PHILADELPHIA — He said it himself, leaving no room for interpretation about his first three regular-season games of his comeback campaign.
[RELATED: Bulls getting outworked in season's early going]
“You can call it whatever you want to call it,” Derrick Rose said after his 13-point, 4-for-14 shooting, eight-turnover game in the Bulls’ Saturday-night loss to the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. “I’m not playing well right now.”
Now that that’s out the way, let’s dig a little deeper: Rose is shooting 15-for-52 from the field thus far in the season, got outplayed by Sixers counterpart Michael Carter-Williams—the rookie point guard had 26 points and 10 assists on the evening—and maybe most disturbing about his outing, he faltered down the stretch, committing five of his turnovers in the fourth quarter of the contest, in which the Bulls surrendered a 20-point lead.
[RELATED: Carter-Williams, Sixers stun Bulls]
“I would have to say the turnovers,” Rose responded when asked what bothered him most about his performance. “The missed shots, I could deal with. My rhythm’s going to come. But the turnovers, I had two or three in a row. We couldn’t afford them at the time. But all I could do is work hard and like I said, it’s going to come to me.
“Me just doing too much, overthinking the play,” he continued when asked why they were occurring. “Easily could have dropped the ball to Booz or Jo, but just thinking too much. But it can easily be fixed. We blew a lead and at the end, they got to almost every loose ball, hit almost every shot they needed to win the game.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau stood up for his star player: “Some of it is like bobbles. There’s some rust. He’ll be fine.
[WATCH: Bulls-Sixers highlights]
“We just have to work our way through it. We have to keep getting reps. We have to practice. It’s hard to execute when you don’t practice. We need time in the gym. He’ll work his way through it. He’ll be fine,” the coach insisted. “I don’t think he’s playing poorly. I think our team is playing poorly right now. We have to straighten that out. When things are going well, they go well together. When things aren’t going well, we do that as a team too. We have issues we have to correct. We have to get into the gym and work out way out of it.
“No, because I know his makeup,” he continued, when asked if he was concerned about Rose’s early-season struggles. “Derrick’s nature is to work. He’ll be in the gym. He’ll study. The only thing he has to do is play in the game, shake some of that rust off and we have to work as a team in practice. We do that and we’ll be fine.
“Here’s the thing: You look at all the great players in this league, you’ll find that they’ve all had games like that. When the ball is in his hands, which it will be a lot, more often than not he’s making a great play for us. If he has a bad game, you’re not going to overreact. You’re not going to underreact. You study and analyze and go back at it.”
[Thibodeau: We have to work our way through this]
Rose’s teammates also had his back.
“He can get through it. One thing about the NBA is everybody has tough spells. You just got to play through it. I’m happy that he’s still motivated. I thought he played well, but it’s just tough when you’re projected to be so high, everybody projected you to be one of the top elite teams,” Taj Gibson said. “You’re going to get everybody’s best shot. Even when you think you’re better than another team, in this league every team has talent. You’ve got to realize that and you’ve got to put teams away. I’m happy this happened to us early on because we’ve got to learn from it and get better.”
[Gibson: We have to learn from this]
All-Star center Joakim Noah took an even stronger tact when asked what the rest of the Bulls could do to help Rose improve: “I don’t understand. You want me to draw up a play or something? I don’t understand what you’re talking about.
“He’ll be fine. I’m not worried about Derrick. You know, his competitive nature and all that, we’re in this together,” he continued. “The same goes for all of us. When he struggles, we all struggle, when I struggle, we all struggle. We’re all mad that we’re not clicking, but we will. I’m not worried about it. I’m confident in this team.”
[Noah: Disappointed in the way we played tonight]
And Rose remains confident in himself, claiming he doesn’t get down on himself for not living up to expectations, which is consistent with him also taking praise in stride when he plays well.
“For me, it’s continuing to go out there and take the shots that they’re giving me, and I told you, I’m going to wait, but I’m going to have that breakthrough game,” he explained. “I’m playing the game that I love playing. Of course I want to perform better, but I can’t beat myself up about that. I know it’s going to come to me and all I can do is, like I said, is work hard every day, polish my game up and it’s going to come.
“Not at all,” Rose added, when asked if his confidence has been affected by not starting off the regular season in the same stellar fashion he played during the preseason. “Amnesia. I have games like this and coming off a big surgery or whatever, but like I said, all I can do is get the most out of every practice, every shootaround, every shooting session and just go out there and play. But it’s going to come to me.”
While it’s clear that Rose has his explosiveness back, it’s equally obvious that his feel for the game hasn’t fully returned, which makes sense after his season-long absence. One would expect that it will eventually come back, especially if his preseason exploits—yes, they were only exhibition games, but the eyes don’t lie—were any indication.
Until then, understand that there will be missteps along the way, but if Rose’s track record of backing up his words holds true, it might be wise to patiently wait out the early stages of his return, particularly given his continued confidence.