As Kyrie Irving made abundantly clear, playing with LeBron James isn’t for everyone. LeBron attracts outsized attention, gets passive-aggressive and, intentionally or not, reduces his supporting cast to an afterthought.
But he also makes his teammates better.
LeBron is one of the most unselfish superstars of all time. He’s a willing passer with the tools to maximize it – double-team attraction, court vision and strength to throw cross-court passes. When he puts forth defensive effort, he roams to cover for many of his teammates’ shortcomings.
Many players have looked their very best when sharing the court with LeBron.
But not Derrick Rose.
It’s just not working.
The Cavs have been outscored by a whopping 10.9 points per 100 possessions when Rose and LeBron share the court. No two-man combo involving LeBron has been anywhere near that bad since at least 2007-08, as far back as NBA.com has data (minimum: 50 minutes).
Here’s the full set of LeBron tandems with their net rating. Scroll aaaall the way down for Rose:
Obviously, Rose isn’t the only 2017-18 teammate at the bottom of this list. The Cavaliers have also struggled with LeBron and Tristan Thompson, LeBron and Kevin Love, LeBron and Jae Crowder, LeBron and Jose Calderon.
But Love and Thompson have proven positive track records with LeBron over far great samples. Calderon should be out of the rotation once Isaiah Thomas returns. Crowder, a versatile two-way player, fits extremely well with LeBron on paper.
Rose does not.
He’s a dismal 3-point shooter, neither spacing the floor for LeBron nor taking advantage of the open looks from beyond the arc LeBron frequently generates for his teammates. Though LeBron hasn’t been consistently interested in that end of the floor this season, Rose is a woeful defender.
There are reasons the Cavs have been so awful – far worse than any other LeBron combo – with Rose on the floor. They’ve been even worse when he plays without LeBron (-28.6). It’s only somewhat coincidental Cleveland has gone on a seven-game winning streak after Rose got hurt.
Rose might still belong in the NBA. He can get going down hill and score at the rim. He doesn’t set up teammates and, again, his defense is deficient. But some teams need that one-dimensional offense to prop up weak bench units. Not the Cavaliers, who have Dwyane Wade in that role. But some teams.
Of course, Rose is heavily incentivized to keep trying to play. He’s obviously tired of being injured, but he’s also just 29. That’s young to retire no matter the circumstances.
Maybe it’ll work out better for him Cleveland with more time. But his Cavaliers tenure has been an abject failure so far for the most predictable of reasons.
If LeBron can’t make it work with the former MVP, it’s time to treat Rose as what he is: A borderline NBA player – if he wants to be.