Kevin Arnovitz watched Derrick Rose very closely last night, and here's what he noticed.
Two of my favorite recent pieces of basketball writing come by way of Basketball Prospectus. The first is Kevin Pelton's examination of the Lakers' pressure defense; the second is Anthony Macri's profile of Derrick Rose. The Bulls and Lakers faced off last night in Los Angeles, which gave us a nice opportunity to look at Rose's tool box against that nasty early-season Lakers' defense. How did Rose respond to the Lakers' stifling pressure? What kind of shots was he able to work for himself and his teammates?
Let's take a look at Rose's weaponry:
The Triple Threat [1st, 11:15] On the Bulls' first possession of the game, they run a high screen and roll for Rose and Drew Gooden. Gooden forces the action with a dribble-drive from the top of the circle against a recovering Pau Gasol, then kicks the ball out to Rose on the right wing.
Rose catches and sees Fisher cheating. Faced up against Fisher, Rose sizes up his options: Does he hit Luol Deng at the top of the arc? (The Lakers have collapsed in the paint on Gooden) Does he shoot over Fisher? Or does he put it on the floor?
Rose elevates his right shoulder for the faintest of pump-fakes -- but it's just enough to get a recovering Fisher to bite. Rose takes a hard dribble driving right. Gasol cuts off the lane, so Rose throws up a running right-handed floater that falls in.
The Drive and Kick [1st, 9:03] As Rose drives down the left sideline past Fisher, the entire Lakers defense shifts low and strong. This leaves the perimeter vulnerable, and Gooden has set up shop at a spot just behind Rose on the arc. Even though the Lakers now have Rose trapped in the corner, he manages to leave his feet to heave an overhead two-handed pass back out to Gooden, who's alone at 18 feet.
Few point guards have been able to maintain control of the court against the Lakers' strong-side pressure this season, but Rose beats it with his court vision. Gooden nails the shot.
The Bulls like this set enough to run it again on the right side a couple of possessions later to the same effect: An open Drew Gooden face-up jumper.
Rose has four assists before the eight-minute mark of the first quarter, three of them to Gooden.
The Stutter-Step [1st, 5:34] The Bulls have seven seconds on the inbounds. The ball comes into Rose in the backcourt against Fisher. He takes a hard dribble with his left, then glides by a solid screen from Gooden that stunts Fisher. Here comes the traffic -- Bynum off the switch coupled with Vladimir Radmanovic, who has left Deng to help. Rose momentarily hesitates with a little stutter-step that destabilizes Bynum. But there's still work to be done. He then lowers his head, splits the two big men, launches off his left foot as he brings the ball up for an acrobatic finish with his left hand. It's good, and it's beautiful.
The Pace Car [1st, 2:58] Ben Gordon strips Lamar Odom. Rose picks up the ball at the Lakers' foul line at 3:01. In three seconds, he weaves his way through the entirety of the Lakers' transition defense, splitting Radmanovic and Fisher at the arc, to reach the rim before Kobe Bryant can contest the shot.
The Rookie [2nd, 9:48] Rose has tremendous strength, speed, and awareness ... but guys like Kobe Bryant still have instinct. Dribbling the ball in the backcourt, Rose telegraphs a pass to Ben Gordon. Bryant needs only the teensiest of signals and Rose has given it to him. Kobe effortlessly steps in front of the pass, get it into the open floor, and converts the break against Rose on the other end.
The Freelancer [2nd, 3:03]: This is the most telling Rose sequence of the half, albeit one that's less visually spectacular than some of his other flourishes.
Drew Gooden comes high to set a screen for Rose along the left sideline. But before Gooden sets up, Rose realizes he already has what he needs -- an off-balance Pau Gasol anticipating the screen, then a whole lot of open court on the strong side. Rose doesn't wait. He takes a hard dribble with his left as he hums past Gasol along the left sideline in front of the Bulls' bench. With Ben Gordon safely off in the far corner, Kobe Bryant steps out to contest Rose. As Bryant emerges, Rose accelerates into sixth gear. He's at the glass before Bryant can challenge the shot.
Even with a prospect as talented as Derrick Rose, there are still persistent questions: Can running John Calipari's Dribble Drive Motion against Conference USA defenses really prepare a 19-year-old for the length and speed he'll encounter against a defense like the Lakers? By most measures, the early answer is yes.
Rose's poise and instincts have translated into some startling results -- including a .483 field goal percentage, and a turnover/48 minute number that's remarkably low for a rookie with the ball. The trick for Rose will be mastering the less elemental tasks of the gig -- getting to the line more than once in a road game against an elite team and cultivating the kind of trust with teammates so that you can manufacture easy buckets. Rose and Gooden had that two-man game working early, but once the Lakers adjusted by anticipating the action earlier and more aggressively, the Bulls' offense struggled to counter with much more than long jump shots off desperate kickouts and skip passes.
What Rose seems to have, though, is the ability to improvise with purpose. It's a rare gift, even among pro ballers. The league is littered with open-court players, but how many of them make good tactical decisions on the spot -- not just in terms of how to use their body, but how to use the court?
(Photograph: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)