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As a rookie last year, Rose averaged 17 points and six assists a game to help lead the Bulls to the playoffs with a 41-41 record. That record was good enough for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference (though they would have been several games out in the West), which pitted them up against the defending World Champion Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
In this series, both Rose and Celtics’ point guard Rajon Rondo would reveal themselves to the world as two of the very best at their position.
Despite being the heavy underdog, Rose rallied his Bulls to force the champs to seven games (at this point it is necessary to remind ourselves that Kevin Garnett did not play in this series). It was a big step for a 20-year old kid to grab onto his team and become their clear cut leader in one of the most memorable playoff series in the history of the game.
For the series, Rose averaged 20 points on 49% shooting with six rebounds and six assists (Rondo averaged 17 points, 10 boards, and 10 assists, though he did play with superior teammates). The kid gave it his all but, in the end, his team wasn’t as good as the Celtics, with or without KG.
But that didn’t matter to Rose. He didn’t think what he did was enough to win. So, instead of going out and enjoying the money he got for being the #1 pick in the draft, or just being a normal 20-year old, Rose hit the gym. Rose wanted to get better. Focusing primarily on ball-handling and shooting the ball, Rose spent the whole summer fine-tuning his game.
As Rose put it to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, “In the beginning I was thinking about it. I would settle for a pass instead of making myself a threat. Now I am learning from it.”
The results from his hard work is noticeable, to say the least.
In his rookie campaign, 52% of Rose’s 574 field goals came at the rim (for comparison purposes, 54% of LeBron James‘ field goals were at the basket). He was a slasher that was very good at picking his spots in terms of breaking down a gap in the defense and exploiting it get to cup. The problem with his ability to get to the basket was that it was the only consistent ability that he had.
His jumpshot was questionable at best and he was largely inadequate as a three-point shooter, which allowed defenses to collapse into the lane to dare him to shoot an outside shot. Rose’s effectiveness from outside the paint dropped significantly from 56% at the rim to 41% anywhere else on the court (which doesn’t put enough stock into the 22% three-point percentage he had).
This season the script has been flipped (TBJ!).
Rose has taken less shots at the rim, which isn’t a terrible thing because we all know he can still get there when he needs to, and taking more shots further from the basket. Derrick has gone from a 47% shooter within 10 feet of the hoop to a 59% shooter; from a 38% shooter from 10-15 feet to a 46% shooter; from a 43% shooter from 16-23 feet to a 42% shooter with almost two more attempts per game from this range; and has slightly improved his three-point shooting from 22% to 25% though he has not spent a lot of time shooting from deep.
Those numbers alone tell me Rose is making strides to resurrect a lost art, the mid-range jumper. As of late, Rose has been even better. In his past six games, Rose is shooting 51% from 16-23 feet, 63% from 10-15 feet, and is averaging 25 points a game. In those contests, the Bulls are 4-2 and have pulled even at .500.
Lets not forget that Rose is also one of the best closers in basketball despite having little to none of a reputation for doing so. In “crunch time” Rose is shooting 48% from the field, which is just 1% behind LeBron (granted he has taken more shots in crunch time, though). Because Rose has opened up his game this season, he is able to select the shot he wants in crunch time based on how he has been performing earlier in any given game. If his shot is on, maybe he pulls up for a mid-range J instead of forcing the ball into the paint. This added option creates a lot more breathing room than you think.
[Flashing back to my conversation with Rose this Summer on playing in the spotlight: "As for playing in the Olympics, Rose has a history of playing in big games, finishing off his days in Memphis in a National Championship Game and starting his NBA career with one of the best playoff series in the history of the game. But for Derrick, the Olympics would be a whole new monster.
“It’s a little bit higher than all of that [referring to the National Championship Game and the Bulls-Celtics series from last season]. (Laughs). It’d be an honor,” Rose told me in an interview at the Showcase. “Everybody in the world is watching the Olympics if I do make the team. My mom was up watching the games at two or three o’clock in the morning, so I could tell it was a big thing. It’d be even bigger playing in it.””]
As individual offensive player, with this added dimension of a jump shot, Rose is starting to form into a complete package. For example, last night I saw Oklahoma City Thunder lockdown defender Thabo Sefolosha take over on Derrick after he proved Russell Wesbtrook was unable to keep up with him. Sefolosha regularly causes fits for Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and other star guards in the NBA, but that didn’t seem to be the case for Rose.
I’ve chosen two plays from this game to show just how unstoppable this guy is.
