The Chicago Bulls' search for a cornerstone player to lead their team into the future may have ended today, as Derrick Rose was named the NBA Rookie of the Year.
Rose, who restored hope to a Chicago franchise that has been struggling to find an identity since the days of Michael Jordan, is the third Bull to win the award, joining MJ and Elton Brand (who shared the award with Steve Francis).
Rose, a point guard from Chicago’s South Side, played well beyond his years in leading the Bulls to a 41-41 record this year, up from a 33-49 record last year, and their fourth trip to the playoffs in five years.
The future looked bright for Chicago, but then the franchise was hit with an unfortunate string of bad luck.
Chicago was unable to negotiate contract extensions with Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, fired coach Scott Skiles midway through the season, and then interim coach Jim Boylan left at the end of the season.
After failing to lure Mike D’Antoni and Doug Collins to the team, Chicago settled on Vinny Del Negro.
While the future was looking bleak, fortunes turned immensely when Chicago scored their biggest victory since the days of Jordan by landing the first overall pick in last year’s NBA entry draft; they had a 1.7 percent chance.
Rose averaged 37 minutes per game, was second among rookies in points per game with 16.3, and led all rookies with 6.3 assists per game.
Rose shot 47.5 percent from the field and used his unique blend of quickness and strength to draw comparisons to LeBron James.
"They're different positions, but LeBron James has the same thing—it's hard to knock him off his driving lane," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. "And I think he's improved his outside shot. And I think he knows the game."
Rose’s maturity has drawn high praise from veteran guard teammate Lindsey Hunter.
"Not many guys can transfer it from here to there that fast," Hunter said, pointing from his head to the court. "But he's able to do that. I think that's what's so unique about him."
In his first playoff game, Rose matched Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record for scoring for a debuting rookie with 36 points and 11 assists in a 105-103 overtime victory against the defending champion Boston Celtics.
Rose has given Chicago fans hope that the team will be able to return to their glory days of the 1990’s with his stellar play and coolness under the spotlight.
Rose, who led Memphis to 38 wins and a berth in the National Title game in his only collegiate season, has performed magnificently for the Bulls while dealing with the pressure of being the No. 1 overall pick.
"I think there are very few people in the NBA who could do what he did this year," teammate Joakim Noah said. "You tell me another No. 1 pick who got to the playoffs in their hometown, especially in a big city with so many distractions and so many things going on. I mean, he's all about one thing and that's winning basketball games, and that's what I respect about him."
Rose, who was benched late in games during the season, has never publicly complained or made negative press in his rookie campaign.
Chicago’s franchise guard has also worked hard to establish himself on the defensive end as well as the offensive end, and that has shown an uncanny commitment to winning that is not often seen among young stars.
For anyone that was still griping about Chicago selecting Rose as opposed to Michael Beasley, the high-scoring forward from Kansas State, this award should be the final nail in the coffin for that debate.
Lindsey Hunter had ominous words for the rest of the NBA after Wednesday’s announcement, "I'm like, 'Man, you guys don't know how good he is. He doesn't even understand what he is yet. I see him being that point guard that is going to push Deron Williams and Chris Paul to the limit."
If Rose ever figures out what he is, as Hunter puts it, Chicago should be in good hands for the next decade.
Notes – Rose won the award after coming out of one of the best rookie classes in recent memory. Rose received stiff competition for billing as top rookie all season from the likes of O.J. Mayo, Michael Beasley, Russel Westbrook, Eric Gordon, and Kevin Love.
This class may not have the name value of some recent classes, but solid contributions for rookies across the board made this a very stiff competition all season.