In 81 games in the Chicago Bulls' regular season, Derrick Rose earned zero free throws just three times. The most important improvement Rose made on offense this season wasn't shooting, finishing or passing -- it was getting to the line. An ability to get into the lane and draw contact took Rose from being a high-usage guard with low efficiency to a high-usage guard with OK efficiency. That's what made Rose the MVP (along with a vastly improved team defense): free throws allowed his offense to be productive.
In Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, Rose had zero free throw attempts. The Bulls lost, and Rose was the least efficient player on the floor despite taking a third of his team's shots.
This isn't a blame situation -- the Hawks finished No. 5 in defensive foul rate in the regular season, and had a strong gameplan against Rose. This is meant to point out how obviously important free throws are to Rose's production, and how severely they dried up in Game 1.
To wit, in the regular season, Rose averaged 0.97 points per field goal attempt. Add in free throws with the commonly accepted understanding that each free throw represent 0.44 "trips to the line" -- it accounts for and-1s -- and Rose's points per shooting possession rises to 1.1. That's the difference between inefficient and pretty efficient. For a guy with about 30 shooting possessions per game, that's the difference between 29 points and 33 points. It's a big difference.
But the Bulls will figure it out, right? From Hoopdata's Jeff Fogle, who points out that after earning 49 free throws in the first three games of the playoffs, Rose has earned 11 combined in the past three.
Can you tell when he first injured his ankle?! That happened in the first quarter of Game Four. He played hobbled the rest of the way, and couldn't draw fouls because he couldn't explode at the basket. [...] That's why those numbers are more important than the game stats to me. If Rose can't get to the free throw line, this is going to be a series. If Rose continues to break down from the wear/tear/fatigue issues that come from sprinting into a lion's den to get mauled every night for four months (he started really attacking the rim around New Year's)...then top seeded Chicago might actually be in real trouble.
So Rose averaged 16 free throws a game before first turning his ankle, less than four per game after and he turned his ankle again at the end of Monday's game. As a result, we're getting the old Rose, the All-Star but not near MVP-level Rose. And it's not enough for Chicago.
The Bulls desperately need the new Rose, if not against Atlanta then against Miami or Boston.