The Return of Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls' Championship Chances

Can the Bulls contend for the title now that Rose is back in the lineup?

After yet another knee surgery, this time to repair a torn meniscus, Derrick Rose is back in the lineup after missing the past six weeks. Rose’s return came with just five games left in the season, leaving him perhaps just enough time to regain his rhythm before the playoffs.

The Bulls posted a 10-10 record in his absence, and although they’ve been able to stay afloat in the East, their chances of knocking off the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, or Toronto Raptors (all teams with a higher overall nERD score and championship percentage), have seemed slim.

However, with All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, an emerging Nikola Mirotic and a now “healthy” Rose for the stretch run, do the Bulls have enough to win a championship?

The Rose Effect

Rose has missed a total of 31 games this season, and when he has played, he hasn’t been nearly effective as Bulls fans are used to.

Rose has an individual nERD score of -4.4. nERD is our in-house metric that determines how many wins or losses an average team would be above .500 with a given player as a starter. Essentially, Rose’s score indicates the Bulls would be about four games below .500 if the rest of the lineup was “replacement-level.”

Excluding 2013-2014, when Rose played only 10 games, Rose’s stat line from this year (specifically efficiency wise) has been one of his worst. Excluding 2013-2014, his PER of 16.0, his true shooting percentage of 49.4, his Win Shares per 48 minutes of 0.040, and his Offensive Rating of 98 are all the lowest of his career.

In addition, although his three-point attempt rate of .324 is the highest of his career (he’s shooting 5.4 three-pointers per game this season), he’s only converting on them at a dismal clip of 27.9 percent.

In some circles, it seems that the presence of Rose in the Bulls lineup is the difference in whether or not the Bulls are legitimate contenders. However, the numbers show that Rose has a minimal effect on the Bulls, both offensively and defensively. Here are the Offensive and Defensive Rating splits with Rose on and off the court this season as well as the winning percentage from games he either played in or missed.

With RoseWithout Rose
Offensive Rating107.9107.1
Defensive Rating103.9104.9
Winning Percentage63.23%54.84%

Across the board, the Bulls don’t have much drop off in efficiency, on-either side of the ball. However, one place where Rose’s presence in the lineup matters: wins and losses.

Without Rose, the Bulls are just better than a .500 team, posting a record of 17-14 in his absence. With Rose, the Bulls are 31-18. Additionally, when the Bulls have all five of their starters healthy (Rose, Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Gasol, and Joakim Noah, the Bulls have won 80 percent of their games this year.

Rose doesn’t seem to have much impact on the Bulls in the efficiency department, but the Bulls simply win more games when he’s in the lineup. And come playoff time? That’s kind of important. So, while Rose won’t be the savior that some expect (just take a look at his nERD score), he may just be enough of a factor to give the Bulls the boost they need.

The X-Factor

This year, the Bulls are 10th in Offensive Rating (107.6), 12th in Defensive Rating (104.7), and have the 11th highest overall nERD rating (57.2). So, essentially the numbers show that the Bulls have been a top 12 team across the board this year. To contend for a championship, however, the Bulls will need a spark of some sort. Enter rookie Nikola Mirotic.

While Derrick Rose’s return will be the most talked about story during the Bulls playoff run, the real key may be the rise of rookie Nikola Mirotic. In the month of March, for which Rose was completely absent, Mirotic’s production skyrocketed. Mirotic averaged 20.8 points per game and 7.6 rebounds during the month, while maintaining the highest PER of any rookie since the All-Star break.

While Rose has been out, Mirotic has shouldered a huge load for the Bulls.

Mirotic had been performing at an elite rate early in the season, but after finally being given extended minutes, Mirotic has flourished for the Bulls. In addition to his raw totals, Mirotic has maintained a true shooting percentage of 55.1 and an excellent individual Offensive Rating of 110.

Mirotic currently has a nERD score of 4.3, the highest of any rookie in the league, and a score high enough to rank him 38th amongst all players in the NBA. If Mirotic can continue his efficient production throughout the playoffs, the Bulls may have enough firepower to make a run at the championship, especially with Rose back in the lineup.

With teammates Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler -- who boast nERD scores in the top 15 in the league -- and a player like Mirotic who has been a nightmare for defenses with his blend of size and playmaking, Rose doesn’t have to do nearly as much as he once did. While Rose’s return won’t have the effect that some may expect, his health, supplemented by his surrounding cast will give the Bulls a chance to win the championship this year. According to our algorithms, the Bulls now have a 3.8 percent chance to win the title, seventh-best in the NBA.