Going into last night’s game against the Lakers, I was mad.
In case you missed it, there was a post about Derrick Rose on TrueHoop yesterday. It highlighted a recent post on HoopSpeak in which bloggers Beckley Mason and Ethan Sherwood Strauss took pot shots at everything from Rose’s personality (or, in their view, his lack thereof) to his performance in that classic Bulls-Celtics playoff series from Derrick’s rookie season (they basically downrate his performance).
The TrueHoop post then goes on to quote ESPN’s John Hollinger, who attacks a familiar subject, namely Rose’s relative lack of free throw attempts. Based on that fact, Hollinger has decided that Rose — get this — is not an elite point guard.
Said Hollinger: “It seems mundane, as though we’re nitpicking, to bemoan Rose’s lack of free throws, but it’s a notable shortcoming when comparing Rose to the other elite players at his position. Until he earns more whistles, Rose won’t ascend to the top of the league’s point guard mountain.”
Hollinger’s research is meaningful because the raw data can be misleading. After all, Rose’s 5.5 free throw attempts per game puts him ahead of Chris Paul (4.5 this season), Steve Nash (4.6 this season and 2.8 for his career) and Rajon Rondo (2.1 this season and 2.8 for his carerer). However, Rose takes more shots than those guys. And he attacks the rim much more often. Yet he earns fewer foul shots per field goal attempt than 32 of the league’s 62 qualifying point guards. That includes his backup, C.J. Watson.
You can look at this a lot of ways — Bulls fans would tell you he doesn’t get some of the calls he deserves — but the reality seems to be that Derrick is too fast, strong and insanely athletic for his own good.
But still…denying Rose “elite point guard” status based on the unconventional nature of his game? Why not look at the results? The guys at HoopSpeak paid lip service to doing this: “These Bulls munch cud to the tune of 12-8. The lineup looks impeccable and some experts prefer them to the Heat, Celtics or Magic. But we haven’t seen success yet. It only feels imminent.”
Of course — in their rush to write creative analogies — Mason and Strauss very conveniently failed to provide any context. For instance, when considering Chicago’s win-loss record, did they happen to mention that Carlos Boozer missed the first 15 games of the season and is still getting into playing shape? That the Bulls have had to endure a killer early schedule that included their annual seven-game circus road trip? Or that they finished with the first plus-.500 record on that road trip since the Michael Jordan era mostly because Rose was going nuts, scoring 30 or more points in five of the six games he played (he missed the game at Denver due to neck spasms)?
Now consider the Bulls’ schedule-to-date.
I’m not just talking about the road trip. I’m talking about the competition.
In their first 21 games, they’ve played the defending champion Lakers twice. They’ve also played the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics twice…both times in Boston. They’ve played the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder twice each. They’ve also had road games against the San Antonio Spurs (who have the best record in the league) and the Dallas Mavericks (who are 18-4 and on an 11-game winning streak).
In fact, the last team to beat the Mavs? Da Bulls.
Oh, and they’ve played the Orlando Magic, too.
Heck, I might as well throw their game against the New York Knicks in there, considering the Knicks have won seven in a row — and 12 of 13 overall — and suddenly look like a force.
In fact, if you check out Hollinger’s power rankings, you’ll notice that, so far this season, the Bulls have had the hardest strength of schedule in the league. That kind of mitigates the win-loss record, right? By comparison, the Spurs — who, again, have the league’s best record — rank 20th in strength of schedule.
Maybe I should cut Hollinger and the HoopSpeak guys some slack. I follow the Bulls on a daily basis. Presumably, they don’t. Which means they have to gauge Rose and his ability based on statistical indicators and snapshot views provided by whichever Bulls games they manage to see.
Well, I hope they saw last night’s game. If they did, maybe they’ll have a better understanding of what Derrick Rose is all about. Kobe Bryant had that understanding going in. This is what Bryant said about Rose on Thursday:
“I can tell when a player truly wants to be better and does what it takes to improve. It was a quality I had when I was growing up. … I admire that about him. I could really see it from last year to this year. He’s got a long-range ball now. He can pop behind the pick and shoot the jumper. He can pull up off the dribble and shoot it, and him getting to the rim goes unquestioned. He’s putting the time in the gym, and I certainly respect that.”
Kobe sees what I’ve seen.
Derrick Rose is 22 years old. This is his third season in the NBA. Sure, he was the number one overall pick back in the 2008 NBA Draft, but he was pretty raw and had various holes in his game. Yet he’s gotten better every single season. He’s addressed the gaps in his skill set. His three-point shooting isn’t great, but he’s converting 38 percent of his triples, and that’s not bad. His 8.2 APG is up from 6.0 last season. His defense has improved. He may not make the All-Defensive team, but both his Block and Steal Percentages have gone up while his Defensive Rating has gone down. And guys aren’t just walking around him the way they used to.
