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Derrick Rose Is (Almost) Playing Like His Old Self Again

Going into this season, one of the biggest question marks for any NBA team was what the Chicago Bulls would get out of Derrick Rose. When Rose was healthy three seasons ago, he was one of the best players in basketball — and Chicago had the league’s best record. But in 10 games last season — his first action back after a torn ACL cost him all of the 2012-13 season — Rose was abysmal before tearing the meniscus in his other knee and missing the remainder of the season. He also struggled at the FIBA World Cup this past summer, giving rise to very real worries that Rose would never be able to reclaim his pre-injury MVP form.

Fast-forward to Monday night, when Rose scored 24 points with seven assists in Chicago’s 102-91 win over the Detroit Pistons. It’s early in the season — Chicago is eight games into its schedule, of which Rose has only played half because of sprained ankles — but Rose’s numbers thus far suggest he’s getting close to his old level of effectiveness. And at the very least, he’s playing much better than he did a season ago.

Rose’s performance was a mess last season. He had no trouble getting his own shot (his usage rate was 31.5 percent), but he was horribly inefficient when he did, posting a .446 true shooting percentage (the NBA average was .541). He struggled to get to the line, didn’t finish well within 10 feet of the basket and missed more than his fair share of long mid-range jump shots. He also turned the ball over on 16 percent of his plays (up from 13 percent during his great 2011 and 2012 seasons), assisted teammates at a career-low rate and was notably inactive on defense, where real plus/minus rated him worse than an average NBA player by almost a full point per 100 possessions.

How bad was Rose in those 10 games a year ago? Statistical plus/minus estimates that a player posting the aforementioned numbers would cost his team about 3.8 points per 100 possessions relative to the NBA average. Research shows that the replacement level for NBA players is about two points per 100 possessions below average, so — albeit in a small sample — Rose played worse than the level at which a player should be jettisoned from an NBA roster.

This season, he’s still consuming about 31 percent of Chicago’s plays when on the floor, but he’s put those opportunities to much better use, with a true shooting percentage of .566 (a rate even better than his .545 mark in 2011 and 2012). Rose’s free throw rate is surpassing its pre-injury levels, he’s finishing much better around the basket, and his assist rate (38 percent) is back where it was before his long hiatus. He’s even picking up steals at a career-high rate, and his pick-and-roll defense has been better, per Synergy Sports data.

The only areas where Rose’s game has resembled its poor 2013-14 form have been turnovers — he’s still giving the ball away on 16 percent of plays — and mid-range shooting. But after the injury-riddled, awful pair of seasons preceding 2014-15, it’s highly encouraging to see Rose perform at a level comparable to his terrific 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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