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As the No. 1 pick of the 2008 NBA draft, Derrick Rose wasn't exactly an unknown talent, but Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said the organization had no idea Rose would be this good.
"I'm not going to say any of us knew that," Paxson said Friday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "I think when we saw him in college the combination of his strength and speed were unique when you looked at the point guard position being such a valuable position in our game today. Those two things, the strength and the speed, you didn't see that with many -- any, really -- point guards in our league."
Rose's Bulls are in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, needing one win to clinch the top spot. And he has emerged as the frontrunner for NBA MVP in his third season, averaging career highs in scoring average (25.1), assists (7.9), rebounds (4.2), 3-point percentage (.333) and free-throw percentage (.858).
"When he was a very young player at 19 years old he still had a lot of things to improve upon, which is natural," Paxson said. "I think the thing that he deserves all the credit for is improving his game to the point where he's so difficult to defend now where he can come up and knock down perimeter shots. He's had a very good year shooting the 3 where people have to recognize that but it's also that 17- to 19-foot shot if teams try to go under a screen or play off him a little bit, he's very good at making that.
"Then he also has that little floater that he makes so often now which is such a good shot for him. He deserves all the credit for improving his game and getting it to where it is now. When you talk about the top five players in the league, Derrick Rose is in every conversation. That's huge because that didn't happen last year."
Paxson, who played eight seasons with Michael Jordan, said Rose shares one trait with the former Bulls legend.
"You couldn't have predicted that Michael Jordan was going to turn out to be the greatest player in the history of the game," Paxson said. "You just don't know. We look at young players and you try to determine what they might be going forward. The one thing that I personally ... having been around a guy like Michael for a lot of years and even Scottie [Pippen] and now Derrick, is that the great player has something inside of him that is just different than everybody else.
"That doesn't always show up when they are at an early age. In fact the guys that get identified as a great player when they are an eighth-grader or early in high school, often times it doesn't work out for them. There is something very unique inside the heart and mind of the great player, and I think we're seeing that with Derrick now."