Derrick Rose is the perennial point guard of the future. He is agile, athletic, ever-improving, a team player and one of the most humble guys in the league. You toss him a compliment and he smiles and shrugs it off, knowing verbal homage is fleeting.
Rose wants to go down in the NBA’s history as one of the greatest to have ever played the game the same as every other superstar, mid-level and bottom-feeding player in the league. The difference is that Rose has all of the tools to make it happen.
There are not too many times you find his combination of star power, humility and raw ability. Therefore, it is not a question of whether or not Rose is special or extraordinary enough physically to propel the Chicago Bulls to the top of the league. A deep playoff run requires his signature finesse to perpetrate.
However, what makes things questionable for the Bulls’ star is whether or not his latest complaint to the media about opponents swatting him out of the air signals he's not mentally prepared for what being such an offensive force means.
Rose is an exceptional athlete, but can he handle the consistent pressures that being so dominant in this league mean?
This question first arose, no pun intended, when Rose disappeared against the Miami Heat in the Bulls-Heat Eastern Conference Finals series. After routing Miami in Game 1, Rose was inexplicably a non-factor, at least compared to his influence on the game throughout the series against the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks.
Critics of this thought process can say Rose was injured, but he was so during the Pacers series. The rest of the game appeared to be Rose going through the motions and Indiana went on to extend the series to five games, something most fans thought there was no chance of.
Rose finished that game with only 15 points on 6-of-22 shooting. The next game proved to bring out a renewed and refreshed guard in Rose as the Bulls closed out the series and their star dropped 25 points and played extremely aggressive. No harm, no foul. Rose was fine.
Rose would go on to roll the same ankle he injured against the Pacers in Game 1 of the second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. Then he dropped 44 in Game 3. Rose would go into the Miami series with a clean bill of health.
He didn’t have that same fire and desire against the Heat, or their defense did an excellent job of overshadowing it. LeBron James defended Rose ridiculously and effectively, so much that 60 percent of the time, Rose was just chucking up jumpers trying to find his rhythm.
It was his time to show that the youngest MVP in the league’s history would not be stopped even in the face of a formidable Eastern conference franchise like the Miami Heat.
However, there was a block on his game throughout that series that refused to be lifted. He didn’t have his mojo and he couldn’t lead his team with the same amount of force and aggression he had through the first two series.
Something was missing. That something just so happens to be the exact thing analysts and fans critique LeBron for.
You know, the strength to mentally combat any circumstance.
Rose did not have that and this characteristic is beginning to rear its ugly head all over again. The Chicago standout recently had a few things to say about players like Charlie Villanueva who maliciously keep him from scoring, as reported by The Chicago Tribune.
One call Rose did get came with 4:31 left in regulation. Villanueva whacked Rose as he drove on a fast break, getting some ball, arms and cutting Rose's face. Villanueva compounded his mistake with a technical foul for a four-point Bulls possession.
He and Rose exchanged words as he left to get his cut addressed.
"I'm sick and tired of people trying to take cheap shots at me," Rose said. "I was mad, man. I'm a man, so situations like that, you have to say something. He hit me in the face and didn't even aim for the ball."
Sorry, Rose. When games get physical, especially meetings between teams with a history of rivalries, getting hacked is inevitable. Players have watched Rose’s game enough to know he’s hitting the jumper in a catch-and-shoot scenario, drawing the contact on a fake or driving the lane whether it’s clogged or not.
No one wants to become a part of his acrobatic highlights. That kind of thing can hurt a man’s ego. So, the natural instinct in the NBA has become to hack the player out of the sky or stop the play before liftoff. That’s what Villanueva did and Rose needs to get used to this if he wants to play like an elite athlete.
This is nothing Kobe Bryant, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin, etc. have not had to deal with. All great players in the league, and even some average ones, have had to face the fate of being slapped across the face before they can follow through on a fast-break dunk or even a simply layup.
If Rose remembers correctly, his own teammate, Carlos Boozer, has been on the giving end of a few of these types of plays. So has Joakim Noah. It happens in the heat of the moment and he should expect to be drilled again and again.
This is not about a few clutch shots in the regular season. It’s about being dominant. It’s about being greater than necessary when the time calls for it.
Is he ready?
Rose is a very mature young player and he definitely has more to reach for. Still, the concern for how mentally tough he is takes precedent because as we have seen through plenty of careers in the league’s history, a player can be notably brilliant physically, but a lack of mental strength can kill his direction. Rose is an incredible specimen.
Is he ready for true greatness?