Straight to the finish
Attacking Rose is there, but his game won't be back until he can convert at rim
CHICAGO -- On the first snowy evening of the season in Chicago, Derrick Rose focused on his commute to the basket.
In a 96-81 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, all but one of Rose's field goals came inside 10 feet, with a mixture of bank shots, layups and short jumpers. Some came off fast breaks, others in the half court.
Faced up against a younger challenger to the throne of Central Division point god in Kyrie Irving, Rose scored 16 points on 8-for-21 shooting. He set his season high with seven assists and had his first zero-turnover game. His previous turnover low was four, set three times.
Of course, the big story wasn't Rose's shooting or his improved efficiency as a playmaker, it was Rose tweaking his hamstring on his final drive of the night and missing the last 3½ minutes of a relatively close game.
Was it irony that he hurt himself on his most Derrick Rose move of the night, a one-man fast break that took him untouched to the hole?
Can Bulls fans handle irony right now?
Six games seem like 60 to a fan base that lived and died by Rose's year-long rehab last season. Rose's slow start in this first two weeks of the regular season has nullified much of the excitement created around an impressive preseason start.
Through six games, Rose is averaging 14.7 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 turnovers. He is shooting 33 percent from the field and 25 percent on 3-pointers.
No matter how much Rose talks about diversifying his game, it's still predicated on him getting to the paint in a hurry. Rose attacking the basket is the key to his game and the Bulls' chances to outlast Indiana and unseat Miami in the East.
On Monday, he did that in spurts. He looked pedestrian for minutes at a time, even when the Bulls' offense was clicking otherwise, and then he would turn it on, bang-bang-bang to the rim.
"Just attacking, usual D-Rose, just attacking," Irving said. "I have the utmost respect for him; just a pleasure to go against a great player like that. I was trying to make it tough for him as much as possible, just stay on his hip make him take tough shots."
I normally don't play pickup in the summer and then you throw an injury on top of that, I haven't played basketball in so long. So when I have the basketball in my hand, going into a move or going into a shot, I feel a little bit weird right now. Just getting in that rhythm, getting that groove. Like I said, it's going to be scary.” -- Derrick Rose
In one game, Rose improved his field goal percentage on drives ("Any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks," according to NBA.com.) from 36.8 percent to 41.7, according to the newly available SportVU player tracking statistics page on the league's homepage.
Through six games, Rose has scored 27 points on 37 "drives." To put that in perspective, Monta Ellis is leading the NBA with 65 points on 80 drives. Rose doesn't want to be Ellis, of course, but he wants to be able to attack at will in the half court.
But first he has to finish better. When he gets to the rim in any situation, including his specialty, fast breaks, Rose is shooting just 38.46 percent, a far cry from his 2008-12 average of 54.8 percent, according to NBA.com.
Just as important as finishing, Rose isn't getting to the free throw line, a cause of consternation for his coach. He has just 20 free throws in six games, or five more than Kirk Hinrich. He had zero attempts in the win over Cleveland.
"He's done that all season where he's been attacking and not quite finishing, which he normally does," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I would like to see him get to the line a little bit. We have to keep working on it."
None of these numbers should be a cause for concern, mainly because Rose's explosiveness is so evident. That was the worry when he tore that ACL two seasons ago: Would it silence his greatest gift? While he's not dunking much with that supposed five extra inches of vertical, his speed is certainly at an MVP level.
While he has talked extensively about his improved jumper, Rose is 6-for-24 on 3-pointers and 2-for-11 on mid-range-to-long 2-pointers. The Bulls are following suit, shooting 26.3 percent on 3-pointers, though hired gunner Mike Dunleavy seems to be easing into his role.
SportsNation: Rose and the Bulls
Derrick Rose left Monday's game with a minor injury. Will he excel this year? How will the Bulls fare? Vote! »
The good news is, as Rose said to reporters, there are "70-something games left."
If anything, there's some value to struggling earlier when you're trying to peak later in the season. For a Bulls team that has dominated the regular season, maybe it's better for them to start a little slower. That goes for Rose too. (Don't tell Thibs I said that.)
Still, everyone, including Rose, is waiting for that "breakout game."
Rose said his confidence is growing incrementally and his teammates are "allowing me to play the way I normally play, to attack, put everyone on their heels." But he agrees he's not right yet.
"I normally don't play pickup in the summer, and then you throw an injury on top of that, I haven't played basketball in so long," Rose said. "So when I have the basketball in my hand, going into a move or going into a shot, I feel a little bit weird right now. Just getting in that rhythm, getting that groove. Like I said, it's going to be scary."
Rose said he learned patience during his extended rehab, something that hasn't carried over to a perpetually nervous fan base that is waiting to be scared.