Derrick Rose currently has a real chance of becoming the first NBA MVP to not make the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. 

And that would be a damn shame.

If Hall of Fames were what, frankly, they should be — museums dedicated to displaying all that mattered in the history of a sport — Rose’s case would be all but cemented, even on the strength of his first four professional seasons, alone. 

When an awkward jump stop ripped the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference first round, Rose already had three All-Star nods, a first-team All-NBA selection, Rookie of the Year award and most valuable player trophy (he remains the youngest in the sport to receive the honor) to his name — and at just the tender age of 23. 

Rose also stands as one of 11 players to amass 5,800 points and 1,900 assists in his first four seasons, one of two (along with Oscar Robertston) to log a season of 2,000 points and 600 assists before age 23, and still ranks fifth on the 22-and-under playoff points leaderboard.

That’s a pantheon-level trajectory. Regardless of the injury dominoes that extinguished his meteoric rise, Rose’s all-time peak and all-time talent should be memorialized. As should his impossible blend of explosion, acrobatic athleticism and cool-headed-verging-on-assasinatory scoring prowess that captivated so many.

 

But the Hall of Fame is, by and large, about credentials. And it’s arguable that the above accolades — which still, in 2020, comprise most of his resume — aren’t enough for him to reach the mountaintop. It’s been more than eight years, after all, since Rose was the player in that highlight package, and his run of pure dominance hardly lasted four.

Age qualifiers aside, here’s how his resume reads in its totality, as of this writing:

  • 12 years: 18.8-5.6-3.4, 45.6% FG, 39.7 win shares
  • 3 All-Stars, 1 All-NBA first team
  • 2010-11 MVP (youngest in history)
  • 2009 Rookie of the Year, 2009 All-Rookie first
  • 3-year peak: 22.7-7.1-3.8, 46% FG, 25.1 win shares
  • Playoffs: 22.7-6.6-1.8, 40.6 mpg (46 G)

That’s a lot to digest, but there are reasons to believe the above provides a base Rose could build a case on. Let’s break it down point by point. 

We know a former MVP not making the Hall would be unprecedented. 

Rookie of the Year awards, conversely, are an unreliable predictor of one’s likelihood of being inducted. Active players and those whose candidacies hang in the air (Chris Webber, Vince Carter, Pau Gasol, Amar’e Stoudemire) aside, just 29 of a possible 53 NBA ROY winners have made the Hall. Six of 10 ABA Rookies of the Year are enshrined. It’s an ornament on Rose’s overall case — significant, but not foundational.

Digging deeper, Rose’s mere three All-Star selections and one All-NBA nod — both indicators of the truncated nature of his prime — put him at a disadvantage. Of 134 Hall of Famers classified as “Players” from the NBA, ABA or BAA that Basketball Reference has data for, just 13 have been inducted with less than four All-Star and two All-NBA selections to their name. And the ones that sneak through usually have a pretty solid reason.

As examples: Frank Ramsey didn’t make an All-Star or All-NBA team, but won seven titles with the Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1964. Bill Bradley made just one All-Star game in his NBA career, but was a three-time All-American and player of the year at Princeton (remember, the Hall takes college into account), as well as a crucial piece to two Knicks title teams in the early 1970s. Drazen Petrovic, Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulonis and Dino Radja don’t meet the above criteria, but all enjoyed decorated international careers before coming stateside. Vlade Divac (the “face of international basketball” when he entered the NBA in 1989) and Charles “Chuck” Cooper (the first African-American player to be drafted by an NBA team) crack the club as pioneers despite being short on conventional accolades.

Derrick Rose made just three All-Star teams and one All-NBA squad, but was the youngest MVP in league history. While that doesn’t necessarily bode well for his chances, the above cases prove that a dearth of All-Star/All-League selections is not an unequivocal disqualifier. The question is: Is his “but” enough? 

To get to the heart of that question, perhaps it would behoove us to compare Rose’s unconventional career path to a comparable subset of player. Rose’s arc is a textbook representation of a “comet,” a term originated by Bill Simmons in his 2010 book, “The Book of Basketball,” to describe “potential Hall of Famers who suffered career-crippling injury” or were otherwise derailed by non-basketball related circumstances.

Take Ralph Sampson, for instance. The towering Houston Rockets center drafted No. 1 overall in 1983 burst onto the scene in the ’80s, averaging 19.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks with four All-Star berths and one All-NBA second team nod in his first four seasons. But knee and back injuries thwarted his rise, the Rockets flipped him to the Warriors midway through the 1987-88 season, his fifth year, and Sampson was out of the league by 1992. In his last four seasons, he played just 122 games, and averaged 4.9 points and 4.4 rebounds.

But in his prime, Sampson boasted a rarer-than-rare mixture of skill and size for his position, a staggering — albeit brief — run of dominance in the league (sound familiar?) and an illustrious college career that featured three consecutive National Player of the Year awards (before you ask, Rose’s lone year at Memphis, which featured a run to the NCAA title game, was vacated in 2009). Sampson has an All-Star MVP trophy to his name, as well. He is today a Hall-of-Famer on the strength of all of the above.

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, another “comet” candidate, is not, but he offers a uniquely tidy comparison to Rose. Look at this side-by-side for each through each of their tenures with the team that drafted them. For Hardaway, that was six seasons with the Orlando Magic. For Rose, it was seven (in eight years) with the Bulls.

