WICHITA, Kan.—There’s a multitude of ways to describe the triumphant fashion in which Derrick Rose has returned to the NBA this preseason—in his latest effort, a 26-point outing in Wednesday night’s win over the Thunder, he shrugged off a poor shooting night to score 13 points in the final 7:30 of the contest to keep the Bulls undefeated through seven exhibition games—but perhaps no flourishes of the keyboard can do it more justice than the words of teammate Carlos Boozer.
“We know the sky’s the limit for us because we’re going to continue to improve and having him back makes a whole lot of difference because he makes it easier for everybody else. He makes it easier for each one of us because he takes so much responsibility for himself. But it’s also fun to watch him,” the much-maligned power forward, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds of his own, his best game of the preseason. “After sitting out for a year, there’s so many moves that he does that I don’t see other people do. Like the move he did in the first half to Reggie Jackson got me out of my seat, I was so excited, man. But he’s one of those kind of players that you’ve got to watch him because if you don’t watch him, you might miss something."
Boozer then took it a step further, claiming that this new version of Rose, who also dished out six assists (albeit against five turnovers), went 10-for-10 from the charity stripe and shot 4-for-8 from 3-point range, is superior to the old one, the youngest-MVP-in-NBA-history edition.
“No, he’s better. You know why? Because I think watching for a year, taking care of his body—you see he’s stronger—and on top of that, he’s a workhorse. You guys know that already. He improves every year. But his knowledge of the game is better, he feels the game better,” Boozer insisted. “If somebody’s going, he finds them. His passing is so much more precise this year, on top of all the other stuff that he already had. The skill set got better, his athleticism is obviously still there. Today he practically played left-handed because he had a sore elbow and still had an amazing game. So very impressive stuff, man.”
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Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau attributed Rose’s growth to the maintenance and development of his game, which is starting to become a legend unto itself.
“It’s reflective of all the work he has put in. You can’t imagine how much shooting this guy has done. Last year, he wasn’t playing in the games but he was shooting. He shot every day before practice, then in practice, then after practice. Then he’d go to the game and shoot some more. Then on off days, he gets to the gym and shoots for hours. He’s really worked at it. That old saying that the magic is in the work, there’s a lot of truth to it,” said the coach, who later admitted that the saying is his own. “It’s not only what he’s doing individually before and after practice, it’s what he’s doing in practice and the example he’s setting and leadership he’s showing for our team.
“Derrick is very unselfish. So when a second defender comes, he knows how to make a play. He can beat you not only with his shot, but with a pass and our bigs are active on the boards, so they can beat you with a second shot. When you have somebody like that, the responsibility is to make the right play, the winning play. So if he gets double-teamed and he makes a pass and it’s a wide-open shot and a make-or-miss league, if it’s the right play that’s all you’re thinking about. Was the process correct? He does that,” Thibodeau went on to explain. “His ability to deliver the ball and make a quick read allows guys to get a rhythm three off or a wide-open shot. I think the speed that he’s generating now, when there’s contact, it puts the onus on the officials to make the call. He’s not trying to avoid contact. He’s doing a great job of getting to the line. I thought that got him back into rhythm, getting to the line more. When he’s coming at you with a head of steam, it creates easy scoring opportunities for people.”
Rose’s new backcourt partner, Jimmy Butler, is in his first season starting alongside the former league MVP—as a seldom-used rookie, he only got to see Rose in games from the sideline, then they reversed positions during the point guard’s recovery and Butler’s emergence last season—seconded his coach’s praise of the Chicago native’s work ethic.
“Man, that’s huge. He sets the bar extremely high, so you want to chase that bar. You want to try to get a piece of that, so you see him in the gym and obviously he’s the best player on our team, but you see the way he works,” said Butler, who finished with 12 points in his first game back in the lineup after missing the Bulls’ last three contests with a bruised left knee. “That’s why he is where he is, so we need to be in there working with him.
“It’s tough, man. But that’s what he’s been working on. Shooting J’s, finishing with contact, making the right play at the right time and that’s why he’s great. MVP,” he continued. “But you see the work that he puts into it and he doesn’t expect, he doesn’t take anything for granted because he’s one of the hardest-working guys that I’ve been around.”
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As for Rose himself, due to his perfectionist tendencies, he isn’t quite satisfied with his performance thus far, though he acknowledges being at least mildly pleased with his progress, especially as he returns to his familiar role of putting the Bulls on his back when necessary.
“That’s what I love, man. I think that I’m one of those types of players, where I think I can close the game and like I said, if I didn’t have my teammates and didn’t have the teammates that I have, that allow me to do that, I’d be in trouble. But just having them, being around them, they know how hard I work. They put the ball in my hands to see what I was going to do,” he said. “It’s coming along. I still have a long way to go, where in one-on-one situations, I have so much stuff I want to go to, but I have to get used to playing like that again, but I think it’s coming slowly. But I’m seeing some improvements.
“It’s a new beginning. I think I’m going to be a different player. Like I said, my confidence has grown as a player and I’m on a team with a bunch of guys that’s taking this game seriously like I am,” the point guard added. “I had a couple of turnovers, too, that I normally wouldn’t get. but I think the game’s slowed down a little bit for me. My only thing now, I would have to say, is passing the ball the right way. Now, I think I’m jumping in the air a little too much, but that comes with just playing.”
Minor adjustments, things that can be tweaked, still a few aspects of his game that could be polished. But all in all, not only is Rose back to making the same level of impact he was when we last saw him fully healthy, he might be on the verge of being even better.