By age 25, Derrick Rose was a three-time NBA All-Star and one-time NBA MVP.
He’d averaged at least 20.8 points three times, and was all around considered one of the top point guards and overall players in the league.
Sound familiar? For NBA fans paying attention in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it should.
Grant Hill was a 25-year-old small forward for the Detroit Pistons during the 1997-98 season. He was already a four-time All-Star and had averaged at least 20.2 points per game three times. Hill wasn’t just looking like a perennial All-Star, but an all-time great player in the NBA.
Fast forward a few years and Hill found himself with the Orlando Magic, but played just four games during the 2000-01 season. He then played 14 games the next year and 29 the year after that, but he missed the entirety of the 2003-04 season from injury.
After he had averaged 25.8 points per game in his final season in Detroit in 1999-2000, it looked like Hill would never reach his old heights. And those looks weren’t deceiving.
Instead, Hill redefined his career and became a 10-15 points per game scorer for the rest of his career, while also dishing out a couple assists and picking up about five rebounds per game, something most players could never do. Hill managed to turn himself from a superstar into a role player, and didn’t quit until he was 40 years old.
While the injury bug didn’t clamp down on Hill until the latter half of his 20s, Rose is already on the fast track to a what-if career.
Rose missed the majority of the 2011-12 season, the entire 2012-13 season and all but 10 games last year. Now after starting 46 games in his seventh year in the NBA, Rose is set to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee, the same injury that sidelined him in 2013.
There’s no official timetable for his return just yet, but no matter if he comes back before the end of the season, sometime in the summer or any other time down the road, it’s time for Rose to rethink how he plays the game.
Sure, he’s not a 6-foot-8 presence like Hill — their skill sets aren’t exactly the same by any means — but Rose can turn into the same sort of ultra-effective role player and have a better career because of it.
It’s hard to think he’ll ever rediscover the full explosive ability that helped him average 25 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game during his 2010-11 MVP run, but he doesn’t need to.
The first thing Rose can do is improve his jump shot. Hill shot better than 30 percent from 3-point range just twice before he joined the Phoenix Suns in 2007 (if you exclude his four-game run in 2000-01). After that, he shot at least 32 percent for four straight seasons, including a high point of 44 percent during the 2009-10 season when he started 81 games for the Suns.
Rose is certainly not a pure shooter now — he was shooting just 29 percent from deep this year — but off-season practice with his jumper can take a lot of stress off his knee and improve his ability to contribute in multiple ways going forward.
Hill also became a lock-down defender as his career rolled on, and if Rose can rediscover even part of his old speed, he has all the physical attributes to stick with any point guard in the league.
At this point, it might take a miracle for Rose to become a true superstar again, but it’s up to him to either go down as a what-if who’s out of the league before his 30th birthday, or a journeyman star who could be the glue for championship runs down the line.