Play #1: Crossover On Thabo Sefolosha
If you can’t watch the video, here is a quick summary: Rose gets the ball at the top of the key, goes between his legs a couple of times, head fakes a dribble left, and crosses Sefolosha over easily, finishing at the cup with the left hand.
It’s a simple isolation play. Rose brings the ball up the court and decides to speed up the pace by not calling for a play or a pick and roll and instead taking his man off the dribble and beating him to the rim. Nobody in basketball could guard that move.
Play #2: Blow By On Thabo Sefolosha
This play is similar in a way. Rose again wants to score the ball as quickly as possible even though the game is out of hand. He wastes 10 seconds of shot clock and then, as Joakim Noah comes over to set a pick near mid-court, Rose simply puts the ball on the floor and blows by Sefolosha, going from half-court to the rim in three YouTube seconds.
Sefolosha guarded Rose after halftime for a good portion of the remainder of the game and, after going five-of-12 from the field in the first half for 10 points, Rose finished strong on eight-of-11 shooting for 16 points in the second half.
Rose’s first step is really indescribable. Chris Paul might be the trickiest and the niftiest and shiftiest (according to spell check those are all words) but Rose is the most explosive point guard in basketball when it comes to pushing off of either foot to gain ground on a defender. Once he gets that step on you, you have to have Kevin Durant arms in order to bother him on his way to the rum (Don’t forget that Sefolosha is a long defender too, but he wasn’t even close to Rose in order to contest his drive to the basket).
As a scorer, really the only thing missing for Rose is the three-point shot, which is undoubtedly something Rose will work once he feels he has perfected everything in between the rim and the the three-point line.
Some have questioned Rose’s ability to put up good numbers as a passer but looking a bit deeper it is easy to understand how such a great player can get just six assists a game. So far this season, Chicago is 25th in the league in field goal percentage. Simply put, when Rose dishes to a teammate, there isn’t a great chance that he is going to hit it.
With his ability to drive to the rim and get passed defenders easily, which forces the defense to collapse on him unless they want to give up a free basket, I am confident that Rose will become increasingly confident with guys and start hitting them in their spots once he creates an open look for them by penetrating.
So, the question becomes, with an 80% complete offensive repertoire that currently consists of the most explosive drive to the rim of any guard in the game (LeBron’s got the best in the game out of everyone, and I do think Rose is more explosive than CP3, but D-Wade is a close second), an improving jumpshot and only one real weakness (the three), how good can Rose become?
Can he fend of CP3 as the best point guard of this generation? Can he shape his game to become a 20-10 guy like Paul has with but be even more dominant offensively because of his size (6-foot-3, pushing 200lbs.)? Can he use that size to become a great defender at the point guard spot (Right now, Rose has a defensive rating of 108, meaning he gives up an estimate of 108 points per 100 possessions on defense. CP3 has a 107 rating and Rajon Rondo has a 100 rating to lead all point guards)?
I think he can accomplish those things. He’s got the work ethic, the body, the speed and, most importantly, the chance.
Say the Bulls land one of the big time free agents this off-season, say Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, can you imagine getting 20 a game from Rose while being able to set up shots for either of those guys. A Rose/Wade backcourt could easily become the most explosive in NBA history and the pick and roll with Bosh would create a whole bevy of options compared to what Joakim Noah brings now (Love the kid’s game, but shooting the ball isn’t apart of it. Bosh has the range). Add in the championships they could win and you have a legacy that could lead many to believe Rose was a better player than Paul simply because it doesn’t seem like Paul will be getting to the Finals anytime soon with New Orleans.
Even if that doesn’t happen, let’s just say the Bulls can acquire a knock down three-point shooter (kind of what they wanted out of John Salmons this season, and Kirk Hinrich, to some extent) to stick on the wing with Rose. The drive and kick would create nightmares for other teams, and as soon as they start sagging towards the shooter, Rose could take it right to the rim thanks to his explosiveness.
So far, Rose has made the right personal decisions to help improve his game, staying out of trouble and spending his off-season improving his play. If he continues to show the initiative to become great, there is no telling how could he can be with his athleticism and quickness.
Oh, and lets not forget that this kid has basically played at the highest level everywhere he has been, but he has yet to win anything to show for it. That bugs him. Irritates him. Nags him. Drives him to become a better player everyday. That’s why you should overlook his quite persona and forget about the fact that he isn’t a great post-game interview. That’s why you should look at this kid work his tail off everyday to get better and better. And that’s why we will just have to wait and see how good this 21-year old kid is going to be.