This is going to be a rather strange year for Derrick Rose.
He's getting an early start on the basketball festivities by training with Team USA and attempting to make the roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, earning rave reviews while doing so. But looking past his adventures representing his home country, Rose is in for a season with the Chicago Bulls unlike any he's experienced in the past.
It's about so much more than his status as a former MVP coming off major injuries and attempting to resume the awesome part of his career. After all, he's been down that road before, namely last preseason when he was dominating the competition and earning similarly stellar reviews.
"In seven preseason games—he missed the game against the Wizards in Brazil—Rose averaged 20.7 points and showed his old explosiveness around the rim, as well as an improved three-point shot," Joe Cowley wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. "Opposing coaches who’ve seen him this preseason have raved about his play. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Rose already was an MVP candidate."
How did that turn out?
Well, Rose suited up in only six games during the regular season and was largely ineffective, shooting awful percentages and displaying so little care for the ball you would have thought there were repelling magnets in the rock and in his right hand, had you not known better. Needless to say, he wasn't an MVP candidate for very long.
Fortunately, the 25-year-old floor general hasn't lost any of his confidence. Another year of sitting on the bench and watching his teammates has caused him to re-evaluate his playing style, and that's been an undeniably positive change, even if his fearless ventures allowed him to experience success in the pre-injury portion of his career.
As Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding explained, he's more intelligent than ever on the basketball court:
That's why he sums up his newfound approach as 'trying to find ways to make the game easy.' Whether his moves were too sharp with too much torque for his body to handle before, he knows it's better 'being smart with my speed instead of just running wild out there.'
And that's what Rose showed during his short run to start USA Basketball's practice-ending intrasquad scrimmage Monday. When he shot the gap in pick-and-roll defense perfectly to disrupt Stephen Curry's dribble, he knew it. When he forced a shot and then was late getting back on defense as Andre Drummond lumbered behind him, he yelled, 'F---!' and really knew it.
And it's not just the smarts that have grown. The confidence has too, even if there's been little on-court basis for that.
"Now my confidence is crazy," Rose told the assembled masses in Las Vegas after a Team USA practice, via USA Today's Sam Amick. "I'm there man. I'm not worried about that. My confidence is very high. That's the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof."
It should be high.
Not only should Rose believe in himself (whether he's correct or not), but he should also have plenty of faith in the roster that's being assembled around him. And he does, as he explained to reporters in Vegas, per ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell:
I think this is the most talented team I've played on in my NBA career to tell you the truth. With all the players that I have, with the experience that everybody's bringing to the table. And the way that everybody's working out individually during the offseason and what I've been hearing...
I have that sense that they went for it. That they gave their all. We got who we could get and who wanted to come. And that's who we have to ride with. We have a lot of confidence in the players that we just signed and we know that the guys that's already there is working out very hard. So it's just a matter of getting in the gym, working out together, jelling very quickly, since we're not going overseas early.
That's what's so different.
Instead of keeping the same pieces around Rose, the Chicago front office went out and acquired a number of talents who can compete right away. For a glimpse at how novel this is for the Bulls, just think back to all the moves they've made since Rose joined the roster as the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NBA draft.
The summer after his rookie season, Chicago drafted James Johnson (No. 16) and Taj Gibson (No. 26), and the team's big free-agent acquisition was Jannero Pargo. Not exactly an offseason to remember, even if Gibson has developed into a huge draft steal while playing a key role off the Windy City bench.
Things weren't much better in 2010, as Chicago drafted Kevin Seraphin (No. 17) before trading him and Kirk Hinrich for Vladimir Veremeenko. Everything was geared toward landing a big free agent like LeBron James, but Chicago had to settle for Carlos Boozer before attempting to pick up the slack with Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas and C.J. Watson, who the Bulls acquired in a trade.
In 2011, the Bulls drafted Jimmy Butler (No. 30) and landed Nikola Mirotic (No. 23) on draft day, then added an aging Rip Hamilton during the offseason. 2012? The Bulls traded Korver to the Atlanta Hawks for cash after drafting Marquis Teague (No. 29), and their big free-agent splashes were Hinrich, Vladimir Radmanovic, Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed and Nate Robinson.
