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RACE TO THE MVP
Derrick Rose
Injuries to key teammates have not stopped Derrick Rose from soaring or the Bulls from winning.
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Rose the glue that keeps beat-up Bulls together and winning

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Dec 31 2010 11:09AM

Derrick Rose is becoming what Stephon Marbury was supposed to be. And The Race apologizes if that seems like awfully faint praise for a player having a season as special as Rose's.

Time was, though, Marbury was a budding, new-millennium prototype for scoring point guards in the NBA. He was teamed at the start with a superstar sidekick -- in Minnesota, with Kevin Garnett -- who was happy to let the Timberwolves' playmaker take and make the big shots. Even for several years after that, Marbury was one of only two players in NBA history averaging at least 20 points and eight assists through his career.

The other? Oscar Robertson.

Then came the unraveling, too disappointing and unsavory to recite in detail here. But Marbury spiraled downward individually and as a teammate. He appeared in only 10 playoff games from age 21 through 30. And the 14 he logged in 2009 were through the good graces, and on the coattails of, the Boston Celtics. Now he's over in China for a second stint, his NBA career over too soon, a cautionary tale as much as a success story. Starbury-crossed, one might say.

Rose so far has been Marbury's mirror image: Similar in style on the basketball court, yet opposite in so many ways. Where Marbury was cocky, Rose is confident. In place of stubbornness, humility. Marbury envied and competed with teammates and only seemed happy if his name blazed on the marquee in lights bigger than the team's.

Then there's Rose, so self-effacing that you wonder if he realizes he's a star already in the NBA. Make that an All-Star, along with this week's top pick in The Race.

When the Chicago Bulls' scoring point guard learned that he sat third behind Boston's Rajon Rondo and Miami's Dwyane Wade in balloting for the Eastern Conference backcourt for the All-Star Game in L.A. Feb. 20, he acted like voters or coaches would be doing him a favor by even inviting him. "Just get me on the team," Rose said. "Let me be the water boy or something like that. I'll be good. Towel boy or something. Let me run the clock."

Fact is, Rose participated for the East last February in Dallas, getting eight points, four assists and three steals in barely 15 minutes. He already is very, very good, zeroing in on great. And he doesn't just run clocks, he beats them.

Three times this season, Chicago has won despite trailing in the final 20 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime. Only Oklahoma City has as many such victories, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. And each time, Rose has done the heavy lifting:

• At Phoenix on Nov. 24, Rose sank two free throws with 14.7 seconds left to pull Chicago into a 101-101 tie. Then he scored 11 points across two overtimes for a 123-115 victory.

• Rose's 25-footer at the end of regulation enabled the Bulls to catch Houston at 109-109 on Dec. 4, and he scored half of their points in overtime of a 119-116 victory.

• Four nights later, the Bulls trailed Cleveland late, 83-82, until Rose completed a three-point play with 19.6 seconds left in what became an 88-83 victory.

Then Rose nearly did it again last weekend, until his second free throw in the final second left Chicago one point short against the Clippers.

Rose has been the constant in an ever-changing mix for the Bulls. He kept them above water without Carlos Boozer (9-6) while the pricey free-agent acquisition rehabbed from a broken hand. Rose steered them to a 4-3 record on their daunting, annual circus trip. He really had things humming (7-2) when Chicago had its full complement of players for a couple of weeks. And he has steered them through the loss of center Joakim Noah (4-2).

This is the first time since the franchise's Jordan/Jackson/Pippen era that it has had winning records in both November and December. In the first two months of 1997-98, the Bulls went 20-10, headed toward their sixth championship and Jordan's fifth MVP.

Best of all, Rose has earned new coach Tom Thibodeau's admiration and trust. With the longtime defensive guru locked in on Chicago's improvements at that end of the floor, Thibodeau has leaned on Rose to dictate much of what the Bulls do offensively.

"It's his responsibility to run the team and recognize what's going on and what the matchups are," Thibodeau told reporters. "He's done a good job of pushing the ball. And if someone hasn't gotten a shot, or is maybe struggling a little bit, then he'll try to create a situation in which they get an easy basket. Often times, if you get a layup or two, that can get your confidence going quickly."

Rose has earned that trust. He ranks eighth in the NBA in scoring and eighth in assists. He's the only player averaging at least 24 points and eight assists, and he'd have a couple more nightly with more reliable shooters around him. Rose has nine double-doubles (two on points/rebounds) and he has smoothed over what really is a pothole in the Bulls' backcourt at shooting guard.

