Hope and fear; the inseparable dualism that accompanies the prospect of greatness. It has been 263 days since Chicago Bulls Point Guard, Derrick Rose, tore his ACL in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. As his return to the court looms around the corner, many questions remain unanswered: Will he be the same player that won MVP in 2011? Is he still the Point Guard of the future he was cast as? Can he reassimilate to the Bulls in time to make a playoff run? We won’t know until we see him play, but here are the most important facets of Rose’s game to monitor when he returns to action:
1) Agility- Derrick Rose needs to be able to get low for the crossover. His ability to penetrate at will is a staple of his game. Watch for him to make the hard cuts and put his man on skates. He must maintain his ability to change directions on a dime if he hopes to be as effective as he was last season. Defensively too. If he can’t fight around screens or adjust to his man while backpedaling, he’s not going to be the player he was. Keep an eye on his stance. He’s got to be comfortable playing wide and low like a Porsche in order to handle like one.
2) Explosiveness- Rose and Westbrook are often considered the most athletic Point Guards in the league; and it’s true. At least, it was. Granted, I only consider Westbrook a Point Guard by technicality of assignment. Regardless, Derrick needs to be able to go 0 to 60 in no seconds flat. Not 2 seconds, not 1 second, it needs to be instantaneous. His extra step forces the defense to collapse on him, creating better looks for Noah and Boozer. He has to have that signature burst of speed in order to establish those opportunities, much less finish inside.
3) Verticality- It’s no secret that Rose has some serious ups. Watch him split the defense on the drive. 9 times out of 10 he’ll jump through the gap, tuck the ball, and finish with a scoop. That 10th time? It’s a dunk. Even when he’s not launching himself at the rim, he gets most of his power from his legs. I’m talking about that floater in the lane. Rose propels himself above the straining arms of defenders and just guides the ball toward the hoop with his finger tips. In order to do all this, his knee has to be as strong and stable as it was before the injury.
4) Mentality- This is easily the most important. It’s the biggest hurdle, and you have to convince yourself you can jump it before you stand a chance. My basketball coach growing up always told me “Listen my little godsend master champion, some people will tell you that basketball is not a contact sport. It may not be an IMPACT sport like football, but you better expect to get hit.”- (paraphrase). Rose has always excelled in traffic. If he’s not ready to knock knees or take hard fouls, he’s not where he needs to be. There are a lot of feet to land on when you play as acrobatically as he does. He can’t let caution turn into fear.
When “The Return” becomes “The Reality” we have to take off our Rose-colored glasses and acknowledge that he may never be what he was. Personally, I think he can do it. Derrick is a fierce competitor and an incredible athlete. But if he can’t, don’t say I didn’t warn you. An Adrian Peterson-esque reversion is a lot to expect from any mortal. Look at Ricky Rubio. I know, I know, give him time, but you have to acknowledge the struggle. He’s been back for a month and he’s still experiencing pain. Of course, they are two very different players, so perhaps Rose will fare better in the long run. Just pay close attention to Derrick’s play during that time. Only when he is doing all these things at the same level that he was before, will I rejoice. Until then, I hope that he does, but I fear that he won’t.