  G PPG APG RPG SPG FG% 3P% WS
Penny Hardaway (1994-99) 365 19 6.3 4.7 1.9* 47.2% 31.1% 46.3
Derrick Rose (2008-16) 406 19.7 6.2 3.7 0.8 44.8% 30.2% 31.4

*Top-six in steals per game three times

 

Rose won Rookie of the Year. Hardaway made three All-NBA teams (two firsts, one third). Rose tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie record for points scored in a playoff debut and was the best player for a one-time Eastern Conference finalist. Hardaway helped lead the Magic to the Finals in 1995. Penny’s early-career stats are a touch better in a more competitive era. His two-way impact and playmaking ability were more tangible.

Yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone calling Hardaway a Hall-of-Fame snub. Merely a star that unjustly dimmed too soon. The same can be said for guys like Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and Gilbert Arenas, whose primes also profile statistically similarly to Rose.

Without Olympic medals or a gaudy college career to lean on, what makes Rose different than Hardaway? Forgive a broken record, but the MVP looms large. 

And when Sampson and Penny, among others, fizzled, they fizzled fast, and never recovered. For a spell, it appeared Rose would, too.

But he still has time to flip his script.

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Basketball Reference currently slots Rose’s Hall of Fame odds at 11.93%, sandwiched directly between Al Horford (12.23%) and Bernard King (11.81%), the latter of whom was enshrined in 2013. While an imperfect measure, it’s illustrative of how wide-open his case is.

That said, Rose’s candidacy likely hinges on the late-career resurgence he is currently cultivating. In his past two seasons, split between Minnesota and Detroit, Rose averaged 18 points and 4.9 assists while shooting 48.6% from the field in just 26.6 minutes per game, bringing his career totals up to 11,185 points and 3,384 assists in 596 games.

Coming out of the 2020 All-Star break, DraftKings pegged him with the fourth-best odds to take home Sixth Man of the Year in 2019-20. He finished fourth in the fan voting for the Eastern Conference All-Star backcourt this season (with 1.9 million tallies). Scoff if you will, but that’s impact. 

The old Rose lives in this current iteration. 

 

And a meaningful second act can go a long way. Just ask Grant Hill, another classic “comet.” Hill’s initial ascent with the Detroit Pistons as a generational swiss-army-knife superstar was sullied by a string of ankle injuries, mishandled medical procedures and miscellaneous extenuating circumstances that, in essence, cost him four seasons in the middle of his prime. But after suiting up for a combined 47 games from 2000-01 through 2003-04, he launched a compelling and productive second career as a super-role player for a contending Phoenix Suns team in the late aughts and early 2010s. He played until he was 40 and was a bonafide starter through age 39. He ended his career as one of 18 players to log at least 17,000 points, 6,000 rebounds, 4,000 assists and 1,000 steals. He made the Hall with the Class of 2018.

Bill Walton, another transcendent talent whose peak was cut short by foot injuries, might have something to say on this topic, too. If leading the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 title as the MVP of the league and the NBA’s consensus best overall player wasn’t enough, he enjoyed a decorated late-career spell with the Celtics, punctuated by him earning Sixth Man of the Year honors for the 1986 title-winning squad. He was inducted in 1993.

Like Hill and Walton, Rose has had to evolve the very nature of his game to survive. When the sheer athleticism that made him great betrayed him, he had no choice but to adapt. That’s a feat in its own right.

“That’s 12 years (experience). I played a certain way for the first five, six years. But I was improving every year. The game has changed now,” Rose told our K.C. Johnson in January when asked what was behind his improved play. “You have to be able to knock down your open shots. The last couple years, I’ve made the adjustment. In New York (in his season with the Knicks), I was just being stubborn by not shooting. I’m trying to make all the right reads now.

“There’s no way I would’ve got to Year 12 if I didn’t improve or my IQ didn’t go up. There’s no way I’d still be playing now or teams would believe in me.”

Rose isn’t going to play until he’s 40. He won’t approach the statistical heights Hill clawed his way to by the end of his up-and-down 21-year career, nor Walton’s mythological level of greatness. Both possess more meaningful overall talent than Rose in the landscape of NBA history.

But it’s evident that a dignified second act is in most cases requisite for players of the “comet” distinction to make the Hall. Advanced stats are never going to love Rose. His 39.7 career win shares (he amassed 30 of those in his first four seasons) fall well outside of the top 250 in NBA history, with little-to-no chance of approaching it.

But say he, still just 31, plays another five or so seasons while maintaining something similar to his current pace (we’ll call that pace about 900 points and 200 assists per season to play it safe). Career marks of 15,000 points and 4,000 assists is far from exclusive company, but might they be enough, combined with his early-career accolades and resonance with a generation of fans, to get in? Plenty of guards have skated in with lesser counting stats in the past, though none of them hail from the modern era.

Ultimately, the strength of Rose’s “but” — youngest MVP ever, supernova talent worthy of honoring, Rookie of the Year, absurd statistical peak at a young age — would probably make him a coin flip for the Hall if he retired today. But a few more seasons in which he potentially seizes late-career hardware a la Walton, or achieves noble status as a veteran role player a la Hill could eventually skew him away from the Penny Hardaway side of the "comet" spectrum and put him over the top, depending on the class he eventually competes with. It would certainly get the sour taste of “What Ifs” out of committee members’ mouths.

This storyline, at least, gives nostalgic Bulls fans another reason to remain invested in Rose’s stretch run. His continued perseverance has a chance to eventually pay off in the most prestigious manner possible.

NBC Sports Chicago will honor the Bulls great with “Derrick Rose Week presented by Saint Xavier University” starting up Monday, June 8 at 7:00 PM CT with the first of five-straight nights of “Classic” game performances. See full schedule here.

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