Rose has made the offense work with Noah as an inside presence and cutter to the rim, and he has made it work with Boozer mostly sticking to mid-range jumpers. Rose also has taken 122 shots from 3-point range, making 48 -- three times what he made in either of his first two seasons.

He's doing it in his hometown, too, something Marbury -- the Coney Island kid -- couldn't successfully navigate in New York or New Jersey. At this rate, Rose will forever be getting his egg rolls and fried rice delivered. Forget the takeout.

Here are this week's runners in The Race to the MVP:

1. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (21-12)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
2938.124.04.88.51.20.6.455.393.764
Last Week's Rank - 3
Rose is posting career bests in these categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, minutes and 3-point shooting. For as much notice as both Dwyane Wade (31.9 percent) and LeBron James (36.2) have gotten for their career-high shooting from the arc, Rose (39.3) has invented himself from out there in just three seasons, not eight.

2. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (24-7)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
2935.424.17.42.40.70.8.545.403.879
Last Week's Rank - 1
Nowitzki had 13 points in 12 minutes at Oklahoma City Monday before spraining his right knee. Sitting out home losses to Toronto and San Antonio showed his value but cut into his production.

3. Amar'e Stoudemire, N.Y. Knicks (18-14)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3237.726.49.12.41.02.3.524.545.780
Last Week's Rank - 2
The committee doesn't let its rankings turn on single confrontations, but Orlando's Dwight Howard cinched a little closer to this guy by winning their Thursday battle. Guarding the Magic center got Stoudemire into foul trouble and he played just 32 minutes, with 30 points and four boards, as the Knicks hit 2-5 in their last seven.

4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (21-12)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3135.421.113.01.11.22.4.562.000.565
Last Week's Rank - 6
Things are trending up for the Magic and its best player. Going smallish when Stoudemire sat down Thursday was no answer, not with Howard getting 24 points and 18 rebounds. It was his 89th game with at least 20/15.

5. LeBron James, Miami Heat (25-9)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3437.424.46.77.31.40.4.475.362.774
Last Week's Rank - 4
He's the leading All-Star vote-getter on his team, a guy who averaged 25.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.8 assists in December. Yet James rode shotgun to Dwyane Wade last week when the firm's senior super-partner scored 85 points against the Knicks and the Rockets in about 27 hours.

6. Dwayne Wade, Miami Heat (25-9)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3236.124.56.54.21.51.0.494.319.734
Last Week's Rank - 8
Wade could wind up as the East's best player of the a) week and b) month after averaging 27.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists in December. The Super Friends went 15-1 this month, 10-0 on the road.

7. Kevin Durant, OKC Thunder
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
2939.128.16.43.11.11.1.460.320.881
Last Week's Rank - 9
The NBA's leading scorer got himself 99 points in three games last week, making 58.3 percent of his shots overall and 43 percent (9 of 21) from 3-point range. His 44 points against Denver earned the Sonics/Thunder franchise its first Christmas victory (1-11 now).

8. Deron Williams, Utah Jazz (22-11)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3337.922.34.09.41.20.2.471.373.850
Last Week's Rank - 7
Losing twice in four nights to Andre Miller and the Trail Blazers stung, as did the Jazz's 18 turnovers at Portland Thursday. Williams had three but the point guard has to impose order. Probably could use a breather (he logged 34-plus minutes every game in December.)

9. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3232.925.15.04.51.30.1.443.324.836
Last Week's Rank - 5
Way too much drama lately for the Lakers and their smoldering leader. Playing angry doesn't work the way it used to, not at age 32 with all those miles. Bryant needs his teammates more than ever and they know it. The Lakers are 15-2 when Kobe attempts fewer than 20 field goals.

10. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics (25-9)
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3031.615.09.520.1.70.7.539.000.824
Last Week's Rank - NR
Let's consider this a symbolic berth for the guy whose value at both ends has been evident all season, despite a swirl of injuries around him. And whose value could get demonstrated in negative fashion over the next two weeks as he mends from a calf injury. Garnett also is the NBA's plus/minus leader, adjusted for minutes logged.

Dropping out: Al Horford, Atlanta (No. 10 last week).

Honorable mention: Blake Griffin, L.A Clippers; Jason Kidd, Dallas; Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves; Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns; Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs; Chris Paul, New Orleans.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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