all three games in the regular season.
After that point, Rose’s sad journey through injuries has been well documented. Various minor injuries through his first three seasons had caused him to miss a handful of games, but starting in the 2011-2012 season, the injuries started to take a toll on Rose’s bright future. Through various minor injuries to his toe, groin, back, and ankle, Rose missed 21 games during the regular season. This did not prevent the Bulls from signing him to a five-year max level contract in December 2011, but they would come to later regret it. During a playoff matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, Derrick Rose would go down with the first of many injuries, a left ACL tear causing him to miss the rest of the 2012 playoffs and the entire 2012-2013 season. The Bulls found success in Rose’s absence though not on the same level, and they lost to the 76ers in that playoff series, as well as the Miami Heat yet again the following year.
Rose’s return brought hope to Chicago fans of a return to their dominance, but only ten games into his return season, Rose tore a meniscus in his right knee, which cost him the entire 2013-2014 season. Hope again reigned upon his return the following year that finally the real Derrick Rose would return, healthy and unstoppable. Though suffering a few minor health issues, Rose was finally able to stay healthy for most of the season. Rose was still an offensive threat, but was not the same player that had won the MVP in 2011. His points per game dropped, assists per game dropped, and his net rating dropped, though it was still positive. Also contributing to Rose’s decline in prominence was the rise of Jimmy Butler, who had arguably become the Bulls’ alpha-dog in Rose’s absence. The Bulls went on to give the Cavaliers, led by nemesis LeBron James, a scare in the postseason, but ultimately succumbed in six games to the eventual Eastern Conference Champions.
After that year with the Chicago Bulls, both the franchise and Rose began to decline. Tom Thibodeau was fired after increasing tension with Bulls management and Fred Hoiberg was brought into coach the team. The Bulls missed the playoffs, Rose continued his decline as he had a negative net rating during a full season for the first time since his second year in the NBA (Rose’s defensive rating has steadily gotten worse ever since his injuries). Rose was then traded to the New York Knicks, where he remained an offensive threat, but remained a defensive liability and the team struggled while missing the playoffs. Rose then signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he was relegated to the backup point guard role and his playing time was greatly reduced. The Cavaliers eventually traded him to the Utah Jazz to create room for George Hill, where he was eventually released.
Now, after recapping the sad story of Derrick Rose, that brings us to today, where the Timberwolves have lost three straight games and are matched up with current playoff opponents for their next five. Many fans have been less than excited about this signing because when they think of Derrick Rose, they see the player who is only a shell of the player he once was. That’s not to say that Rose cannot help the Timberwolves or even serve in a mentoring role for younger players. However, it is because of one of those younger players that fans are upset about this signing: Tyus Jones. Unless the Timberwolves just signed up for the 2011 version of Rose to play with Jeff Teague, most fans would prefer the production of Jones.
When compared this season, Rose scores slightly more, but on a team that is already third in offensive rating and regularly scores over 100 points per game, that is not as valuable as improving their defense. The Timberwolves currently sit at 24th in the NBA in defensive rating, though they are sixth in overall net rating due to their immense offensive capabilities. When taking those needs into consideration, the Timberwolves need players who can help them on the defensive end of the court, which Jones does better than Rose. Jones’ defensive rating is almost ten points lower than Rose this season and even last year when Rose played consistently, Jones’ defensive rating was superior. His overall net rating is also ten points higher than Rose’s, which inclines most fans to prefer the defensive abilities and future potential of Tyus Jones over the fantasies of a return to 2011 that disillusioned Bulls fans for years.
It could be assumed that a defensive coach like Tom Thibodeau would prioritize defensive capability, but Thibodeau also has a history of playing veterans over younger players (see Jimmy Butler). The capacity in which Rose could truly help this team is limited to serving as a mentor for younger players and as an emergency point guard, but fans get a bad feeling that soon, Derrick Rose will be taking Tyus Jones’ minutes. The roster as it is currently constructed, with a healthy Jimmy Butler, was competing for the third seed in the Western Conference, so any major shakeup in personnel is not necessary. With Tyus Jones being the superior player and the Rose’s severe decline, the only plausible explanation is nostalgia and sentiment on the part of Tom Thibodeau that led him to hope for the days of the pre-injury Derrick Rose instead of the reality of the current Tyus Jones. Timberwolves can only hope that Rose is truly a mentor instead of Jones’ replacement, because without their best defensive player in Jimmy Butler, the Wolves need any help they can get on that end of the floor, not Derrick Rose and the unwarranted hope that Chicago Bulls fans have already suffered through for years.