Then there was 2013, when Tony Snell (No. 20) and Erik Murphy (No. 49) were brought aboard via the draft and Mike Dunleavy was the only notable free-agent addition to the roster.
In each of those seasons—save 2010, when a backup plan came into play—the Bulls were attempting to build around Rose and the rest of the established pieces. Sure, they were attempting to compete for a championship, but they were relying on the incumbents to do the heavy lifting, drafting young projects and adding role players on the open market.
Nothing could be further from the truth this summer.
Not only did the Bulls select Doug McDermott in the NBA draft, trading two first-round picks for the Creighton product who went No. 11 overall, but they also bought out Mirotic's contract with Real Madrid to bring him aboard.
Were they done yet? Nope. Chicago brought aboard both Pau Gasol and Aaron Brooks, who will serve as an insurance policy at point guard.
This is what's so different heading into the 2014-15 season.
The Bulls are set to feature a few prominent new pieces, and they're all offensive studs. Gasol will team up with Joakim Noah to create one of the most unique frontcourts in the NBA, one in which both big men are among the league's best distributors from their respective positions. The passing will be absolutely beautiful, especially because there are more options on the receiving end.
McDermott went No. 11 for a reason.
He was the best scorer in college basketball, and that talent quickly translated to summer league, even though he was facing tougher defenses on a regular basis. While in Las Vegas, the former Bluejay averaged 18 points per game while shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 44.4 percent beyond the arc, per NBA.com's statistical databases.
Meanwhile, Mirotic is coming off a season in which he tore up the Spanish ACB on a regular basis. According to RealGM.com, he averaged 12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists in only 23.4 minutes per game in 2013-14. Adding to those impressive numbers: The forward also connected at a 51.1 percent clip from the field while hitting 40.9 percent of his downtown attempts.
That trio of new Bulls should help make immediate contributions. As Dan Favale posits for Bleacher Report, even the young guys should be heavily involved from the opening tip of their rookie seasons, contrary to Tom Thibodeau's typical form:
With Nikola Mirotic and McBuckets both aboard, Thibs must loosen his air-tight standards and use the newcomers at his disposal. And not only must he use them, but he must start one of them—McDermott, the amateur who offers everything Thibs and the Bulls' starting five needs.
All of this is shockingly different.
The Bulls aren't just reloading and racking up remarkable roster replacements rather than relying on a resounding return from a resilient Rose; they're doing so with young pieces, a classification of players that Thibodeau has notoriously been hesitant to use. On top of that, there's a distinct offensive flavor, which could help shore up a longstanding weakness in the Windy City over the past few years.
Chicago is setting up to enjoy a fantastic season on the more glamorous end of the court even if Rose is only mediocre at the start of the year, relying upon regular-season action to get back to that previous MVP form. Even if he's only an adequate point guard, the rest of the roster, along with internal development from Tony Snell and Gibson, should be enough to complement a suffocating defense rather nicely.
Even during his rookie season, the Memphis product was heavily used. In addition to averaging 16.8 points and 6.3 assists per game en route to winning Rookie of the Year, Rose had a usage percentage of 22.6, per Basketball-Reference.com. That jumped to 27.2 percent as a sophomore, and it's been above 30 ever since.
From the beginning of the 2010-11 campaign through the present day, only six players have had usage rates over 30 percent in at least three of those four seasons—Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Rose and Russell Westbrook.
Just think about what that means.
Even though one of those three seasons for the Chicago point guard featured him coming off a torn ACL, his team already viewed him as its overwhelming source of offense. That's just been his role for years now, and therein lies the biggest change of all.
Thibs has learned just how incredible Noah can be with the ball in his hands. He has Gasol, who is fully capable of serving as an offensive hub, at his disposal. Plus, the rest of the increasingly dangerous roster has to get touches as well.
Chances are, Rose won't make that 30-percent-usage-rate list for a fourth time in 2014-15. He doesn't need to anymore, as Chicago's circumstances have changed rather dramatically.
Having an MVP candidate at point guard is no longer a necessity for these Bulls, even if they want to boast a championship-caliber collection of players. It's a luxury, one that would make them even more dangerous than they already are.
Never before has that been the case during Rose's roller coaster of a career.
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