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Derrick Rose: I'm Back

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

And I'm not talking about from another knee injury. Or an ankle twist, hip strain, broken face or any of the myriad of injuries he's suffered over his career. No, Rose is back to playing all-star caliber basketball for the first time in three years.

Since Christmas, the Windy City Assassin is averaging 19.3/3.7/4.5 on 47% shooting from the field. More impressive than the raw numbers he's posting, is how he's adjusted his game since tearing his ACL in the 2012 playoffs.

Derrick's career can be split into two definitive categories: pre-injury and post-injury. The hyper explosive MVP winner that attacked the rim with reckless abandon is gone, lost during that 2012 series against the then respectable Sixers.

Before this season, Rose has had little time to show the world that he can reclaim some of his old magic, as he sat out the entirety of the 2012-13 season and only saw the court for 60 games in the next two seasons combined.

Even in the time, he was on the hardwood, Rose hardly looked himself. Hell, he hardly looked serviceable. His three-point attempts sky-rocketed (over 5 a game from 2013-15, compared to a career average of just 2.9) and he showed a reluctance to get to the rim. Both his free-throws and free-throw rate plummeted, and his shooting percentages suffered as a result.

Nagging injuries are obvious scapegoats here — Rose suffered through multiple MCL sprains, tweaked hamstrings, and double vision that was a side effect of an orbital fracture sustained this pre-season. The result was a tentative Rose that seemed to be constantly overthinking whenever he touched the ball.

"Nothing Can Stop Me Now"

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Enter the 2015-16 season, where Rose has enjoyed the healthiest stretch of his career since the lockout season. He's played in 53 of Chicago's 63 games, with some of those DNP's coming as a result of rest rather than injury. Electing to play through a double vision to start the season has deflated his season stats some (he's scoring a paltry 16.7 points on .426% shooting), but he's come on after regaining his comfortability with the game.

Before his mid-season renaissance, Derrick was the picture of uncertainty on the court. His shot was putrid (37% from the floor, 22% from deep) and he couldn't seem to finish anything around the rim. The double vision was making it impossible to track the rim shooting off the dribble, and he was continuing to shy away from contact around the rim.

How'd he turn this around? It begins with this seemingly innocuous stat: Derrick Rose leads the league in made bank shots, converting at an absurd 64%. In order to combat the double vision, Rose began aiming for glass on most of his jumpers, especially from the left side of the floor.

He's not taking very many three-pointers this year, but the improved accuracy from deep and a reliable midrange banker has opened up the floor for him.

Seeing the first glimpse of the open court in years has allowed Rose to play his game — he can finally shoot when his defender ducks under a screen, and has gone back to converting at the rim when his defender plays him close.

This transition in his game marks the first time Rose is truly accepting his new weaknesses and embracing a new way to play the game. He can no longer explode off his left leg, something Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg attests to.

He can't finish through contact quite the way he used to, and is drawing less foul shots as a result. In years past this meant we'd see Rose forcing the issue, trying to play through his weaknesses rather than around it. But now? The left side bankers, the hard drives to the right side of the floor, the fewer but more accurate threes — everything points to a man who's finally rediscovered the limits of his body.

It's time to start giving Derrick Rose the credit he deserves yet again. Not because he had his longest streak shooting over 50% in his career this year. Not because he's back to dropping 30 on the Cavaliers.

It's because he's found a new way to do so. It's because he's finally back.

By Carmine DiCuozzo, Featured Columnist