- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose swears he is feeling fine.
Despite the fact he has battled a sore right hamstring for more than a week, the former MVP insists that he is feeling fine as he continues to work his way back after missing the last year and a half to recover from reconstructive knee surgery.
"I'm great, man," Rose said after Monday night's win over the Charlotte Bobcats. "I'm great. This is the most I've ever took care of my body in my life, in my career, and [I'm] just trying to continue to do that."
The problem for Rose and the Chicago Bulls is that the 25-year-old's stats this season tell a different story. After knocking down six 3-pointers on Saturday night against the Indiana Pacers, Rose followed that up by shooting 4-for-13 from the field on Monday. He is now 39-for-112 (34.8 percent) from the field on the season. What has to be most disconcerting for coach Tom Thibodeau is the fact that Rose went to the free throw line just four times on Monday and seems much more hesitant going to the rim than usual. Rose is 18-for-20 from the free throw line this season but says he isn't worried about his hesitation in trying to get to the hole of late.
"I'm not trying to get caught up into that," Rose said. "I'm just going to try and play my game. Of course, I could try to come down and do that every play, but me not going to the line or not getting the calls -- I really have to take that into consideration when I'm driving and play smart."
So if Rose isn't hurt, and he isn't concerned about his game, then why hasn't he looked like the player that dominated in the preseason? It's the unanswered question that continues to hover over the Bulls. The issue for Thibodeau, at least in the short term, is that Rose doesn't look as confident as he did during that preseason run. Granted, the Bulls continue to pile up wins -- now five in a row -- and Rose continues to make plays late in games, as evidenced by his two crucial baskets down the stretch, but anyone who has watched Rose over his career can tell you the he doesn't look particularly comfortable on the floor right now.
Is it rust? Is he hurt? Is he just not playing well? Whatever the answer is, Rose's teammates and coaches remain firmly in his corner.
"It was a tough, hard-fought game, and I liked that Derrick showed a lot of perseverance," Thibodeau said. "He had timely buckets late and made some big buckets for us -- that was huge. The game will tell you what shots were there. I want Derrick to be aggressive, to play to his strengths. Each game he has gotten better and better."
Thibodeau is smart to defend his star player, but the reality is that his statement just isn't accurate. Rose is struggling to find a rhythm.
"I am good with where he is," Thibodeau said. "I just want Derrick to continue to make the right plays. You have to find different ways to win, and we were able to do that tonight. I think also the game is starting to slow down for Derrick. He's competing very hard defensively and he is reading how defenses are playing our team. No matter what, Derrick is going to command a lot of attention."
That part is true. In many ways, aside from his key baskets down the stretch, Rose is serving as more of a decoy offensively. His defense has been solid, especially against Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving last Monday, but his offense continues to be a concern, at least to everyone besides his teammates.
"He's mentally tough," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "The same thing with me. I was struggling all night, too. But that's the character of our team. We believe in each other. We don't shy away from the moment. We know, at the end of the day, it's not about our individual struggles or individual battles or whatever we're going through personally. It's about our team. That's the great thing about this group of guys, man.
We've all been All-Stars, Derrick's been an MVP, some of us have Olympic gold medals or NCAA championships, or whatever it is. We've all had the individual accolades, but, right now, we just want to win. The one thing we all keep in mind is no matter how the game goes, whatever it takes to win at the end, we got to do it. All the championship teams do that. You look at Miami -- last time it came down to an offensive rebound or it would have been San Antonio's championship. Quite frankly, that's what it came down to. They did whatever it took to win last year, and that's what we got to do."
That's why nobody within the Bulls locker room seems outwardly concerned about the team's best player. They are still just nine games into the season, and they know he has too much talent to continue struggling so much.
"He has our support," Boozer said. "We're there for him every day. Derrick puts the work in every day. No matter what happens in the game, he's there the next day getting his work in, getting his shots up, watching film with Thibs, watching film with his coaches, goes home, does his thing with his family and friends and he comes back and does [work] every day. You can count on him every day. When you got guys that put the work in, more times than not you're going to see the work show out in the games.
"I'm proud of him. Tonight was an example of that -- tough game for all of us except for [Luol Deng] and Jimmy [Butler] -- but, at the end of the day, we're going to D-Rose. That's what he does. He hits shots to win games. The Knicks game, same thing happened. Tough shooting night, but the one shot we needed him to hit, what did he do? He hit it. That's what makes him special, man."
For his part, Rose doesn't seem concerned, either. He has said repeatedly he will have a breakthrough game soon and is still convinced things will come around. As long as the Bulls continue to win games, Rose insists he isn't going to let his missed shots get to him.
"I could care less, man," he said. "I really could care less. We're winning. Winning takes care of everything, every category, every area, so as long as we win, I'm fine."