Derrick Rose’s Return to MVP Form Is Still a Work in Progress

CHICAGO — There is no shortage of questions surrounding Derrick Rose this season, but one of the most important ones has all but disappeared. Is Rose playing tonight? For the Chicago Bulls‘ last 11 games, the answer has been yes.

Thanks to a new NBA rule, teams are required to update the media on a regular basis of the injury status of their players. What that usually means is that players with even the slightest nick will be listed as “probable,” just as a cover in case they can’t play.

Rose hasn’t been on the Bulls’ list for a couple of weeks. Early-season ankle sprains and hamstring strains forced him in and out of the lineup in November, but in terms of pure stability, it’s been smooth sailing for Rose these days. For a former league MVP who has missed most of the last two seasons with serious knee injuries, just playing is half the battle.

“He’s stringing some games together now, which I think is critical,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

Even now that he’s been playing every day, it’s been an uphill battle for Rose to get his consistency back. Seemingly every time he has a game that evokes his vintage, explosive self, he follows it up with a performance too reliant on jump shots. The aggressiveness comes and goes.

Last week, Rose was brilliant in home wins over the Brooklyn Nets (23 points) and Portland Trail Blazers (31 points). He looked like the old, pre-injury Rose, attacking fearlessly, getting to the free-throw line and making floaters with confidence.

But he followed that promising stretch up with a pair of ineffective games, scoring 14 points in each half of the Bulls’ road back-to-back in Miami and Atlanta. In Monday’s loss to the Hawks, he shot 6-of-21 from the field. Two steps forward, two steps back.

“Physically, he looks as good as he ever did,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts, whose team was on the receiving end of Rose’s best game of the season. “I think he’s explosive. He’s more measured in his game, as far as when to attack the basket, when to shoot threes. I don’t think he’s looking to attack all the time like he did when he was a younger player, but physically he looks as good as ever.”

There are a lot of moving parts with the Bulls. In addition to Rose’s own physical and mental hurdles after being out for so long, he’s playing with a new team. It’s a group that has a lot more experience playing without him than with him, and integrating such a ball-dominant player back into the lineup has been an adjustment for everybody.

“I am a scoring point guard,” Rose said after practice last Monday. “So my game is scoring a little bit more than passing or facilitating, but when you’ve got more scoring on your team, you have to facilitate a little bit more. So picking and choosing when to pick my spots is kind of hard right now, but I’m a hooper, I’m a basketball player. So I should be able to learn it pretty quickly.”

Between Rose’s November injuries and other ailments on the team (most recently Joakim Noah‘s ankle problems), Chicago’s ideal starting lineup of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Noah have only played together in eight of the Bulls’ 24 games this season. It’s hard to build cohesion when everybody is healthy, let alone when a team is the revolving door the Bulls rotation has been.

“By nature, he’s trying to fit in right now,” said Thibodeau. “It’s a new team for him. He’s trying to learn his teammates. He’s playing off people. We need him to go. Just go. Go. Great players will figure it out. Pau will figure it out. Joakim, Jimmy, they’re going to figure it out. That’s the way it is.”

It’s hard not to notice the changes in Rose’s game. He’s more hesitant to drive and settling for a lot of outside shots. His 14.3 shot attempts per game are a career low, while his 5.6 three-point attempts (on which he’s shooting 28.1 percent) are a career high.

When he drives, he’s deadly. He’s shooting 60 percent on shots at the rim this season, per But he doesn’t do it every game. Instead, he’s feeling out other aspects of his game and trying to power through his shooting struggles.

“I’m shooting open shots that they’re giving me,” Rose said. “I’m trying to get used to taking those types of shots, if we get in a situation where we’re down two and I have an open three, having the confidence to take those shots. Or if we’re down and we need a run, having the confidence to come down and pull a three. Put pressure on the other team.

