Derrick Rose set for fantasy breakout
Will Derrick Rose ever become a top-10 fantasy point guard?
Derrick Rose presents us with one of those disconcerting cases in which a player's fantasy value doesn't quite match up to his real-life value. To say it in another way, the list of players you would trade Rose for in your fantasy league is a whole lot longer than the list of players for whom the Bulls would trade Rose.
So, our first question has to be this: What makes Rose less valuable in fantasy than he is in actual basketball games?
His defense is the first thing that stands out, because it doesn't make a whole lot of sense that a point guard with Rose's athletic ability is averaging only 0.75 steals per game through the first 159 games of his young career. Point guards who don't provide you with steals put you in a real statistical hole right off the bat; if you're starting Rose at the point, you have to account for that as you assemble the rest of your roster.
Rose's other major weakness is his 3-point shooting. Basically, he has no interest in shooting 3s, and since he's pretty much unstoppable when he drives, there's little incentive for him to get better.
My top 10 fantasy point guards for this upcoming season are Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Monta Ellis, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook. Look at that list, and you'll notice that every one of them is elite either in steals or 3s except for Collison and Westbrook (although each player had a not-to-shabby 1.4 steals per game as a starter last season).
Among the other point guards hovering around the top 10 (Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Devin Harris, Raymond Felton, Baron Davis, etc.), the trend stays the same. You need to be good at either racking up steals or knocking down 3s. Ideally, you are good at both.
And yet, Rose managed to hang with these guys in last season's rankings, finishing 13th among point guards on the Player Rater. So what does Rose have that the rest of these guys don't?
For one thing, Rose's relentlessness in attacking the basket does two things: First, it makes him an elite scorer (only Ellis scored more among point-guard-eligible players last season). Just as importantly, Rose combines his scoring with a high field goal percentage for a point guard (49 percent last season; only Nash and Rondo were better among point guards).
It's easy to forget, but Rose played hurt for much of the beginning of last season. As John Hollinger points out in Rose's profile, if you take his numbers from Jan. 1 through the rest of the season, Rose averaged 22.5 points per game on 53.5 percent shooting. Forget about the lack of steals and 3s; those numbers alone during the course of a full season would likely be enough to bump Rose into the top-10 fantasy point guards.
Beyond that, this season Rose will be playing for a new coach, Tom Thibodeau, who is widely regarded as an expert on the defensive side of the ball. During Thibodeau's tenure running the defense in Boston, Rondo ended up leading the league in steals last season. Thibodeau's defense forced more turnovers than any team in the league besides the Warriors, and while that obviously has a lot to do with the personnel, I'd be pretty surprised if Rose doesn't at least make strides toward improving his relevance in the steals department.
Rose has a lot less buzz heading into this season than, for example, Tyreke Evans, but it's worth noting that -- as great as Tyreke's rookie season was -- Rose was the better fantasy player last season, and he's about a year older. Both players have room for improvement, but in our initial ESPN mock draft, Rose went 41 picks after Evans. On average, Rose seems to be going about a round after Evans in most drafts, and since I think Rose is the better player both in real life and in fantasy, that makes him a great value heading into this season.
The bottom line is that Rose is only 22 years old and is possibly the most talented point guard in the league. All he needs to do in order to be a top-10 point guard is to bump his steals up to one per game and merely duplicate the numbers he put up when he was healthy last season. If he's not in the top 10 by the end of this season, he'll get there by the end of the next one, and if he's not a better fantasy point guard than Tyreke Evans this season, you can count me among the surprised.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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