CHICAGO — Evaluating Derrick Rose‘s first week of the 2015-16 season is a tricky process. As usual with the former MVP, there always seems to be a gray area in how his numbers are digested.
First and foremost, the Chicago Bulls are 3-1 after a 92-87 win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday night. The wins are what Rose has always said he cares most about. He doesn’t seem concerned with the fact that for just the third time in his career he has scored single-digit points in back-to-back games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research — registering eight in a loss to Detroit on Friday night and six on Sunday against the Magic. After missing almost all of training camp because of a fractured left orbital bone suffered on the first day of practice, Rose is just happy to be back on the floor and working his way into shape.
“I’m good,” Rose said. “All the games I’ve been playing in, I could care less how I’m playing, it’s all about conditioning. Pushing the ball — I’m trying to get people in positions to be successful. Getting the ball to my teammates where either they’re going to shoot or they’re going to feed the post or do something good for our offense. And for me it’s all about playing. I missed training camp [after getting injured] the first day. I didn’t play in preseason but the last game, so all this is new to me, it’s foreign.”
While Rose didn’t score the way he would have liked, going just 2-for-8 from the field, he did manage seven rebounds and eight assists. He found ways to contribute in other areas, one of the main reasons why new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg seemed pleased with Rose’s performance.
“He played very well,” Hoiberg said. “He didn’t settle for any jump shots, I thought he was in attack mode and did a good job of finding guys where guys were getting to the corner, drift when he was driving baseline opposite corner. … So I thought he really did a good job getting in there and finding guys. His eye must be getting better.”
The eye is key to any study of Rose’s game since Rose still acknowledges he is having problems with double vision. He isn’t sure when the vision problems will stop, he just knows he’s not feeling like his old self yet.
“Every single play I’m trying to read it off the strength of not being able to see,” Rose said. “So how they’re playing me when I’m driving to the hole. I look at a lot of film after I get done playing, just off the strength of I’m only working with one eye where I can’t see like that. So I’m just happy with the pace that I’m running with. Every game is a positive for me because I missed so long, and as long as we win I could care less about anything else.”
Yes, the Bulls are winning. And yes there are injury concerns still lingering. But through four games the other part of this equation is that Rose’s numbers aren’t looking as clear as usual in different areas. While Rose is trying to get to the rim more — he came into the game averaging 10 drives a game, compared to just seven a season ago — he is also averaging just three free-throw attempts a game, which would be a career low. He’s also averaging 15.3 field goal attempts a game, which would be the lowest total since his rookie season.
But therein lies another portion of the argument. Rose is taking fewer shots because he is clearly trying to distribute more. One week isn’t going to make a season, but it’s clear from his play, and his words, that Rose is enjoying the freedom of Hoiberg’s new system.
“It seems like he’s forcing me into how I naturally play,” Rose said. “Where I’m running downhill, I’m getting into the paint. I’m able to push the ball, one-man fast break if I want to, but it’s all about my conditioning, being able to push the ball that he wants me to and I want to, get to that next gear where it’s kind of like FIBA Basketball where I’m always pushing, I’ve got my guys running with me so I’m just trying to get in shape.”
His teammates agree. They are just glad the 27 year-old is back on the floor and they understand his timing is coming.
“It will take a little bit of time,” Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. “But I think everybody knows Derrick’s game. He’s going to look to find the open guy. When he gets in there he’s going to look to score. On the defensive end he’s going to be a pest — hell, he had some rebounds tonight. I was talking to him on the bench, my man was in there rebounding. It’s just a learning curve for everybody. It’s a different style of offense, and as he gets comfortable, as we get comfortable, we’re going to be a force.”
That is what the Bulls are banking on, and that is why they continue to be so protective regarding Rose’s recent numbers. They are convinced his time will come — but the bigger difference is that they know, on this roster, he isn’t going to have the pressure to deliver every single night as he has had in years past. The biggest key for Rose remains the same as it has always been — he has to find a way to stay healthy. But as he continues to shake off the rust in his game and find a new feel with life underneath a protective mask, Rose is focused on the future much more so than anyone or anything from his past. When the topic of the differences between Tom Thibodeau’s system and Hoiberg’s came up, Rose wanted no part of the comparisons. He has always respected Thibodeau, but like many within the organization, he is ready to move on.
“Thibs is the past, man,” Rose said. “I don’t even want to talk Thibs no more. [With] Fred, it’s been great. We’re learning each other. I’m learning the offense a little bit more. Every day it seems like I’m getting better, more familiar with the offense and with the defense and I love the way the team is talking. We’re communicating a little bit better, so I guess it’s a great thing.”