“I’m taking a lot [of three-pointers]. But I feel like that’s an easy shot for me, a set shot. I’m going to have a game where I’ll string in four or five of them, and it’s just going to help my confidence. I can’t stop taking those shots. They’re shots I normally take in practice, so my teammates know they’re great shots for me.”

His coach, like everyone else, would like to see the aggressive Rose come out more.

“He’s gotta attack,” said Thibodeau. “That’s the bottom line. Some teams are going under and some teams will adjust to a blitz. All I know is when he’s pushing the ball up the floor and attacking, that’s who he is. He can’t defer. He can’t pace himself. He’s gotta go. That’s the big thing. He’s gotta go.”

The Bulls have won games without Rose, but having him on the floor and playing well makes things easier for everybody. In Chicago’s wins this season, Rose is averaging 18.7 points per game and shooting 46.8 percent from the field. In losses, he’s scoring 12.6 points and shooting 31.9 percent.


“When he’s playing like [vintage Rose], it’s the thrust that we have as a team,” said Thibodeau. “When he’s pushing the ball, we get some easy baskets, we get some deep post-ups, we get into the penalty early so we can get some free throws. A lot of good things happen.”

With how long he’s been out, nobody thought Rose’s transition back to playing every day would be a seamless one. The hope is that by the time of the playoffs, Rose will be playing like his peak self consistently. If that happens, it’s hard to see anybody in the Eastern Conference being more dangerous than the Bulls.

But there will be bumps in the road between now and then, a lot of trial and error and the periodic frustration.

“I’ve got to listen to my body and listen to myself and learn how to play with my teammates,” Rose said. “Every game I’m getting more and more comfortable with it.”

“We all feel he’s going to be back to the same guy he was,” said Thibodeau. “He’s going step by step, he’s got to keep building, keep attacking.

“When he’s aggressive, there’s no one like him.”


Sean Highkin covers the Chicago Bulls for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @highkin

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Kentucky still No. 1 in AP Top 25 after big loss

Kentucky still unanimous No. 1 in the AP poll after big loss, lot of stability in rankings



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Kentucky still unanimous No. 1 team in AP poll (Yahoo Sports)

Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein goes up to dunk during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game North Carolina, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014. Kentucky won 84-70. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky is still the unanimous No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll.

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Weekly MVP poll: Curry, Davis still split voters



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Police: Iowa State’s Bryce Dejean-Jones still could face drug charge

Bryce Dejean Jones was in jail Thursday morning after being charged.



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Do fast-starting Warriors still have cause for concern?

Off to best start in team history, Warriors still have issues that could be problematic.



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Harden will play vs. Warriors, Howard still out

Howard is hoping to be back in the Rockets’ lineup Saturday



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James Harden will play vs. Warriors, Dwight Howard still out

Howard is hoping to be back in the Rockets’ lineup Saturday



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Chicago Bulls Still Far from Playing at Championship Level

CHICAGO—On Saturday night, the Chicago Bulls caught a glimpse of the level at which they have to play to compete for a title. They also had the truth reinforced, that they aren’t close to there yet.

The Bulls saw what a championship-level team looks like on Saturday night, in a 112-102 loss to a Golden State Warriors team that was firing on all cylinders. The Warriors were everything the Bulls need to be in order to compete in June. They executed at both ends of the floor, forced 22 turnovers and knocked down 12 three-pointers.

“Against a team like this, mistakes have to be minimized,” Pau Gasol said after the game. “Tonight they weren’t.”

It wasn’t just this game that was a cause for concern. The Bulls have yet to put together one start-to-finish impressive performance against a playoff team. Players have been in and out of the lineup, which has hurt their continuity. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are still limited to around 30 minutes per game, and Taj Gibson just recently returned from an ankle injury that had sidelined him the previous six games.

“We’ve got a lot of newer guys, a lot of young guys,” said Gibson. “They’ve got to figure out the system. We’ve got to have that trust. Guys aren’t having each other’s backs. We’ve got to fix that because these games are going to keep coming, and nobody’s going to feel sorry for you.”

