Derrick Rose made an emphatic statement that he is truly back, delivering an MVP-caliber performance as the Chicago Bulls opened up their preseason 5-0, sending the Indiana Pacers home by a score of 103-98, in spite of both Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah missing the game with minor injuries.
It’s just preseason, but this game had more of a regular-season feel to it as both teams had their starters in until the end of the game and were competing to win. However, Rose proved to be too much down the stretch, scoring 10 points in the last five minutes to help the Bulls clinch the game.
Here are grades for Chicago's starting five, and the bench as a whole.
It is becoming apparent that Rose is going to be an MVP-caliber player again this season, and there are several things that are starting to suggest he’ll be even better than he was before. Yes, it’s just preseason, but preseason doesn’t impact these things.
First, Rose’s jump shot is indeed better than it was before, as you can see from the highlight above. He has a more fluid shot, and the power of it is generated from the jump. He had a habit of pushing it with his arms, which is why it would go flat. Now it’s coming from his core, which is why it has a better arc to it.
Second, he has improved his decision-making. On one play, Rose was driving in and Pacers center Roy Hibbert, one of the best rim protectors in the business, was ready to swat the ball away. Rose dropped the ball behind Hibbert to the charging Taj Gibson, who had the easy two. That’s the kind of shot Rose would have forced in the past.
Third, he is stronger. On another play, he was charging to the rim and collided with Hibbert, but the shot went in easily. In fact, the ability to finish through contact may be the biggest improvement in Rose’s game.
All that combined is making for a much more efficient Rose than in past years. Friday night, he scored 32 points, going 9-of-15 from the field and 4-of-7 from deep, raising his effective field-goal percentage on the preseason to .591 and his true shooting percentage to .668.
He added nine assists and four rebounds for good measure.
If Rose is producing like that this season, he will very much be in the consideration for MVP. And this isn’t “just preseason.” The rust Rose has shaken off isn’t going to jump back on him once the regular season starts.
Mike Dunleavy was fairly nonexistent Friday night for most of the time he was in, scoring just four points in 21 minutes.
He was marginal on defense, not being much of a detriment, but he wasn’t much of an asset either. The kind of closeouts on three-point shooters Jimmy Butler would provide, Dunleavy didn’t have the speed to get to.
The Pacers hit four wide-open threes, and three of them were blown assignments by Dunleavy.
Dunleavy also had a dumb foul, sending David West to the floor after he’d already released the shot.
He was playing against one of the best players in the league, though, in Paul George, so he gets a little slack on his grade.
Luol Deng banged knees with George Hill near the end of the first quarter and had to go back to the locker room. He came back later to re-enter the game, though.
Deng played both sides of the court well, and he was more efficient than he’s been through the preseason. He was 7-of-14 from the field, 3-of-4 from three and sank all five of his free throws.
One of his shots was a spectacular, no-look circus shot that made you wonder if he was channeling his inner-Rose.
He was the staple of the defense as well, with the Bulls missing both Butler and Noah. The Bulls struggled defensively without him, but while he was on the court, the Pacers had a much tougher time scoring as he helped out on both Paul George and David West.
Carlos Boozer is becoming less and less relevant to the offense. He was just 2-of-7 from the field for nine points, adding five boards in only 24 minutes.
He played his typically subpar defense. At one point, David West put a post move on him that just made him look foolish.
He fouled out, and upon the final foul, he also got whistled for a technical.
This might seem like scapegoating on Boozer, but this was just an awful performance when the Bulls could have used some frontcourt production with Noah out of the game.
With Nazr Mohammed you’re not going to expect much, and you’re not going to get much. That’s about what he gave Friday night. He sank his only shot, scoring two points, and grabbed four rebounds.
He only played 20 minutes, but during those minutes he did a reasonably successful job of hindering Hibbert from taking over. He was a plus-15 on the night, which was mostly a product of that. Hibbert scored 18 points, but most of them seemed to come when Mohammed was on the bench.
Without him, and with Noah injured, the Bulls just didn’t have the size to work against the Pacers center, and it was then he made his presence felt. While the defense doesn’t show up in box scores, it’s reflected in his grade.
Can I get a B for bench? The bench, overall, had its downs and its ups. During the first half they were pretty horrendous, allowing the Pacers to go on a 16-point run, but later in the game, they stepped up and were pivotal in the comeback.
They were led by Taj Gibson, who has repeatedly outperformed Boozer in the preseason, and it makes one wonder if he is going to take over the starting job at some point this season.
Gibson was 5-of-10 from the field, scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds while blocking one shot.
Marquis Teague even showed flashes of competence, but that was obscured by other bad decisions and overall indecisiveness when directing the offense. He scored eight points on three shots and added four dimes.
Kirk Hinrich scored another seven points and two assists, but he was sent to the hospital after Erik Murphy inadvertently kneed him in the head.
The other thing to bear in mind with the bench is that as the starters are out and bench players step up to start in their place, the bench thins out. That they were able to regroup and have a strong second half was an indication of their depth.