I don’t consider myself old…that is until I’m asked to write a letter of recommendation and realize with a squint that, wait a second, it’s been almost a decade since I first went to college. Time moves fast. Always has, always will.
So while it’s easy to say Derrick Rose hasn’t been an NBA star in a long time, let alone played at 100 percent, I need some way to put that into numbers. Just the other day, I found it.
Did you know Rose, the 2011 MVP and the three-time NBA All-Star, has played against new All-Stars Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving just once in his entire career? And that he’s never played against fellow Chicago native and 2014 U.S. National Team member Anthony Davis? That’s shocking to me. It’s like the NBA just up and walked out, left Rose on the floor holding his knee while continuing on without him. It’s like that because, in a sense, that’s what the NBA does. The train doesn’t stop, not even for someone like Derrick Rose. (Apparently, not even for someone like Kobe Bryant, either.)
Tomorrow marks the return of Rose’s adidas signature sneaker line with the launch of the adidas D Rose 5 at Champs Sports, an all-black colorway that’ll have any Chicago fan feeling like this is their year. But next Wednesday marks a second return and this time, at last, it’ll be for real. Let’s make a Bet: Derrick Rose Will Shut Up All You Haters This Year.
I have no scientific or statistical explanation for this. In fact, most stats won’t agree with me. As Triangle Offense pointed out, most athletic point guards who suffer serious injuries are never the same. Even athletic point guards who stay relatively healthy don’t seem to last very long. Among my generation, there were players like Baron Davis, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, and Penny Hardaway. None of those four ever made an All-Star team after the age of 26. They say big men take longer to develop and for once, I agree with them. It’s quite obvious that athletic point guards peak early.
Rose has played in exactly 50 regular season and playoff games combined since the NBA lockout summer in 2011. Perhaps the only time he looked like the real Rose was when he hung 32 and 13 on the Knicks in MSG and had Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller acting like eight-year-old cheerleaders.
Since the injuries, and even before he was shut down last year after 10 games, Rose wasn’t hitting the midrange jump shot at the same clip he did during his MVP season. That’s balance. That’s strength. That’s rhythm. And Rose didn’t have it.
But that’s not to say Rose can’t find his game again. Shooting 0-for-100 during this summer’s World Championships won’t matter if he starts playing well in December and January. For once, his team is perfectly suited to help him out. During that aforementioned game in New York two and a half years ago, Chicago’s four other starters were Kyle Korver, who hasn’t created his own shot since middle school; Ronnie Brewer, who struggled to do anything outside of cut backdoor during his career; Joakim Noah, a hustle player; and Carlos Boozer, a forward much better at finishing something his point guard starts. Rose spent 35 minutes a night that year doing everything for his team. That takes a toll.
This year promises to be different. Chicago signed Pau Gasol this summer, the first big man Rose has ever played with who can consistently demand a double-team. It’s a perfect fit–Gasol’s deficiencies as a defender will be covered by players like Noah and Taj Gibson, while his versatile skill-set will let Rose play off the ball more often. (With Noah, Chicago suddenly has the best passing big men tandem in the league.) The Bulls also drafted Doug McDermott and expect improvements from wing players like Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell. For once, Rose won’t have to do it all. His comeback will be cushioned by a great coach, a supporting organization, and a lineup that showed it could win a playoff series without him. Rose can take his time.
“It’s all just coming to me,” Rose told ESPN Chicago earlier this preseason. “I wouldn’t say there’s one area that’s better than another. It just takes playing. Going out there and actually getting game-time minutes under your belt. Practice is another thing. But when you’re actually playing against and competing against another team, that’s all I need.”
Rose can look to Russell Westbrook for comfort. The Oklahoma City All-Star has had three surgeries since hurting his knee during the second game of the 2013 NBA Playoffs and yet he was as good as ever during this past spring’s postseason. Westbrook leaned on the Thunder for support and got it. When he needed time off last year, he got it, playing only 46 games. When he needed less minutes, he got them, playing the least amount of his entire career. In turn, he got stronger as the year went on and by the end of their playoff run, he was doing this to the eventual champs. Rose should get the same opportunities this year.
The modern NBA game, which includes a lot of pick-n-rolls, a lot of driving and kicking, and a lot of emphasis on the ball-handler, is putting too much pressure on the very best point guards. It’s taking a toll, and the NBA point guard is becoming like the NFL running back. Rose doesn’t just have a new sneaker out this year, equipped with adidas Boost technology to soften his landings. He has a new team. He has a new role. Hopefully he has a new game that’ll mirror what he was at 23 while substituting a little of what he will be at 33.
Derrick Rose doesn’t need to be MVP Derrick Rose this year. He shouldn’t want to be, either. He just needs to be Russell Wilson. Lead. Be clutch. Be smart. Take what’s there and don’t push too hard, too fast. If he does that, not only will he shut up all the haters who want to hop on the next bandwagon, but the Chicago Bulls could win it all.
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Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney