Monday, April 30, 2012



Today is the worst day in Chicago sports history.

Not because the Bulls lost their best player and reigning MVP for the remainder of the playoffs (and a good chunk of 2013). Not because we've likely squandered the best Bulls team since '98. And not just because I happen to have a man-crush on Derrick Rose. 

Chicago just lost their prodigal son - a once in a lifetime talent, born and raised in Chicago, a gift from the lottery gods who embodies everything good about Chicago: the  blue collar work ethic, gangster toughness, and an absolute refusal to back down from anything or anyone (I assume he also likes Polish sausage and deep dish pizza). He also happens to be one of the most breathtakingly explosive guards I've ever seen.

And it's the explosive nature of his game that makes this post sound like an obituary: he's not just "hurt" and not just missing this particular playoff run. The DRose we've marveled at since high school is in all likelihood truly gone.

Rose's game is essentially a giant decision tree that begins with his explosiveness. He can beat you off the dribble and finish at the rim. That's the talent that sets him apart. All of the other parts of his game are derivative from that one ability - defenders play off him, so he built up a solid 3-point shot; he gets double-teamed when he drives the lane, so we brought in perimeter shooters who can hit open 3's; teams clog the lane against him so he perfected the high-floating teardrop shot (that has a ridiculously high degree of difficulty). If you take away his ability to blow by and finish over any defender, his remaining skill set is average, at best. 

A torn ACL is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to an explosive athlete. Sure, lots of players have recovered from ACL tears to have very productive careers (mostly NFL players) but I literally cannot think of a single one who ever regained the same explosiveness they had prior to the injury. There are cerebral players like Tom Brady and Chris Paul, who were able to return from a torn ACL and still play at an elite level. And there are super athletes that returned to either a lesser version of themselves (Terrell Davis, Edgerrin James, Michael Redd, Baron Davis) or a redefined version of themselves (Tim Hardaway, Jamal Crawford, Ron Harper). I don't think players can dramatically shift between being primarily cerebral and primarily athletic (although players certainly evolve, like MJ towards the end of his career and there are a lot of players who blend across both ends of this spectrum).

For the cerebral players, it's much easier to return to pre-injury form. These are guys who have always relied on their quick-thinking and understanding of the game to play at an elite level, not their athleticism. (Especially Brady.)  The ACL shouldn't have such a dramatic impact on their pre-injury style of play. This is why I wouldn't shed any tears for Ricky Rubio (who tore his ACL last month) - he's a cerebral player who's gift is incredible court vision and pinpoint passing. The ACL will slow him down but won't negate his talent

Unfortunately, there isn't much precedent for the super-athlete type of player to return from a torn ACL and play at an elite level. The history books are littered with examples and there is research supporting the statement.

Rose sadly falls almost entirely into the super-athlete category. Maybe he'll change his game and become a different type of player - a deadly shooter with a great mid-range game. Maybe he can even be an All-Star by playing the same style game at 80% of his pre-injury ability (he was that freaking good). Obviously, both of these options depress the hell out of me.

If there is a bright side, it may lie in how the latest crop of stud athletes (Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles) recover from their newly torn ACL's. Medicine has advanced a bit and both of these guys are known hard-workers and will dedicate themselves to the rehab (like I'm sure Rose will). Charles in particular, as a gifted speedster (super-athlete category) who's had a full season and off-season to recover since he blew out his knee in the first game of last season. If he can return to his former blazing self on the field, then perhaps there is hope for Rose.

As it stands, I tend to stick to my inner skeptic: I think Rose's career trajectory just got dramatically altered. We will get him back next season, but it won't be the same Rose. He won't be blowing by people and dunking on 7-foot centers. The basketball fan in my mourns the 5-6 years of lost highlights (he's only 23!) and the Bulls fan in me feels like Ron Burgundy stuck in a phone booth. This is isn't helping either.


Thursday, April 5, 2012