Ahead of schedule? No. 1 pick Rose already turning heads with Bulls
Derrick Rose is drawing raves from teammates as well as opposing coaches/GMs
Rose's quickness allows him to get into the paint and make plays with regularity
Two big challenges for Rose: limiting turnovers and hitting perimeter jump shots
CHICAGO -- It's not often that the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft enters the season as the fourth guy on many preseason ballots for Rookie of the Year, but that might be the case for Bulls point guard Derrick Rose.
Michael Beasley, Greg Oden and even O.J. Mayo seem to be getting the most hype as the NBA gets set to open the 2008-09 season.
While nobody doubts Rose's talents, many believe the 20-year-old point guard might need a year or two to learn the NBA game. Furthermore, the Bulls might not have the supporting cast -- especially a big man who can score inside -- to really bring out the best in Rose's abilities.
But anybody who saw Rose over his final three preseason games, including a scintillating performance in Dallas last week, would agree that the 6-foot-3 playmaker with the blazing speed and vast skill set just might be good enough to defy the skeptics.
"I don't want to say I've definitely arrived," the soft-spoken Rose said Friday night as he sat at his locker before his team's final exhibition. "But I can play a little bit."
Rose's preseason stats weren't eye-popping. In eight games, he averaged 13.9 points (on 51.8 percent shooting) to go with 5.0 assists in 31.8 minutes. He also struggled a bit with turnovers (3.3 per game).
The numbers, however, don't really tell the story. Rose spent the first four or five games just attempting to fit in with his teammates and get comfortable. "Just trying to learn the plays, learn my teammates and coaches," he said.
Then last week, in that game against the Mavericks, Rose suddenly turned it loose.
Flashing the speed and power that he displayed while leading Memphis to the NCAA title game last spring, Rose scored 30 points (on 13-of-18 shooting) and dished out seven assists while leading the Bulls back from a 23-point deficit. He scored 14 of his points in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead, 10-foot, baseline floater over two defenders with 40 seconds to play.
"I didn't want to lose no more," Rose said with a slight smile. "My veterans were telling me to step up and take over the game. I listened to them."
Rose blew past Jason Kidd on one play for a bucket and left Jason Terry looking lost on another. He split double teams with ease, once beating 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki to the rim for a lefty layup. It got so bad that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle actually had his team trapping Rose at midcourt to get the ball out of his hands.
Perhaps most impressive, the Bulls' veterans seemed to look to Rose to take over. On his game-winning shot, they passed him the ball and practically headed over to Deep Ellum for a cold drink while he went to work.
"My whole thing is being aggressive," Rose said. "I'm not one of those point guards who just sits back and passes the ball all day. I can score a little bit. If it helps the team, then I'll do it. I was just attacking."
The following night at Minnesota, Rose proved it was no fluke by shredding the Timberwolves for 17 points, five rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes. He then had seven points and two assists in the opening five minutes against the Bucks on Friday night before leaving the game for good with a bruised hip suffered when he was fouled by Richard Jefferson on a drive to the basket.
Interestingly, Bulls forward Andres Nocioni later issued a hard foul of his own on Jefferson, prompting a minor dust-up between the two teams. It's not known if Nocioni's foul was any kind of payback for the foul on Rose, but it's certainly possible. Chicago's veterans already seem to know that Rose is going to be their meal ticket.
"He's going to be good," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "He's a point guard who makes everybody around him better. I think he's ready to step in and play right away."
Rose's preseason showing has not gone unnoticed by opposing players, coaches and scouts. Some have compared him to Tony Parker and Chris Paul in terms of his jet-like bursts to the basket. Others noted his patience, poise and even his lack of showboating.
"The guy's a star," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "He's beyond quick and fast, and he's so powerful. He can go to the rim and finish. He has unique shots in the paint that he makes -- floaters, runners. And that doesn't even mention that he sees the floor and passes the ball. He's going to be very hard to handle."
"I think he's about as exciting a young player you can see in the league today," Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson said after watching Rose's display in Dallas. "He's got the skills, the body and the drive to be great. The leadership qualities are there. The sky's the limit with that kid."
Rose takes all the kudos and hype in stride while simultaneously exuding confidence. He knows he will need to cut down the turnovers and prove he can knock down outside jumpers consistently. He understands there will be growing pains.
But he also knows that when he turns on the afterburners, there is nobody who can stop him from getting to the basket. As part of the U.S. select team that scrimmaged against Team USA in July, he got a chance to play against the likes of Kidd, Paul and Deron Williams. The experience helped him make a fast transition.
"It took my jitters out," he said. "I was playing against some of the best players in the NBA. If I could hold my own against them, I knew I could do it."
Rose appears to be saying and doing all the right things so far. During the preseason, he kept talking about the importance of "winning," even if the games didn't count in the standings, and he took time to credit his coaches and teammates. He also seems to understand his responsibility as the cornerstone of the Bulls' future. He even requested to be introduced before games as being from Chicago, rather than from his college at Memphis.
"I'm here, I've been here my whole life. I was only in Memphis one year, so fans in Memphis would understand," Rose said. "It was my idea. They asked me about it. And I thought about it a while, and finally came up with that decision."
Rose doesn't know yet if he will hear his name announced with the starters during pregame introductions Tuesday night when Chicago opens the regular season against Milwaukee. Vinny Del Negro, who will be making his own debut (as an NBA coach), has been noncommittal. But all indications are that Rose will get the start, especially now that shooting guard Larry Hughes has been sidelined with a separated shoulder.
With Hughes out and Ben Gordon having played only one exhibition because of a toe injury, Del Negro probably will opt to slide Kirk Hinrich over to shooting guard and let his prized rookie take the reins at the point. Not that Rose is losing any sleep over it. "As long as we win the game," he said.
Rose is smart not to worry about it. From the looks of things so far, he is going to be hearing his name called a lot in coming years. Maybe even as this season's Rookie of the Year.