This kid has gotten nothing but better. And he’s going to keep doing it.
Of course, when the United Center crowd starts chanting “M-V-P!” for Rose — as they did last night — it serves as a reminder that, as good as he may become, Rose is already pretty great.
His night included game-highs in points (29) and assists (9). He went 12-for-25 from the field and 3-for-5 from beyong the arc. (Naturally, he went only 2-for-4 from the line.) Most important were his nine fourth quarter points. And it wasn’t just that he was hitting shots. He was hitting tough shots. Shots that seem to give rude hand gestures to the Laws of Physics. For example:
Oh yeah. He shrugged.
(I’m going to show this video the next time somebody claims Rose has no personality. I think people tend to misunderstand his quiet demeanor, which is more a product of his natural humility than a true dearth of charisma.)
Later, with 25 seconds left, the Bulls clinging to a three-point lead, and the shot clock about to expire, Rose ran circles aound grinding defense before nailing a 14-footer that virtually sealed the deal.
This kid is special. He’s amazing.
No, he doesn’t get to the line as much as his coaches, his fans, and the experts would like. But make no mistake about it: This kid is a rising superstar.
Carlos Boozer had a modest double-double with 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. However, I got the feeling Boozington (as Joakim Noah calls him) wanted more shots. The Bulls didn’t always do a good job of finding him when he was open last night. In fact, there were times when, due to a switch, he had a smaller player (such as Derek Fisher) on him and the Bulls failed to exploit the mismatch. Eh, work in progress.
Noah (3-for-10, 9 points, 9 rebounds, no blocks or steals) had a rough game versus Pau Gasol (21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocked shots). That’ll happen. Still, Jo anchored a Bulls defense that held the Lakers to 83 points on 43 percent shooting. Plus, he got more physical with Gasol after Pau dropped 10 points on him in the first quarter. And it had an effect.
Said Phil Jackson: “They got physical with him and Pau got disconcerted. He started worrying about whether he was getting fouled or not. It changed how he played.”
Luol Deng had another quietly efficient night: 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
Keith Bogans needs to come off the bench. Bogans finished with zero points on 0-for-3 shooting (all on threes) and the Bulls were -16 during his 11 minutes on the floor. Look, it’s time to start Ronnie Brewer, who by comparison played 24 minutes, went 6-for-6 from the line, and finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals an assist and a block. The Bulls were +6 with Ronnie in the game.
Kyle Korver could also start at the shooting guard position. Korver once again provided a scoring spark off the bench, going 3-for-6 from beyond the arc — including a huge three-pointer in the fourth — and contributing 13 points to the winning cause. And if you’re wondering whether Chicago’s offense runs more smoothly when his presence is spreading out the opposing defense, note his game-high plus-minu score of +11.
Taj Gibson is slowly withering away on the bench. Last night’s performance — 12 minutes, 0-for-4, zero points — was the continuation of his downward trend since Boozer returned. In his last five games, Taj is averaging 5.2 PPG on 9-for-27 shooting (33 percent). He’s finding that life was much easier for him while playing with the other starters.
Quote of the night:
Said Rose: “I’m not a star. I just play in the NBA. I’m just trying to do anything to get my team the win, go out there and get wins. And that’s passing the ball or doing whatever. But you can see the difference between a star and a superstar, especially in this league where superstars like Kobe and all the other players, there’s only a [small] amount of them. Where they can take over games and do it on a consistent basis.”
Almost quote of the night:
Said Noah: “It’s feels great because a lot of people were saying … I had never beat The Lake Show before. So beating the Lake Show, if you say is just another game on the schedule, that’s a lie. That’s what coaches say. As players, that’s not true. They’re back to back champs. It was a great atmosphere in there and it’s always a good feeling to beat the Lake Show.”
From ESPN Stats and Information: “The Bulls have been very impressive against Western Conference teams this season. In fact 10 of their 13 wins this season are against the West. That .714 win percentage against the WEST is best among teams in the EAST.”
Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold: “In the end though, this game resembled so many of the other recent Lakers’ losses. The Lakers shooting isn’t what it was to start the season and their big men tire down the stretch. This leads to poor offensive execution and too many defensive possessions where interior rotations are slow (or non existent) and defensive rebounds aren’t corralled.”
Nick Friedell: “Rose may not consider himself a star just yet, but almost everyone else does. That’s why the United Center repeatedly serenaded him with ‘MVP’ chants throughout the night. Like he said, only a few players can take over games at the end — he’s one of them. No, he’s not on Bryant’s level yet (no one is right now) and no, a torch was not passed on Friday night. But, Rose yet again proved that he has elevated his game to yet another level, one that frightens the rest of the league.”