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Despite Rose's struggles, Bulls continue to find ways to win

It may be 11-5, but Chicago is searching for solutions as bad habits and a 26th-ranked offense step to the forefront

POSTED: Dec 3, 2015 12:15 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Not all players have taken quickly to Fred Hoiberg's newly instilled offense, which ranks near the bottom.

— Things could be worse. The Chicago Bulls could be losing while Derrick Rose works through some of the worst basketball he's ever played in his life.

Make no mistake, Rose's most notable achievements so far in 2015-16 have been in appearances and minutes: the point guard has played in 14 of Chicago's 16 games and he is averaging 32.9 minutes from behind the translucent mask that still protects the surgically repaired orbital fracture he suffered in the first practice on the first day of training camp. Given his history of injuries and a career counted out in absences, just showing up is no small thing.

But as long as we're winning games, it don't matter how we win them.

– Bulls' Derrick Rose

Still, the rest of the 2011 MVP's game has been a mess. Rose is averaging a career-low 13.3 points. He's initiating contact and earning trips to the foul line at a personal worst 2.9 free-throw attempts per game. He never has shot worse, ranking No. 292 (among NBA players qualified for the leader boards) in effective field-goal percentage (.356). His 9.7 PER is less than half what it was in his first four NBA seasons.

And Rose's on/off net rating is a chilly -8.9. The Bulls have ORtg/DRtg stats of 103.5/97.6 in those 15 minutes or so each night that Rose sits down, but when he's playing, they flip to 97.9/100.9. Compare that to his MVP season, when Chicago outscored opponents by 8.8 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the floor.

And yet the Bulls are 11-5, a surprising record through 2015-16's first month for a team outscoring the opposition by just 1.1 points per game. They already have signature victories over Cleveland, Oklahoma City and San Antonio and splits with the much-improved teams in Charlotte and Indiana. But there have been narrow escapes, too -- outlasting Denver Wednesday night at United Center qualifies -- and regrettable defeats in overtime in Detroit and at home to Minnesota. Their losses to the Hornets and the Pacers, meanwhile, were about as lethargic as possible in the early weeks of any season.

After slipping behind the Nuggets through three quarters, the Bulls pulled it together in the fourth, cleaned up their turnovers, took advantage of some bad Denver habits and rode Pau Gasol (12 points, 10 rebounds in the period) to the buzzer. Coach Fred Hoiberg talked about the imperative of finding "ways to be better," playing "through tough situations" and winning "ugly."

All the references served as stand-ins for Rose, who missed 14 of his 17 shots and now is 19-for-70 (27.1 percent) since returning from a two-game absence (ankle sprain). The Bulls' guard had a season-best nine assists and just two turnovers and did shoot eight free throws. But he had no touch, no feel, whether banging some Tim Duncan-wannabe bank shots off the glass from the left wing or fizzling floaters just short of the rim.

Anyone expecting Rose to be down or a little embarrassed about the misfirings, though, was off the mark as badly as he.

"We're 11-5. Come on now," Rose said. "If it was the other way around, we'd be hanging our heads and there would be something to really talk about. But as long as we're winning games, it don't matter how we win them. As long as we got one [more point] at the end of the game, we're fine with it."

No one on the Bulls or following them wants to consider the alternative, because they all see how fragile and disjointed this team is. Hoiberg's new, offensively open and allegedly player-friendly system isn't just a work in progress; it's an Illinois tollway construction project, where you see lots of orange cones and idle machinery. The coach acknowledged that he and his staff have peeled back some of the newness lately, occasionally going back to a few Tom Thibodeau sets to get the Bulls more comfortable or rolling.

Gasol wasn't happy early in a reconfigured role that had him scurrying to set screens more than setting up in the post, and concessions got made. Joakim Noah still isn't happy with his bench role and his devaluing as a big who neither can shoot nor wants to shoot. Jimmy Butler has been playing for almost two weeks with a sore heel, Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich have been hobbled to thin the backcourt, Doug McDermott and Tony Snell are looking like washouts most nights and, against Denver, Nikola Mirotic went down with a split lip and a concussion from an inadvertent Emmanuel Mudiay elbow.

Playing up to or down to the perceived level of their competition is a remnant of Thibodeau's final season, and an unflattering one for the Bulls. But the sort of leadership that would cut through that flaw is hard to come by with so many individual agendas bubbling up.

Rose's, of course, is the biggest. Everything else is secondary if the franchise's cornerstone guy works his way back to All-Star level play on a consistent basis.

GameTime: New Look In Chicago

Dennis Scott and Sekou Smith note the changes Fred Hoiberg has made since taking the reigns in Chicago.

For what it's worth, good or bad, Rose might be the least concerned, intimately involved person in all this. Blithe, even, in his assuredness he'll be back and be back soon.

"I feel very comfortable. Very comfortable," Rose said. "I'm loving the way I'm working out, man, to tell you the truth. It's kind of exciting to see we're winning games and I still haven't reached my full potential yet. Or even come back or scratched the surface of the player I can become. So it's cool."

During a break in Wednesday's action, Rose told Denver guard Randy Foye that his left eye still limits his vision somewhat, though Rose brushed that aside afterward. He said his missed shots were good looks and he just was "missing the spot" on those banks that threatened to break glass.

"And missing floaters," Rose said. "All my shots. I know how much work I put into my game and I know, once I catch that rhythm, it's gonna be scary. With the opportunities I had at the rim or even the open shots that I had."

Their grasp of the "Hoiball" system? "We far. We far," Rose said of an offense that ranks 26th out of 30. "But we get the concept. But actually going out there and being consistent with it, that's the thing. The consistency is not there, but that's why we're building. We're building on top of every game and on top of every loss."

That there aren't more of them so far is the amazing thing, the Bulls papering over their problems while searching for solutions.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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