Derrick Rose’s “backness” is sure to be a topic of constant conversation in the early part of this season. There’s already been plenty of talk and speculation about what Rose’s game will look like after a surgery to repair the thin strip of tissue that keeps his thigh and shin from going in opposite directions when he cuts. Many commentators suggest that Rose will be more mature and, if not exactly cautious, judicious with how he uses his outstanding quickness. The idea is that he’ll rely on subtler means than jet-propelled bursts to the rim, just as Chris Paul has become a master of halfcourt jujitsu to submit his opponent in lieu of his old knockout-punch athleticism.
Five minutes in the second quarter last night’s preseason game against the Oklahoma City Thunder suggest this is not the case. Quite the opposite, in fact. Derrick Rose’s stunning burst is there in full effect, and he’s still using it as much as possible. What’s missing is what Rose (and others) refers to in vague terms as “rhythm.”
Before we dive into what “rhythm” really means, let us pause to rejoice.
Heavenly Father of Hoops, we give you thanks that Derrick Rose is once more the fastest man on hardwood. Let us praise your strength in restoring that long stride and high dribble to our televisions and computer screens. We confess our fallibility, that we did not understand what we had lost so quickly do we forget unequaled ability.
For what can remind us of such athleticism but witnessing the supreme manifestation itself? May he break the ankles of those who would stand between him and the hoop, and lo, that he bring the noise on many a highflying finish.
Now, back to those five minutes. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch Roses’s sick move to dust Reggie Jackson then slip through the help defense:
Even here, on the move of the night, Rose fumbles the ball a bit. A few possessions later, he dribbles it right out of bounds with Derek Fisher applying minimal pressure.
What’s so fascinating about how Rose has played is that we can see the difference between Rose and just any super faststrongjumpy guy. His physical strength is back, but his lack of “rhythm” allows us to appreciate all the deft skill that’s currently flickering in and out of his game. It’s one thing to move at that speed, it’s quite another to do something that requires perfect timing and incredible coordination at said speed. What he can’t do consistently now, what he’s building towards, reveals the gap between pure athleticism and what truly sets Rose apart: the skill and kinetic inventiveness that Rose brings to the game.
As someone who has come back from an ACL injury, the very last thing that you get back is your high speed creativity. The first is the jump shot, and it’s no wonder that Rose has looked accurate on spot up 3-pointers (4-8 last night on 3s, and 2-7 on 2-pointers). But the reactive, improvisational stuff will take a bit of time.
It’s like he still needs that split second to work through all his options before he decides “yep, best thing here is to go backwards between my legs then throw a low crossover forward to split the defense then jumpstop, take the contact and spin it in.”
All that has to happen in about 0.7 seconds of actual time.
Confidence in your legs returns before confidence in your handle does.
When Rose won MVP three seasons ago, lots of writers who did not think he was worthy of the award blamed the narrative force of his season for swaying voters. It’s not hard to see why Rose was such a persuasive candidate. The hardest thing to do in basketball is to drive the ball all the way to the rim and score when the other team knows it’s coming. Even tougher: doing it in the 4th quarter of a close game.
But Rose does that sort of thing. And his preseason ups and downs suggests that it won’t be too long before he’s doing it again. When he does, that we watched him bumble away possession in the preseason will help us appreciate Rose’s genius.