Super Bowl Sunday was full of excitement, but it wasn’t contained to the gridiron. On a traditionally slow NBA day, we received word before the big game that Derrick Rose was headed back to New York, as the Detroit Pistons exchanged him for Dennis Smith Jr. and the Charlotte Hornets’ 2021 second round pick.
This trade has elicited a wide array of emotions, especially among the Knicks’ fan base; while it would seem a small win for a struggling Pistons team, New York’s situation is a bit murky. For a rebuilding Knicks squad, what good can Rose bring to Madison Square Garden? What could go wrong?
To start on a positive note, Rose has played well this season, posting 14.2 points and 4.2 assists per game. He’s also shot a career-best 33.3 percent from beyond the arc — it’s not great, but the Knicks will take what they can get on the perimeter at this point. Once he’s had time to settle in, Rose should easily prove the superior, more dependable option to Elfrid Payton in the starting lineup. Even if they decide to keep him on the bench, Rose should give New York’s league-worst offense (102.7 points per game) a nice boost.
In addition to what Rose should add on the court, he could quickly prove a strong mentor to rookie Immanuel Quickley, as well. Before the trade, Rose had embraced the role of mentor to Killian Hayes, the Pistons’ top pick back in November. “It’s been a while since I had somebody like this [learning] under me,” Rose told the media in December. “The last time was Marquis Teague. I’m excited to see how hard [Hayes] works and the engine and motor he has.”
While he may no longer be the explosive force he was in his early years, Rose is still crafty enough to teach Quickley a thing or two.
Adding a battle-tested Rose to a young Knicks locker room should also be viewed as a win; his presence might not show immediate results, but the energy and commitment Rose can bring should help the team mature quite a bit. On top of that, a potential postseason trip could prove invaluable for their individual growth — if Rose is enough to keep the currently eighth-seeded Knicks in the playoff picture, he would be a slam dunk acquisition given the team gave up almost nothing in regards to future assets to get the deal done.
That would seem to be where the positives end, however.
The first and, arguably, most important question in regards to the Rose addition is whose minutes will he take? A known commodity and favorite of head coach Tom Thibodeau, Rose is likely to earn significant playing time immediately, whether as a starter or off the bench. But who would lose out?
Unfortunately for Knicks fans, the answer isn’t great. Thibodeau is known to lean on his veterans and, while he may already be the superior player to Payton, Quickley is likely to be the most affected by the time crunch. R.J. Barrett, who is second in the league in minutes played — second to teammate Julius Randle, no less — is unlikely to see a significant dip. Likewise, Thibodeau’s aforementioned affinity for his veteran guys should leave Reggie Bullock and Alec Burks firmly in their current respective roles.
Is it the right decision in what is likely postseason-less year for the Knicks? Probably not. But the deal is done and there’s no going back now. How a reduced role might affect his development should be something both the team and fans alike watch closely going forward. Of course, the Rose addition could signal another move is in the works, as at least one postseason contender has shown interest in Payton, per Ian Begley of SNY.tv. A Payton trade might make any potential minutes concerns go away, but moving Payton may be harder than expected if his value continues to dip.
Likewise, how could Rose, a ball-dominant, score-first guard, affect Randle, who has flourished with nearly the highest usage rate (27.4 percent) of his career?
Beyond that, Rose’s defense certainly won’t help New York this season. Per NBA.com, the Knicks have posted the league’s sixth-best defensive rating (108.1 points per 100 possessions) and allowed the fewest points per game (104.1), so they should be able to cover for some of his deficiencies. But, if the team is still competing for a playoff spot come season’s end, Rose might do the Knicks more harm than good as the opposition would look to exploit him on the defensive end time and time again.
Adding Rose, only to bury Quickley on the depth chart would certainly be a head-scratcher, as would bringing in a veteran like Rose only to bottom out in the season’s second half and miss the postseason. That said, there is plenty of time between now and the March 25 trade deadline for the team to make further moves; if they can keep Quickley on the court and push for the postseason, the experience he and the rest of the Knicks group could earn would make the Rose acquisition more than worth it.
Leon Rose hasn’t been the team’s president for long, but he’s made a number of strong moves. It may not prove his greatest move in the end — and there’s plenty of ways it could blow up on him between now and then — but this deal and the other potential factors surrounding it deserve a chance to play out before being heavily scrutinized. Likewise, Rose should be given the chance to show he can make a positive impact on this team without handicapping its future.
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