ST. LOUIS — At some point, these non-updates about Derrick Rose will have to cease, but for the time being, every step of “The Return” will be examined closely.
That said, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau — a more cautious source of information regarding the point guard’s status than Rose himself — reports that the former league MVP is doing just fine after his first practice following his first game back since ACL surgery.
“He did everything [Sunday], feels great today, so it’s a good sign,” Thibodeau said prior to the Bulls’ morning shootaround Monday at St. Louis’ Scottrade Center, where his team will take on Memphis that evening.
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Another post-injury test will occur in the contest against the Grizzlies, as Rose is matched up with speedy point-guard counterpart Mike Conley Jr., who is underrated when it comes to NBA floor generals, but certainly poses more of an offensive threat than Indiana’s George Hill, with whom Rose was matched up with in the Bulls’ preseason-opening win over the Central Division rival Pacers. Conley is more of a facilitator than scorer, but has taken on an increased offensive workload — particularly since Memphis traded small forward Rudy Gay last season — and the son of the former Olympic track star turned basketball agent of the same name, numbers aside, will be a measuring stick of Rose’s lateral quickness, which appeared to be at pre-injury levels against Indiana.
“Oh yeah, for sure. He’s a guy where he’s crafty, getting in the lane, getting guys open and I’ve really just got to watch his penetration. Really stay in front of him, make him shoot, if anything, and just try to contest all his shots because he’s real good,” Rose said before the Bulls’ walk-through session, focusing on Conley’s offensive game.
Thibodeau predictably put Rose’s defense into a team context, but acknowledged that Conley’s speed — not to mention his pesky defense pressuring the ball — would pose a different challenge individually.
“Yeah, just in terms of the speed is one part of it, but there’s going to be a lot of pick-and-rolls, too. So that’s another part and you have to have the ability to make multiple effort. So it’s the initial part of whatever they’re throwing at you, reacting to the ball, helping appropriately, rebounding, and then getting the ball up the court quickly. There’s a lot that goes into it. I thought his defense was very good [against the Pacers] and I expect that from him every game,” the coach explained. “I watch him on the defensive end every game and it’s not just him. Everything is based on five guys being tied together and everyone has to be tied together and do their part.”
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After a recent training-camp practice at the Berto Center, Rose mentioned that observers rarely gave notice to his defensive prowess even before his injury, choosing to focus on his prolific scoring instead. While he entered the league as an elite athlete, Rose, like most young players, had a long way to go on the defensive end of the floor. But he’s made strides as the years have gone on and although he doesn’t get the recognition of teammates like Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and the All-Star duo of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, both of whom have garnered NBA All-Defensive Team honors, he’s certainly improved on that side of the ball under Thibodeau’s watch, as his ball pressure and ability to fight through screens were a big part of one the league’s top-tier defensive units.
While the coach continually pushes and prods Rose to get even better as an individual defender, Thibodeau let slip that he believes Rose has the potential to one day evolve into an All-Defensive Team member, similar to Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, who Thibodeau coached in Boston.
“He does,” Thibodeau answered when asked if he thought the youngest MVP in NBA history had the ability to add that accolade to his collection.
“It’s great balance, speed, quickness, strength, anticipation, knowledge, you knowledge is quickness. Knowing how to play people, knowing what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, a lot goes into it,” he went on to say. “His defense was a point of emphasis for him in training camp. He’s responded well to that challenge, we want him to be a complete player. I think he understands how important that is. He’s grown significantly in the last three years.”
Rose humbly deferred when he received the same query, but it was obvious that he takes pride in his defense, even though he was tasked with shouldering much of the Bulls’ offensive burden in the past.
“I hope so, but it’s nothing that I want that bad. I just want people to look at it,” he explained. “Guys don’t really have like, huge nights really, against me, so for me, I’m just trying to play team defense and stay within our team, and just play as hard as I can.”
Starting Monday night, we’ll see if the improvement Rose has consistently stated that he believes he’s experienced while recovering from his ACL injury also extends to his oft-overlooked defense.