Derrick Rose is Ascending but Still Learning

Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

“I mean, it was a shitty game,” was how Derrick Rose described the Minnesota Timberwolves victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night. It was the team’s first game action without Jimmy Butler on the roster, and there was definitely a hangover. To the innocent bystander, the game encapsulated the sentiment of most of the Timberwolves season.

But not Rose’s.

In 13 games this season, Rose, one of the league’s most polarizing players, has far exceeded the expectations of his skeptics. Butler cloud be damned. Further, somehow, Rose is finding ways to meet the seemingly wild expectations of his truthers. Nineteen points per night, to go along four boards and five dimes will do that.

The kicker is his shooting, though.

In Rose’s past six games, the player who once made only 13 3s in a 64-game season with the New York Knicks has made 19 of his last 31 attempts from beyond the arc. This surge has boosted Rose’s season-long average from deep to 48 percent.

“They’re giving me the shots,” Rose said exasperated with a shrug in the locker room after hitting three against Brooklyn. “I mean, they’ll learn. I’m not gonna stop shooting them.”

He’s not wrong. According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Rose’s defenders have been four-plus feet away from him on 77.8 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. While Rose frequently is the initiator of the Minnesota offense, when he isn’t, his teammates are finding him in stride, open. Rose says this is allowing him to find his “one, two” with his feet, and providing a rhythm.

This defensive apathy is, in part, opponents assuming that a regression to the mean is coming. But also, those defenders fear Rose’s ability to get to the rim, even if his numbers there pale in comparison. Catch Rose switched out onto a bigger, slower defender and handing him those four feet is protection against betting burnt.

Rose took rookie guard Josh Okogie out in Los Angeles one night last week while the team played consecutive games against the Clippers and Lakers. Okogie had been overthinking his shot, according to Rose. This was a symptom that Rose, who once obsessed with fingertip placement while his shot was struggling in Chicago, is all too familiar with.

“I told him, like, why you thinkin’ about your shot? [Because] that was one of the things I had to get over. Just stop thinking about it, and just let it go.”

Rose himself has let it go this season. He’s done thinking about it.

“I shoot 20,000-some shots in the summer. So why the hell am I thinking about a shot when I get in a game?”

It’s the best his shot has felt “in a long time.” And Rose has no plans to stop “making ’em pay.” The question, of course: Is this sustainable?

And the answer to that is no. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s kind of like the 50-point performance on Halloween, it’s not going to happen all the time but it’s good to have in the bag.

The biggest mark against Rose’s jumper is his shot’s mechanics. Frequently, the jumper, quite literally, looks mechanical. That part isn’t necessarily the worst thing. Historically, many players have found 3-point resurgences through trimming down their shot motion in an effort to simplify the action itself.

But why isn’t there arc? Rose isn’t concerned about that either. He doesn’t care how it looks.

On Monday, Rose asked rhetorically, “Did Kobe’s shot have arc? I’m just sayin’ Kobe’s shot didn’t have arc. On certain shots he had arc. Most of his shots, his shit was line drive.”

Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Struggles With Playing Multiple Positions

Line drives, 48 percent, whatever — the 3-ball is working. But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies with Rose’s game. He may be hitting from deep, his 2-point effectiveness (44.9 percent), however, has only ever been worse once in his entire career, per basketball-reference.com. That was in the ten-game stint Rose played the season after sitting out with an ACL injury.

A lot of this new ineffectiveness just falls on him to make better decisions. Rose struggles to know when to pump the breaks on his drives. And beyond that, the volume is just probably too high, given Karl-Anthony Towns’ drooping usage this season.

But part of this falls on a difficult learning curve of playing three different positions in the Minnesota offense.

“I’m a point guard that moved to the two, [and even] to the three sometimes,” said Rose. “It’s tough. The hardest thing is learning the plays. So, Thibs been doing a decent job with having enough patience with me in practice. Because it’s kinda hard learning three spots.”

The terminology is the hardest thing to adapt to, according to Rose. Thibodeau’s system is complicated, and different for every position, particularly on defense.

“You gotta learn. With the twos, the terminology is totally different than the ones. Especially on the defensive end. You just gotta figure out the terminology. It’ll probably take me a couple games. But I think I’m a quick learner.”

Defensive Awareness

The lapses in Rose’s positional understanding appear to show up most when he is off-ball. He tends to lose track of his man, and more importantly their tendencies.

Watch on this play as he defends Caris LeVert:

LeVert is a wing in the Brooklyn offense that has predicated most of his game on being a penetrator. However, off-ball, LeVert is a cutter; he doesn’t linger outside of the arc too often. Rose clearly forgets this as LeVert dives off the (probably illegal) Jared Dudley back screen.

Now, that’s on Rose for not knowing the scouting report, but he also may simply have some classical conditioning in his blood that is just used to defending a point guard in a spot like this. A point guard, more traditionally, and certainly back in the day, would often simply float above the 3-point line in this position.

“I’ll take it. It’s all me,” said Rose when asked postgame about the numerous back cuts that Brooklyn beat him with. “It’s thinking that the ball’s not coming my way. And thinking that I’m 22 again. And I’m 30, now.

“I’m gonna get there. I’ll say that.”

The Minnesota defense will need him to. After finishing consecutive seasons with the fourth-worst defensive rating in the NBA, the Wolves entered Monday night’s game tied for last in the league this season in defensive efficiency, per NBA.com. If Rose doesn’t get there, almost no sum of 3-pointers can cover over these types of mistakes.

Robert Covington will join Rose in the Wolves defensive fold shortly. That will help; Covington made the All-Defensive first team last season. But in the eyes of Rose, and pretty much all of his teammates, the focus has to be on team-wide defensive intensity. Again Monday, the Wolves defense looked as bad and apathetic as ever. One great defender on the wing can’t fix that.

“If we go out and compete on the defensive side, I’m cool with losing games,” said Rose. “The only times that it’s hard taking losses is when we get out-rebounded — like we did the majority of our games. Or, when we not playin’ with that same intensity throughout the whole game. We have to find a way to do that some way, somehow.”

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