CHICAGO — He’s just a guy you want to watch hoop. No, Derrick Rose isn’t for everybody, but for many, and certainly so much of Chicago, D-Rose embodies what a basketball fan wants to witness in-person. It’s the shimmy; the cross; the seemingly impossible changing of directions that baffles not only those in the stands but the guy whose literal job it is to stay in front of him; it’s the speed; the burst; the impossible — stuff that you just can’t do when you go play with your friends.
Wednesday night at United Center, against the team he once put back on the map, it was business as usual for 2018-19 Rose: another night leading a Minnesota Timberwolves team that is putting Rose back on the map. Rose led the Wolves in points (24), assists (8) and minutes (38) in a 119-94 victory.
It also wasn’t a normal night. Electronic billboards lined Madison Street, making them unmissable for anyone who decided to roll up for Rose’s homecoming. “Welcome back Pooh, we are forever proud of you” they read, tipping a hat to Rose’s childhood nickname and oozing with a similarly unavoidable sentiment of love.
“I wish I could have brought the whole hood here,” Rose said before the game. While he only had 50 allotted tickets to distribute, it didn’t matter. United Center was packed with fans wearing an array of his jerseys — from high school to the No. 1 Bulls jerseys and, yes, even Timberwolves No. 25. On this night, the name on the back was more important than the one on the front. The whole hood did come out.
Chicago native, and champion Rose Stan, Chance the Rapper sat courtside, directly across from the Wolves bench. And in one of the sparse moments Rose sat on the bench, Chance pressed his hands together and bowed in Pooh’s direction.
As someone, personally, often confused by the breadth of those Rose Stans, everything made a little more sense after taking it in first-hand. Rose isn’t only from where these people are from, he is what they want to be. Of a basketball community that spans the north and south sides, Rose is Chicago.
“I’m playing in Chicago but I’m just playing basketball,” Rose said of his performance while wearing a burnt orange winter hat emblazoned with Chicago Native across the forehead. “It’s gritty. It’s grimy. It’s one-on-one. It’s doing whatever to get the win. And it’s not backing down. And I think that’s what people love.”
It’s not just that Rose has somehow become better than literally everyone on the actual Chicago roster, it’s how he does it. It’s the same reason people were enamored by Allen Iverson. Like A.I., Rose looks like a normal dude, but what he’s doing looks anything but normal. It looks extremely difficult, even by NBA standards.
People didn’t watch Philippe Petit walk a high-wire that connected the World Trade Centers or tune in to see Evel Knievel fly over school buses on a motorcycle because they wanted to be entertained. They were entertained because they knew they couldn’t do it themselves. Same goes for Rose; he’s riveting.
Wednesday, it went beyond Rose simply returning to his old stomping grounds. For those who had heard the news, seeing it up close was different. It signaled that D-Rose is actually back. The performance wasn’t just some washed up phenom of yesteryear showing up to catch a quick buck. No, Rose was the best basketball player in the arena on this night. He put on a show. A real one.
“There’s a great appreciation for what he did [here],” Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “You’re the youngest MVP in history and your team has the best record two years in a row, it says a lot about what he’s accomplished. The biggest thing with Derrick is that he’s on his way again.”
Really, he is. This is not hyperbole from Thibodeau. Rose has done so by reinventing himself. His flash is matched by what has become a postmodern sort of revolution. Of course, Rose is making 48.4 percent of his 3-point attempts, putting him in the 97th percentile of the league, per Cleaning the Glass. But Rose is also nailing other key tenets of the modernity. He’s effectively managing the Wolves offense (73rd percentile in assist rate) with high usage (75th percentile in usage rate). And so defending without fouling on the other end (95th in foul rate) while protecting the ball when it is in his hands (85th percentile in turnover rate).
“It’s different if is a guy is mid-30s, late-30s. Then you’re saying, ‘Well, that’ll be a stretch,'” said Thibodeau rhetorically, asserting Rose is still young. Thibs acknowledges these are the later chapters of the book, but a story that is still in its prime. “If Derrick can remain healthy, it’s gonna be great for him.”
A parallel Thibodeau draws, and one that he and Rose have talked about frequently is Tim Hardaway. As the “T” in the “Run TMC” Golden State Warriors of the early-90s, Hardaway made three-straight All-Star games before missing the entire 1993-94 with a knee injury.
“The guy we used [as an example] is Tim Hardaway. He sort of went through something similar… And normally there is a progression in players to improve on their shooting. In watching Hardaway, that was one of the big things, he spent a lot of time shooting the ball. So he got a lot better at it.”
Thibs has been fond of — sometimes incessantly — pointing out that this past summer was Rose’s first in five years that he wasn’t rehabbing an injury. But as Rose’s dominance has now spanned nearly half of a season, particularly when it comes to shooting with effectiveness, Thibodeau’s logic seems, well, justified. According to Rose, he shot “20-some thousand shots” over the summer and the proof is in the pudding.
“He just had a lot of time to spend on his shooting,” Thibodeau said with a shrug that reiterated how the seemingly impossible is also just a product of work. “And we’re all seeing it now, how much the league has changed in the value of the 3. And normally [with age] there is a progression in players to improve on their shooting.”
The shooting coupled with the flare; now it’s just the full package. The wiggle and killer instinct to draw someone into watch Derrick Rose is still there, but it’s the polish and the additions to that arsenal that can drive winning. And that, the winning, that’s what will keep people watching. And, in the process, keep Derrick Rose in the league, putting on shows, for years to come.