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August 23, 2011
Taking the Next Step
Derrick Rose

by Kevin Pelton

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Derrick Rose would never say it and probably would never even think it, but his MVP 2010-11 campaign was a direct assault on critics of his game in his first two NBA seasons. Rose worked hard to address his weaknesses. Not a good enough outside shooter? He went from 16 three-pointers to 128. Doesn't draw enough contact in the paint? Rose attempted nearly as many free throws as in his first two seasons combined. Weak defensively? He helped the Chicago Bulls lead the league in defensive rating and finished fifth among guards in NBA All-Defensive Team voting.

So what should we expect for an encore? Despite Rose's youth and growth so far, it might be wise to temper expectations.

The improvement we saw from Rose in 2010-11 was relatively uncommon. Among players who started out average or better and played at least 1,000 minutes both seasons, his .176 jump in Basketball Prospectus' per-minute win percentage rating was the fourth largest in the past 30 years. As you might expect, players who were already effective and got so much better have tended to emerge as superstars, so two of the three names ahead of Rose on the list are quite familiar: LeBron James (in his second NBA season) and Dwyane Wade (in 2008-09, when he bounced back to superstar status after two injury-plagued seasons).

Player              Year    Age    Imp    Y0     Y1     Y2
-----------------------------------------------------------
LeBron James        2005   20.3   .214   .536   .750   .741
Dwyane Wade         2009   27.3   .188   .603   .792   .761
Darrell Armstrong   1999   30.8   .188   .544   .732   .661
Derrick Rose        2011   22.5   .176   .503   .679     -
Dirk Nowitzki       2001   22.8   .158   .529   .687   .699
Kevin Durant        2010   21.6   .137   .551   .688   .637
Chris Paul          2008   23.0   .136   .666   .803   .825
Clyde Drexler       1985   22.8   .136   .513   .649   .668
Robert Parish       1981   27.6   .135   .624   .758   .699
Terrell Brandon     1996   25.9   .134   .605   .739   .666

What's most interesting about this group is that the players regressed the season after making their big jump.

On average, these players went from a .575 win percentage the season before their breakout to .733 in their leap forward but went back to .706 the next season. In part, that's because the big season was a bit of a fluke for some of the veterans in the group. Even taking them out and focusing on the players 23 and younger, though, their win percentage did not budge the season after they made the leap, going from an average of .715 to .714.

There's an old Bill James term in baseball called the "plexiglass principle" that refers to the tendency of teams that make a huge improvement from one season to the next to come back a bit the next season. There seems to be an element of that, which is an example of the statistical concept of regression to the mean, at play here. For a player to get so much better from one season to the next often means that everything went right for him, and the next season is unlikely to be quite as pain-free.

Durant is one example of what can happen. After his breakthrough 2009-10, he opened last season as the summer favorite to win MVP. Instead, Durant's performance slid a little, and although he was still one of the league's better players, he fell short of sky-high expectations and was never part of the MVP discussion. How can Rose avoid a similar fate and continue to go forward in his development? Here are a few key areas.

Improved midrange shooting

Although Rose was a much better three-point shooter last season, the improvement didn't carry over when he took a step inside the line. Rose shot 38.0 percent on long two-pointers, defined by Hoopdata.com as coming from 16-23 feet, down from 43.0 percent and 44.0 percent his first two seasons in the NBA. Sebastian Pruiti explored this contradiction for Prospectus this past December and found that Rose had a tendency to shoot floaters or runners when he got slightly closer to the basket instead of using the rebuilt jump shot that helped him from long range. Becoming more consistent with his form on long two-pointers would be the best use of Rose's time in the offseason.

Don't fall in love with the jumper

If there was a downside to Rose's improvement as an outside shooter last season, it was that occasionally he had a tendency to launch too many three-pointers. This was most evident in the postseason, when better than one in four shots he attempted was from beyond the arc despite the fact that he made them at just a 24.8 percent clip. Any criticism should be tempered by the knowledge that there were only so many times Rose can throw himself into the paint and draw contact, especially when he was banged up early in the postseason.

Still, Rose isn't yet accurate enough as a three-point shooter to attempt so many. More options for the Chicago offense late in the shot clock would help here by creating fewer instances when Rose has little choice but to jack up a triple with time winding down.

Playmaking in the paint

Rose's development as a passer got relatively little notice last season. He improved his assist rate from 7.4 assists per 100 possessions to 9.5, which was good for 15th in the NBA. Rose will never be a pass-first point guard, and he shouldn't do anything to take away from his effectiveness as a scorer. Still, when Rose does look to pass, he can do a better job of setting up teammates for easy scores.

Using Hoopdata.com's numbers, 35.1 percent of his assists set up scores at the rim, which is relatively low for a top distributor. Among the league's top 10 players in assists per game, that ranked eighth. A relatively high percentage of Rose's assists came on three-point shots, which isn't ideal given Chicago was only average from beyond the arc. Teammates do want to keep the paint clear for Rose's drives, but there should be opportunities for him to find big men Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah cutting to the basket.

Regardless of what happens next season, becoming the youngest player ever to win MVP put Rose on the fast track to superstardom. That path might not be quite as smooth as last season made it appear, but Rose's future is extraordinarily bright. Based on the development of similar players at the same age, his three-year projected wins above replacement total ranks fourth in the league, trailing Dwight Howard, James and Durant. Rose belongs in that group as one of the four best players to build a team around going forward.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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