And to think: earlier this season, there were a bunch of knuckleheads writing about whether Derrick Rose would ever be a go-to guy. Some people even questioned whether he could be!
Oh, wait. I was one of those knuckleheads.
Derrick Rose injured his ankle during the preseason, and the recovery took time. The effect on his game was obvious. His explosiveness was greatly diminished. He couldn’t attack the rim the way he did during his rookie campaign. At one point, Rose said: “I told you, I’m like an old man out there. I have to wait 20, 30 minutes into practice where I’m really loosened up. I have to stretch a lot.”
Of course, sports fans are an impatient group of people. It’s all about what your favorite star has done for you lately. We don’t want to hear about injuries, or brutal schedules, or guys who are underperforming for unknown reasons. All we want is for our favorite teams to win every game, every night. When that doesn’t happen, we’re quick to blame the coaches, owners and players for being incompetent, failing or (even worse) flat-out giving up on us.
Sometimes those criticisms are fair. Sometimes they are not. As it turns out, the early disappointment in Rose’s regression from the league’s top rookie to its most notoriously slumping sophomore was premature. He has steadily improved from bad, to okay, to pretty good, to very good. Check out his splits:
2 games, 11.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 45.0 FGP. Bulls record: 1-1.
13 games, 16.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 5.3 APG, 46.4 FGP. Bulls record: 5-8.
15 games, 20.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 6.1 APG, 45.0 FPG. Bulls record: 7-8.
8 games, 22.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 7.3 APG, 50.6 FGP. Bulls record: 5-3.
You’ll notice that as Rose has gone, so have the Bulls. And last night served notice that Rose’s steady improvement isn’t a fluke or a simple hot streak. He has arrived. Rose scored a career-high 37 points, and he did it from a little bit of everywhere (except from behind the three-point line). He also grabbed 9 rebounds, dished out 6 assists and hit some truly clutch shots.
The first was a 17-foot jumper to put the Bulls up 100-99 with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter. Joakim Noah knocked down a couple free throws (which were also clutch) between a pair of three-pointers by the Wizards before Rose gathered in his own miss (which was blocked) and hit a baseline jumper to tie the game at 104-104. And while he couldn’t win the game at the end of regulation — he missed an 18-footer at the buzzer — he made up for it at the end of the second overtime by hitting a spinning, one-handed floater from 11 feet out to put the Bulls up 121-119.
Said Rose: “”I’ve been doing that move since college. If I want to go a certain way and they play me a certain way, I got to spin and I got a nice little floater. … I used to think about what move I’m going to make or whatever. I’m just letting it come to me right now.”
Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. The Bulls have now won eight of their last 11 games, which has come from two four-game winning streaks sandwiched around a three-game skid. And after the Bulls managed to score 100 points only three times in their first 28 games, they’ve now dropped 100+ points in six of their last 10, including 111.7 PPG on their current four-game winning streak.
Of course, would be easy to scoff at Chicago’s recent success. Take this four-game streak. They beat the lowly Timberwolves, smacked down a struggling Pistons team, they overcame the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics, and then outlasted an undermanned Wizards squad on the same day that Gilbert Arenas pled guilty to a felony gun charge.
Those are all fair points. But regardless of the circumstances, the Bulls still managed some feats they haven’t been capable of most of the season. They started off by easily beating a couple of teams they absolutely should have beaten (which hasn’t always been the case this year). They won a hard fought road game (in Boston) and then pulled out a nail-biter at home on the second night of back-to-backs.
Scoff at the Wizards all you want, but don’t try to tell me guys like Antawn Jamison (34 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists) and Brendan Haywood (16 points, 7-for-11, 20 boards) weren’t busting their butts trying to win that game last night. Sometimes a wounded animal is the most dangerous foe of all. That certainly seemed to be the case last night.
The point is: it’s progress. As Rose said: “We’ve been the type of team that would let it slip at the end. … It shows how much we’re improving.”
Of course, the Bulls begin a seven-game Western Conference road trip on Monday, so these good vibes may be put on hold for a while. Historically speaking, these long road trips have usually begun and ended in disastrous fashion, at least since the end of the Michael Jordan era. But then again, they may not have to be. Rose is playing fantastic basketball and the Bulls seem to be coming together as a team. Why couldn’t they win, say, three or four of these seven games?
That’s something I wouldn’t have even considered a month ago.