By Cody Westerlund-
CHICAGO (CBS) – Overshadowed by Paul George’s devastating broken leg in USA Basketball’s scrimmage in Las Vegas on Aug. 1 was Bulls point guard Derrick Rose’s flashy performance before the game was called early in the fourth quarter.
To the casual observer, Rose was much his same old self, exploding to the hoop, gliding past defenders and even finishing once with a ferocious two-handed jam. Of the utmost importance, he was in no way tentative.
To Rose and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, it was all that and then something more – a glimpse of a more measured Rose.
“My game is developing into a controlled game,” Rose said. “I’m using my speed whenever I need to, and I’m playing a more relaxed game now. So I think you’ll see a mature basketball player whenever I play.”
In the early stages of his return to serious competition following rehab of the second serious knee injury of his career, Rose isn’t a changed player as much as he says he’s a wiser player. With his injuries came more film study – Rose did that little early in his career because the game always came naturally easy, he said – deeper conversations with Thibodeau and more time spent reflecting.
Now, the trick becomes this: How does Rose incorporate a better understanding of the game with his trademark explosive style? For all his spectacular talents, how does Rose learn balance going full throttle with scaling it back and facilitating?
This new challenge is as much a reason as any that Rose was practicing Thursday afternoon at the Quest Multisport Complex with Team USA, for which (barring a massive surprise) he’ll be part of the 12-man roster that will participate in the FIBA World Cup starting later this month in Spain. Rose needs reps against the best to figure out how he best fits in after two years of not having that feel.
“He’s grown,” said Thibodeau, a Team USA assistant. “The one thing with Derrick, with each experience he learns. So he’s a different player because I think he has different things he’s added to his game.”
While all these new elements can only be revealed in time, Thibodeau is referring to Rose’s mindset as much as any physical aspect. Soon to be surrounded by a revamped Bulls roster constructed to both ease his burden and complement his playmaking abilities, Rose would be best served picking his spots to carry the load.
Rose won’t always need to be the man. He just needs to have the ability to be the man.
That’s what the abundance of talent on Team USA allows him to do, and Rose has impressed with his approach.
“The patience,” Thibodeau said when asked in what ways Rose has progressed recently. “I know he puts a lot of pressure on himself, and I think that’s something that he learned from the last comeback. He’s got a great pace to his game right now. I think he’s reading the game extremely well. He’s shooting when he should shoot. He’s passing when he should pass. He’s not forcing things. He’s playing very well defensively. And that’s what we want him to do – find the rhythm of the game. He’s comfortable, he’s confident.”
Patience will serve Rose well off the court as well, where he’s facing a crossroads. He recently acknowledged to the Sun-Times that tension existed between his camp and some in the Bulls organization, adding he’s excited for this to be a “new beginning.” At 25, Rose is at a stage of his career where youth is no excuse, where the clock begins ticking on his prime years that may be so fragile given his injury history.
There’s simply no more time to waste, for Rose or the Bulls. Speaking publicly in Chicago on Thursday for the first time in a long while before Team USA hosts Brazil in an exhibition game Saturday night at the United Center, Rose addressed his basketball mortality with a measured approach and no fright.
It’s the same formula he’s looking to duplicate with his game.
“I have no fear,” Rose said. “I have faith. I know that I’m going to be fine. I know I’ve busted my (butt) the entire two summers, two seasons getting back to where I am now. I’m just trying to keep it moving, stay positive every day, doing everything consistent.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.