Back in ye olden days of 2011 and 2012, Derrick Rose was a foul-drawing machine. After averaging just 3.7 attempts per game during his first two years, Rose jacked that number up to 6.9 in 2010-11 and 6.1 the next season. Not coincidentally, Rose’s scoring average took off, he won an MVP and the Bulls finished two straight seasons as the league’s No. 1 regular season team. It was pretty chill.
But then Rose’s knee exploded, he took a year off to find himself and he’s returned to the court, where he’s averaging just 3.3 free throws per game. That’s quite the drop-off and it’s a huge part of the reason Rose is currently averaging a career-low 14.3 points per game, though the 28.8 percent shooting from the field might have something to do with that too.
Nonetheless, the free throw rate decrease is troubling. Luckily, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau knows what is happening. From the Chicago Sun-Times:
‘‘Next question,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said before weighing in. ‘‘I’ll say this: I don’t know of anyone who drives as hard as he does. Nor as fast as he does. And I think sometimes he’s penalized for being a nice guy. I’ll leave it at that.’’
Well, that is certainly one interpretation. Derrick Rose does seem exceedingly nice, so maybe referees think that no one would want to foul him. Or maybe it’s just that the officials know that he’s so nice that he won’t complain if he doesn’t get a call. Either way, I see the logic, though it’s pretty easy to shoot holes in this theory since Kevin Durant — who is so nice that Nike made a campaign trying to convince people he wasn’t — is leading the league with an astronomical 14.0 free throw attempts per game. Turns out you can get foul calls when you’re courteous.
Personally, I think the reasons Rose is drawing fewer foul calls this season are that he’s taking a greater proportion of threes than in any other year of his career, he’s turning the ball over all the time and he is VERY squiggly around the rim. The first one is easy to see, as his three-point attempt rate (the percentage of his attempts that are threes) is the highest it’s ever been in his career. The second is pretty self-explanatory too, as Rose is leading the NBA in turnovers per game and rocking the highest turnover rate he’s ever had in his career. Between being farther from the basket and losing the ball a bunch, these two things make sense to me.
As for the third, it’s more of a feel thing that you get from watching his twisty-turny finishes at the rim. Yeah, they always look awesome, and I have a feeling he would win a league-wide fancy layup contest, but being able to duck out of the way and still make shots means he might get fouled less. In fact, this is something we’ve been over before, long ago. And it’s even something Rose admitted to adjusting to during his MVP year. From the AP in 2011, back when he was Mr. Foul Shots:
The All-Star point guard credited a little film study for his abundance of free throws. Rose said he noticed recently he needed to take another dribble on his drives so he could get deeper into the lane and draw more fouls.
“Usually I just try to take off and avoid the contact or take off, and they block my shot or something,” he said. “Just making sure I take my time in the hole and go up to their body first.”
I’m not smart enough to know if Rose has or hasn’t been intentionally taking the extra dribble or finding a body to hit before worrying about getting the shot up, but I do know that this is something that has happened before, which means I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing is happening again, especially coming off a major injury that led to a year-and-a-half off from professional basketball. Because if Rose had to learn how to draw fouls, which he did, it kind of makes sense that he’d have to re-learn it. And it makes even more sense that smashing in to opponents wouldn’t be tops on his list while trying to figure out how to be a superstar again.
Then again, maybe it’s just the nice guy thing. I mean, there’s a Green Day song about it, so it must be true.