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What Ben Gordon's Departure Means for Derrick Rose

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

With Ben Gordon departing Chicago for Detroit, the Bulls woke up to find a gaping hole in their backcourt alongside their reigning Rookie of the Year point guard, Derrick Rose. Not only has Rose lost his most prolific scorer, but the Bulls' second-year guard will be directly responsible for picking up much of that lost production.

Gordon was a flawed shooting guard for the Bulls, and there were moments in Chicago when his bad habits overshadowed his offensive gifts. Whichever side you take in the Gordon debate, his absence from the Bulls' lineup next season will have a tremendous effect on Rose. For better and worse, Gordon was Rose's primary option last season.

Is Derrick Rose relieved that his ballchucker-in-arms is packing his bags for Auburn Hills, or will he miss that security blanket? The answer, if you had to guess, is probably a little bit of both. The more important question lies in whether Rose has the readiness to become a 25 and 10 force. The Bulls have an anemic post presence, and their wings -- from Salmons and Hinrich, to the recovering Luol Deng -- all bring big question marks into the season.

Rose will have to be the man in Chicago if the Bulls want to sustain the momentum they built in their classic first round playoff series with Boston last spring. The Bulls don't need a point guard who will facilitate their offense. They need an alpha dog who will commandeer the team. In Gordon's absence, can Rose be that guy? Can he will the Bulls to victories the way Chris Paul put his imprint on the Hornets?

Although it's still uncertain how the Bulls plan to fill the vacuum at the two-guard, let's look at how Rose was able to use Gordon to better himself and his team, and how that might affect Rose's ability to become the focal point of the offense:

  • Ben Gordon: More efficient than you think, given the volume of shots he launched on a nightly basis. As a 41% shooter from beyond the arc in 2008-09, Gordon was a classic floor-spacer for the Bulls. Since smart opponents were loath to leave Gordon on the perimeter to help, this allowed the rookie to attack the defense, which is the most potent feature of Rose's game. With a less lethal shooting guard on the weak side, Rose might find defensive help and double-teams heading his way early and often next season.

  • Rose is a natural penetrator. His drives-and-kick often resulted in a pass-out to Gordon once the defense collapsed, particularly in end-of-shot-clock situations. The luxury of having Gordon on the perimeter -- ready and eager to shoot -- took a lot of pressure of Rose, who didn't have to be the guy in every series. On a team with very little help up front offensively, Gordon was indispensable.

Those are specific contexts where Rose will miss Gordon, and where the Bulls' young point guard might find himself more constricted in the offense. That said, Gordon posed some problems for Rose as his counterpart in the backcourt:

  • Although Gordon was a dynamic one-on-one player for the Bulls, he rarely created opportunities for anyone else on the court. That left virtually all of the playmaking duties to Rose. If ever there's a young point guard who could handle that burden, it's Rose, but Gordon's tunnel vision made life more difficult than it needed to be for the rookie. Rose has the potential to be a very good off-the-ball player. Unfortunately, Gordon's tendencies didn't allow those skills to flourish for Rose. A shooting guard with a greater capacity to facilitate will help Rose develop that part of his game.

  • Gordon, to put it kindly, was a below-average defender at the two for Chicago. And Rose, though his defense will almost certain improve with age, was no great shakes on the other side of the ball either. Some of Gordon's deficiencies can be chalked up to inattentiveness, but he's also quite small for a shooting guard. Either way, Vinny Del Negro didn't have the comfort to cross-match his smalls, which meant that Rose spent almost all of his time guarding the ball. A more capable defender at the two would afford Rose a breather on defense.

With little room to maneuver financially, it's increasingly likely that the Bulls will begin the season with a three-guard rotation composed of Rose, John Salmons, and Kirk Hinrich. As backcourt platoons go, it's not a bad group, though neither Salmons nor Hinrich has the firepower to compensate for the loss of Gordon. But here's what they can offer Rose:

  • Salmons is more of a natural small forward, but could very well land as the Bulls' opening night starter at the shooting guard. He's not the one-on-one player Gordon was by any stretch, but he shot a respectable 41.7% from 3-point range last season (better than Gordon), and is a far superior defender on the wing. The downside for Rose will be that, regardless of what the number say, defenses will be far more likely to move off Salmons to collapse on Rose.

  • Back in January, TrueHoop examined how Rose and Hinrich play together as a backcourt tandem. There's real value in having two guards on opposite sides of the court who can both handle the ball and initiate the action. In addition, Hinrich is a pesky defender who can spell Rose defensively at the one. It won't always be a viable option -- don't expect Rose to draw Dwyane Wade or Vince Carter -- but Hinrich gives Del Negro a lot more defensive flexibility. On the downside, Hinrich is a below-average offensive player who, at times, has trouble breaking down a defense, and gets to the line about once every election cycle. While his presence allows Rose to work off-the-ball, that doesn't mean Hinrich can always capitalize on that scheme.

Rose's rookie campaign showed a lot of promise, but also demonstrated that he has a way to go. Statistically, there are some encouraging signs (a field goal percentage of 47.5 percent, and a low turnover rate for a rookie point guard), as well as some red flags (only 3.1 free throw attempts in 37 minutes per game, and no 3-point range to speak of). In contrast, Paul got to the line twice as much as a rookie and was a more aggressive rebounder and far better defender.

Rose stands to improve his numbers -- that's usually what happens with a talent as impressive as Rose. But here's the rub heading into his second year: It's going to be much more challenging without Gordon. With no knockdown perimeter threat beside him and nobody else on his squad who demands a double-team, Rose's path to the rim will be clogged with more traffic. Given the composition of his team, Rose might not improve much upon his 57.7 field goal percentage in the immediate basket area. He's also more likely to be bothered in the backcourt more persistently by opposing guards, and trapped uniformally on the pick-and-roll.

Rose is a transcendent talent with incredible court vision and sharp instincts. He can improvise with precision -- a rare gift. But even a magician needs props, and Rose lost his best aide in Gordon. It's possible Rose could endure a very rough sophomore campaign with the Bulls. If he does, it might say a lot more about his tea
m's roster than it does any lack of resolve on Rose's part.