As Team USA prepares for its first FIBA World Cup pool-play game Saturday against Finland, featuring 2013 Bulls second-round draft pick Erik Murphy, in Bilbao, Spain, the focus in Chicago remains squarely on Derrick Rose.
The former league MVP had a subpar performance in Tuesday's exhibition finale, a blowout win over Slovenia in Gran Canaria, Spain, finishing with three points on 3-for-6 free-throw shooting, 0-for-3 shooting from the field and three turnovers in a reserve role behind All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, though national team head coach Mike Krzyzewski previously claimed that he could alternate starting floor generals throughout the tournament. But while Tuesday's outing was certainly a lackluster outing by Rose's standards and there were prior alarm bells set off by the Chicago native missing two days of practice and Team USA's exhibition win over the Dominican Republic in New York last week, things have to be put into perspective.
Rose's strong July training camp in Las Vegas, coupled with glimpses of his previous form in the Team USA's intra-squad scrimmage and in his return to the United Center in a victory over Brazil might have raised expectations that he would be a dominant force for the national team, even as he's continually insisted that he wouldn't focus on being a primary scorer, his role for the Bulls. There's much room to improve from Tuesday's game for Rose, but the same could be said for many of his teammates, albeit less high-profile players, and if memory serves correct, even in 2010, when he played on the gold-medal FIBA World Championships squad ahead of his MVP campaign, the point guard was much more of a facilitator than a scoring threat.
More importantly, however, simply being back on the court in a competitive environment should serve Rose well, as the entire process, from training camp and scrimmages, to practices and games, feature his peers, some of the NBA's best rising stars, if not cream-of-the-crop talent with similar accolades under their belt. Team USA's goal is to win the re-branded World Cup, but as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, a national-team assistant, has said all along, it's a perfect situation for his star player to find his comfort level and get the kinks out as the regular season approaches, as playing with and against the likes of Irving and Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry presents a stiffer challenge than the Bulls' summer-league roster or whoever happens to be in the Berto Center as he's going through his workout routine.
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Nobody can accurately predict exactly where Rose will be in two months, when the regular season begins, but avoiding some of the struggles he endured in those 10 games he played before suffering the torn right meniscus last November that sidelined him for the rest of last season will be imperative to the Bulls getting off to a good start and set the tone for what's widely expected to be a two-team race with Cleveland, now featuring LeBron James and officially as of this week, Kevin Love. In fact, the exciting beginning to his national-team duties and his current struggles are somewhat reminiscent of Rose's 2013 preseason exploits and early regular-season inconsistency last season, only now he has the opportunity to get through those stages on a team that doesn't need him to play like a superstar every single time out.
With the question of whether or not he will even make the trip overseas now in the rear-view window, it's natural to focus on aspects of his game like his ball-security issues, the accuracy of his outside jumper or his finishing ability around the basket, all things that can be adjusted. But Rose's trademark explosiveness is clearly present, and with an obvious emphasis on playmaking and defensive ball pressure, it bodes well for an upgraded Bulls roster that will have more offensive firepower and will still hang its hat on Thibodeau's top-tier defensive scheme.
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Meanwhile, all Rose has to do is continue to fit in and perhaps there will be moments, stretches or even entire games where he will take over, as arguably the most accomplished player on Team USA, showing that he's not far off his previous form. For now, though, just simply being back on the court supersedes any notion that he has to consistently dominate the action for this offseason to have been an individual success.
A gold medal, potentially coming in a championship game against host country Spain and new teammate Pau Gasol, coupled with a healthy run through the event without logging heavy minutes, is a positive in itself.