As Derrick Rose gets closer and closer to his NBA return, the signs continue to show that the Chicago Bulls star might actually be better than he was on Nov. 22, 2013—the last time he played in a regular-season game.
Team USA played in its first exhibition contest Saturday night against Brazil, and Rose stood out as you'd expect in his own United Center. The point guard finished with seven points in 24 minutes of play, but his impact went beyond the box score.
Of course, it became apparent before the game even started that it would be a special night for Rose regardless. Not only was it his first competition since 2013 other than a Team USA intra-squad scrimmage, but it gave Bulls fans a firsthand glimpse of their star for the first time in a while.
The excitement was at a fever pitch, as SLAM Magazine captured:
Rose reacted accordingly. Although he failed to score until the end of the first half, his first basket came in spectacular fashion.
Gathering the ball underneath his own basket, Rose raced the length of the court and finished a runner off the glass to beat the buzzer. It was big at the time, pushing the Americans' lead to eight just before the half.
Here's a look at the pretty layup:
The 25-year-old continued to be in attack mode into the third quarter. He showcased his individual ability again late in the third, when he drove past two defenders only to rise up and finish over Anderson Varejao—a sign of many more future scores over the Cavaliers center, Bulls fans hope.
USA Basketball posted his finish in slow-mo:
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski rotated his guards, as expected, with the 12-man roster cuts looming, but Rose proved in his two dozen minutes what most in the building wanted to see. He was explosive, agile and smooth with that killer instinct that makes him one of the NBA's most effective rim attackers.
It was a sight to behold for any basketball enthusiast following Rose's recent career. After tearing his ACL and missing all of the 2012-13 campaign, he returned last season only to suffer a torn meniscus less than a month in.
And in his first true competition in over nine months, Coach K and his staff opted to give Rose some extra run and weren't disappointed in what they found, per Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson:
Coach K on extending Rose in 3rd quarter: "He needs to learn how to play tired. We wanted to see that. And he did pretty good."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) August 17, 2014
With everything in perspective, the typically wise Rose tempered expectations, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears:
"It was exciting. It was cool. But I can't get big headed about it," said @usabasketball Derrick Rose on his play in front of Chicago fans.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) August 17, 2014
For anyone who has followed Team USA closely over its training in Las Vegas, Rose's strong performance Saturday is far from surprising. The rave reviews on Rose's health and overall game were coming in by the day, and he impressed in the team's scrimmage at the end of camp.
Which accolade will best describe Derrick Rose's 2014-15 season?
Nothing can replicate true competition, and certainly Saturday's game is just the next step in Rose re-familiarizing himself with the NBA game. Next up is the looming FIBA World Cup in Spain, and if his spot in the starting lineup Saturday is any indication, he'll be getting plenty of minutes.
Rose has been surrounded by a contending Bulls squad throughout much of his time there, but now couldn't be a better time for him to return to full health. Offseason acquisitions of Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and the signing of Nikola Mirotic have Chicago as one of the East favorites.
Of course, that's assuming Derrick Rose is healthy, which has been a rarity in recent seasons. But considering how he's performing alongside some of the world's best with Team USA, his best is yet to come.