Derrick Rose goes for a lay-up at Thursday’s game against Oklahoma City Thunder. Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated.
By Wenhao Ma
The clock is winding down. It’s three minutes and 46 seconds left in the forth quarter. The Chicago Bulls has tied with Oklahoma City Thunder at 92-92. Derrick Rose got the ball in his hands. In front of him stands Russell Westbrook, the 6-3 point guard who soars in the air and dunks on defenders every single night.
The last time they met on the court, which was five years ago, Rose was an MVP caliber. He later single handedly brought his team to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the Michael Jordan era.
He amazed the entire league he amazed his high-speed crossovers and unbelievable athleticism. While sports commentators criticized his friend Westbrook for bad shot selections and not being able to provide enough help to his team’s top scorer–Kevin Durant.
Time has changed everything. Now Westbrook, replacing Rose, is arguably the best attacking guard in the NBA history. His relentless style of playing has won him an NBA Finals appearance, a league’s scoring title, 11 triple doubles in one season, endorsement from Jordan Brand and endless applause from fans and commentators. Derrick Rose, who shared a similar playing style years ago and earning a MVP trophy, is remembered for three knee surgeries in three years, a fractured face under the mask, scoring single digit points in the previous three games and a lawsuit for a rape allegation.
Sports lovers and critics say he is a glass man– only a shell of his old self and a tradable asset that no team dares to buy. When he shot a three pointer to win Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers during last year’s Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, the entire United Center was ligup. When he got hit by his teammate’s elbow in the face, which caused him to miss seven pre-season games, fans said he was done. Jokes about his injuries were spread on social media.
Many times, Rose said that he “could care less” about what others said about him, but as a competitor, he needs to prove them wrong.
Back to the game. Rose saw his teammate Pau Gasol set a screen on Westbrook’s right side. It’s the same pick-and-roll that he and Gasol has been using for a year. The play just helped Rose assist Gasol for a long two during last play.
Rose drove past Westbrook using the screen. Thunder’s Enes Kanter came to double team him. Rose had the chance to pass the ball back to Gasol, who was wide open at the top of the key. This time, however, Rose wanted to drive to the basket. As soon as he broke into the paint area, he saw Thunder’s power forward Surge Ibaka ready to block him. He had to force a floater in front of Kanter, a 6-11 Center.
Rose had been criticized for forcing the shot since he came back from his first knee surgery in 2013. He only made 35.4 percent of all the shots he took during that season, before he had another season-ending knee injury. Last year his field goal percentage rose to 40.5, which was still lower than any of his pre-injury seasons.
There are several situations that had lowered his field goal percentage. When he got the ball from his teammate with only three seconds left on the clock, he would force a shot, usually a three pointer which he is not famous for. His body could not execute what he had in mind because of his previous injury. He would run to make a shot just to get blocked by the defenders. His body would lean forward as if he was out of balance whenever he wanted to make a short.
He used to be good at floaters. The best example would be the game between the Bulls and the Dallas Mavericks from last season, where Rose forced the game into a second overtime with a three-point floater.
However, he couldn’t make it this time over Kanter and Ibaka. When he forced a shot, it often ended as a failure. If Rose wanted to be more efficient, he had to get rid of the habit of forcing shots.
He missed it, but magically, he gets the ball back after his teammates, Taj Gibson and Kanter, fought for the rebound. Another floater, a much smoother one. He made it.
The next play, again Gasol came to set the screen. Rose draves into the paint, passed the ball back to Gasol, but Gasol doesn’t want to take the shot. Rose got the ball back while Gasol went into the paint, ready to catch the pass. That leaves Rose and Kanter with a miss match one-on-one situation, something Rose was good at.
Rose went back to the three-point line and starts dribbling. One, two, explodes to the rim. Then, a sudden step back jump shot. Bang.
He started to feel the rhythm. The next play, he went past Kanter and Westbrook with Gasol as the screen. He jumped in the air, got the ball from right hand to the left– the kind of scoop shot you can only see from Rose. Kanter reached, the whistle blew, two free throws, 98-94.
Six points in a row, Rose wanted to take over at this point in the game. He stepped to the right, Westbrook bit it. He went to the left, Ibaka followed to him. Another step back. Nothing but the net.
Every one in the United Center stood up to witness his performance. Rose didn’t disappoint them. He got the ball, facing Kanter. He walked to the left wing, dribbling. One, Two, step back, just like he did earlier. Another two points.
The bench jumped up to celebrate the play, so do the fans. During the last two minutes and 41 seconds, Rose scored 10 points, with no missed shots. All came from jumpers, miss match one-on-ones, pick-and-rolls and attacking the rim. There were no three pointers and no one-on-two or one-on-threes.
These plays conclude what Derrick Rose needed to improve his game with this Chicago Bulls. With Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Nicola Mirotic, pick-and-roll should’ve been the first option for Rose in the coming games.
With Tony Snell, Doug McDermott, Mike Dunleavy and Mirotic, shooting threes should be the last option Rose chose. With Jimmy Butler and a group of decent players who are good at different things, Rose didn’t need to play a lot of one-on-ones to win the game. He had so many helpers.
As a point guard, he needed to maximize their abilities during the game.
Just as he said before the season started, there’s no reason he shouldn’t average more than seven assists per game. However, there was still one thing nobody on the team was nearly as good at– penetrating the defense. If he could keep breaking opponents’ defense and getting double teams, he would’ve been able to create opportunities for his teammates to make easy lay-ups or wide-open threes.
Can Rose go back to his 2011 MVP form? No. Nobody can recover from the severe injuries that he had like it had never happened. Rose is getting old. His athleticism will worsen as he ages, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a better player than he was when he became the youngest MVP. Now, he doesn’t have to play like Westbrook, using all his strength on every single play. What he needs to do is to operate the whole team, making sure everyone is playing to the best of their ability. When the team is standing on the edge of losing the game, it would be Rose’s time to stand out and bloom.
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