Raging Bulls

Rose’s rapid rise carries Bulls to cusp of NBA elite status

Reigning MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls visit the Pistons tonight at 7:30 p.m.
J. Dennis/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
When Derrick Rose debuted at The Palace on Dec. 23, 2008, it would have taken a fortune teller to predict that less than three years later he would become the youngest MVP, at 23, in NBA history. On that night, the Pistons beat Chicago 104-98 and Rose, going head to head with Rodney Stuckey for the most part, was outscored 40-10 by Stuckey and fouled out in 21 minutes.

Things will be quite different when Rose leads the Chicago Bulls into The Palace tonight – and “leads,” overused to the point of rendering it trite, is precisely what Rose will do for the Bulls, his Chicago Bulls.

“From talking to people who’ve been around him, he’s one of the most coachable guys in the NBA,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said of the 2008 No. 1 pick, a Chicago native who spent one season under John Calipari at Memphis and carried the Tigers to within an overtime against Kansas of winning the ’08 NCAA title.

“He’s one of the most coachable guys in the NBA, let alone he’s one of the most talented guys in the NBA. So he’s your hardest worker, he’s your most unselfish player, he’s your most coachable guy. It’s why he has greatness written all over him.”

The thing that excited NBA scouts about Rose during his season at Memphis, and ultimately led Chicago to take him over high-scoring Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley in what was viewed as a neck-and-neck battle for the top spot, was his otherworldly athleticism. Rose has tremendous speed to go with strength and explosion, making him a lethal finisher at the rim.

“People talk about LeBron James – to me, Rose is just a scaled-down version of LeBron,” Frank said. “He’s the same athlete, just a little bit smaller. He combines speed, quickness and power.”

But it’s what he’s done with his physical gifts that have allowed Rose to separate himself from a field of young point guards that could be the deepest the NBA has ever witnessed. Rose’s competitiveness and work ethic have taken him from a physical specimen to a feared fourth-quarter finisher. The dramatic strides Rose took as a 3-point shooter in his MVP year underscores the work ethic for which he’s become renowned.

While it’s not unusual for young players to steadily improve their 3-point efficiency, Rose’s leap was off the charts. In his first two NBA seasons, Rose took less than one 3-point shot per game and made less than 25 percent. Last season, he took 385 – nearly five per game – and made a third of them. This year, his percentage is up to .381.

“You can’t give the guy a cushion,” Frank said. “He rises up and shoots it. Plus he was the best fourth-quarter scorer in the league, and the percentage of points he scored for his team was No. 1 in the league. And he has a great will and passion. The thing I really like about him is, regardless of whether they’re up 16 or down 10, you don’t know the difference with him. He has the same approach – extremely driven. A very impressive guy.”

Of course, Rose isn’t a one-man band, which explains how the Bulls are off to a 4-1 start despite opening the season with a four-game West Coast road swing that began with a Christmas Day win over the Lakers. In their home opener, Chicago crushed rising Western Conference contender Memphis 104-64.

“They’re as good as anyone in the NBA,” Frank said. “They’re a well-oiled machine. They pitched a shutout against Memphis. They’re a dominant defensive team with an MVP player, with great depth, extremely well coached.”

Ex-Piston Rip Hamilton has settled in at Rose’s side as the shooting guard, though Hamilton missed the win over Memphis with a groin injury. He’s averaging 12 points, fourth on the team in scoring behind Rose, Luol Deng (17) and Carlos Boozer (12.8). The frontcourt is especially deep, with Boozer joined by Joakim Noah in the starting lineup and backed by Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, who both average 17 minutes off the bench and give Chicago great defense and paint presence.

“It’s an opportunity for us,” Frank said, looking to win a third straight game and get the Pistons back to .500 after a 0-3 start. “We have to take it as a big-time challenge. Nothing is supposed to be easy and it won’t be, but we have to keep building and getting better.”