The Bulls are 2-5 at home, losing four of their last five games at the United Center. It’s the most troubling part of their recent struggles, and nobody can quite put their finger on it. Even without Rose, the Bulls went 27-14 on their home floor in each of the last two seasons. But their home-court advantage has evaporated.

“It is becoming an issue,” said Gasol. “It is not good to lose at home. You have to protect your home court. Your home court has to be a fortress. Teams should be afraid of coming to play here and know that they are going to have a long night. Now, there is a certain level of confidence they come with. We are going to have to cut it out very quickly.”

Gasol and Jimmy Butler have been the two bright spots in a Bulls offense that has otherwise failed to click. Rose is playing every day now, but he’s still working to regain confidence in his body. He shot 2-of-11 from the field on Saturday, scoring all nine of his points in the first quarter. He’s been settling for jump shots rather than attacking the rim.

“He’s got to attack,” Tom Thibodeau said. “That’s what his strength is.”

The Bulls have the 10th-best defense in the NBA, allowing 102.6 points per 100 possessions, per, but that’s well below what they’ve come to expect from themselves, and what they’ve been able to do for four years under Thibodeau. Around the locker room on Saturday, the message was consistent: everything has to be better.

“Defensively, we’ve been not great,” said Noah. “We have to step it up. I have to step it up. We will. Everyone is frustrated right now because we know that we’re better than what we’ve been. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’ve just got to believe in each other and keep grinding. We have to change our ways, because defensively we all know it’s not where it needs to be.”

“We recognize we have to do a better job,” Gasol added. “Defensively right now, we’re not at our best. We are not where we want to be. We have to make a conscious effort on getting better. Teams have gotten their way too easily against us and that has to change.”

It was never going to be easy for the Bulls, but as the NBA landscape is starting to take shape, they know who they have to be able to compete with. The Eastern Conference was widely assumed before the season to be a two-team race between the Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors have both been more consistent.

And that’s to say nothing of the Western Conference powerhouses the Bulls have struggled with. Since returning home from their road trip, they’ve lost to the Warriors and Dallas Mavericks, two offensive juggernauts with enough firepower to take advantage of the Bulls’ current defensive weaknesses. And that’s to say nothing of the Memphis Grizzlies.

These are the teams the Bulls have to compete with if they want to fulfill their championship aspirations. So far, they’ve been a notch below that competition.

Gibson laid down the bottom line after Saturday’s game:

“If we’re going to do what we said we’re going to do, which is go out and play for a championship, we can’t let these things happen. Being lackadaisical on defense, not trusting each other, we’ve got to put more pressure on ourselves.”

Nothing’s going to come easy for the Bulls in December. Throughout the rest of the month, they face the Raptors, Grizzlies, Wizards and Portland Trail Blazers. The games, and the championship-level opponents, keep coming. As of now, the Bulls know they aren’t ready.

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Marcus Smart still out, Tyler Zeller still starting

Yesterday the Celtics announced that Marcus Smart would not travel with the team for tonight’s matchup with the Hawks in Atlanta.  Via Mass Live’s Jay King:According to the team, Smart underwent a CT scan Monday morning at New England Baptist Hospital. The results were negative, but he stayed in Boston to undergo treatment while his teammates are on the road.Before Sunday’s game, head coach Brad Stevens called Smart ‘better, but not well enough to play.’ The guard participated in Saturday’s practice, but, since the Celtics did not scrimmage, the activity did not provide a thorough test.This evening’s contest will be the 10th straight that Smart has missed since spraining his ankle three-and-a-half weeks ago against the Pacers on November 7.In other lineup news, Tyler Zeller will start at center for the second consecutive game tonight:Zeller starts again tonight against Hawks. Stevens pondering other ways to alter rotation, though nothing major.— Mark Murphy (@Murf56) December 2, 201…

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