It's still the NBA preseason. The league standings, the real ones, have yet to move.
After lobbing vitriolic hate his way over the course of the 2012-13 season—a campaign Rose skipped entirely to rehab a torn ACL suffered in April 2012—the basketball masses are now flocking to support the decision by the youngest MVP in league history.
Maybe it was his efficient 22-point performance (6-of-9 from the field, 1-of-2 from deep) in his third run of the preseason. Or it could have come two nights later when he ripped the Detroit Pistons for 32 points and nine assists in less than 32 minutes of work.
Or maybe you were one of the few that never left his side throughout his rigorous recovery.
It doesn't matter when you came to your senses, the important thing is that you're here now. Rose made the right decision last season, and that's becoming more evident with each passing day.
Back and Better Than Ever
Whenever a superstar player is lost to a serious injury, a fanbase is sent spiraling through a range of emotions.
The first part of that emotional gauntlet is a particularly cruel mixture of sadness and bitterness. That season, no matter how it started, is lost. The wrath of the basketball gods leaves fans with a never-ending stream of "why" questions: Why him? Why now? Most importantly, why me?
Once the news has settled in, the mind leads us down a haunting path of agony and despair. What if that player never fully recovers? What if his best days are officially relegated to YouTube and ESPN Classic?
The hope, a fleeting but present part of the process, is simply that the player regains his pre-injury form. For the glass-optimistically-full crowd, though, there's this wild notion that someone can actually improve during his time away from the game.
Rose is one of the fortunate few to be included in that last group.
Before charting his improvements, though, it's imperative to remember just how good he was before he went down. He was either on the cusp of superstardom or already a ranking member of basketball's elite class.
|Climbing the Superstar Ladder|
Still, there were some holes, minuscule as they were, that needed filling.
For everything that he brought to the hardwood—explosiveness, laserlike court vision, relentless defense—his shooting stroke left plenty to be desired. The key to slowing Rose, far simpler in words than reality, was keeping him out of the paint.
In 2011-12, his last healthy season, he converted 53.2 percent of his chances inside of 10 feet. But when forced to fire from outside that distance, he finished just 33.4 percent of his looks. Even during his 2010-11 MVP campaign he managed only a 36.6 percent success rate from beyond 10 feet.
This never capped his production, but limited the way he could get his points. Consider this limitation lifted. Rose, a career 31 percent shooter from distance, has buried 52.2 percent of his three-point attempts through six preseason games.
It's been a sight to behold, even though he told ABS-CBN News' TJ Manotoc that improving his perimeter game was the "only thing I've been working on." Obviously, time well spent, as Rose has emerged as a reliable three-point threat both off the dribble and in catch-and-shoot situations.
Rose's teammate Jimmy Butler told Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times that the floor general is even better than he was before the injury:
I think he's all the way back and more. You see he's still going to the hole strong, finishing with contact, hitting open J's, floaters, this, that. The complete package. That's what he's doing.
Rose's dribble drives, always a dangerous part of his arsenal, have also enjoyed some added potency. He said he added five inches to his vertical leap during his rehab, via ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell. That has to lie somewhere between the rich getting richer and simply being unfair.
Speaking of being borderline criminal, Rose wasn't the only Bull that improved during the point guard's time off.
Joakim Noah dramatically expanded his offensive game, setting career highs in points (11.9), assists (4.0) and usage rate (17.2 percent) last season. Jimmy Butler erased the memories of a forgettable rookie year (2.6 points in 8.5 minutes per game) with a sensational sophomore showing that peaked in the postseason (13.3 points and 5.2 boards in 40.8 minutes a night).
Remember, Chicago was a powerhouse franchise before Rose went down. The Bulls notched a league-best 62 wins in 2010-11, then tied for the league high with 50 during the strike-shortened 2011-12 season.
Last season might have been a series of agonizing broken dreams, but now Rose and his Bulls have found...
Peace of Mind
Like so many injured athletes before him, Rose's body was ready long before his mind was.
Medical jargon was rarely a major component of his road back to the floor. Instead, words like confidence, normalcy and comfort dotted his injury updates.
If Rose wasn't mentally ready to play, he couldn't have changed the outcome of last season. The last thing the Bulls wanted was self-imposed restrictions, a hesitant Rose limiting the very spark he was supposed to provide.
To say that his confidence has returned is an understatement. Before he even donned his jersey again, he thrust himself to the top of the basketball world.
Of course, actions always speak louder than words. And his actions leave no doubt about how much trust he has in his body.
You see it in his quick trigger beyond the arc. Or the way he's welcomed contact instead of running from it.
Rose's improved three-point shot hasn't changed his style, it has simply enhanced his play. He lures defenders away from the basket, then blows past them with the same explosiveness that fueled his past successes.
He's taken 59 trips to the free-throw line in his first six preseason games. For the non-math majors out there, that equates to 9.8 attempts per game.
But it gets even sweeter. Harden tallied his figure while playing 38.3 minutes a night. Rose has found that steady stream to the charity stripe while logging only 26.5 minutes per game in the preseason.
While he's clearly re-established confidence in his body, he's added another, more powerful sense of comfort.
His place in Chicago's hierarchy has never been questioned. He's the highest-paid player on the roster by a considerable margin and carries the heaviest offensive burden.
Chicago had every reason to question Rose the same way the pundits were, yet they never offered up anything more than unwavering support for their hobbled leader.
The act wasn't always easy, but the payoff has been incredibly sweet. With Rose back at full strength and an improved supporting cast around him, the...
Stage Is Set
Franchise fortunes were changed this summer.
The Houston Rockets (Dwight Howard) and Golden State Warriors (Andre Iguodala) went from low-level playoff teams to championship contenders. The New Orleans Pelicans (Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans) and Detroit Pistons (Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings) went from lottery locks to postseason candidates. The Cleveland Cavaliers (Andrew Bynum, Anthony Bennett, Jarrett Jack) set their ceiling somewhere in between, depending on Bynum's health.
Yet, no franchise saw greater improvements than Chicago. By easing Rose back into action, by supporting him through every step of his journey, the Bulls added a transcendent talent even better than the one they lost some 16 months before.
Rose wanted to waltz back into All-NBA production; he's proven that in the preseason (21.7 points on .507/.522/.814 shooting). The Bulls wanted the final piece of their championship puzzle; they have it.
The title road still runs through South Beach, but it breezes through the Windy City first.
That doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen if Rose attempts to reacclimate himself to his teammates in the midst of a heated playoff push.
No, it's only possible because he made the right call. He left himself a safety net by delaying his debut until he had a full offseason, training camp and preseason to find his footing. He widened its reach by building on what was already one of the most well-rounded games in the business.
Rose has set himself up for a strong MVP candidacy and forced his team back into the championship race.
If that doesn't validate his decision for you, I don't think anything will.
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