Derrick Rose is not only in the conversation for the MVP this year; he deserves as much or even more consideration as the league's most improved player. Coming into the season, there were three weaknesses to his game.
He had trouble drawing fouls, he couldn't hit the three and he was a defensive liability. If you haven't been paying attention, you might not be aware how much better he's gotten at all three.
When he went down face-first on the floor yesterday, everyone in the gym (and in this particular Scaletta household) held their breath. It was a nasty spill, and dreams of a wonder-season momentarily fled.
When he walked off the court holding his shooting wrist, hearts across Chicagoland stopped beating. It was a horrible three minutes. When the game returned and Rose went to the foul line, lungs were refilled and hearts started pumping again. Whatever the rest of America thinks of Rose, we know where the Bull's bread is buttered.
And as he started to take the first shot, somewhat relieved I thought, "Well at least he got the call." It's been an ongoing theme through the season. Those who don't watch the Bulls on a regular basis insist that it's not "conspiracy" and that Rose doesn't get the foul calls because he avoids contact.
Those of us who actually watch the Bulls of course have a different perspective. We actually see fouls on a regular basis (at a minimum two or three per game that don't get called) and know that's not true. It's very frustrating when there are those who haven't seen something try to argue that something you have seen didn't happen.
Their logic, which I understand, is why would the refs have a conspiracy against Rose? That doesn't have to be the only explanation for why Rose would get fouled and not get calls though.
The better explanation is that it's because Rose is the diametric opposite of what the refs are used to seeing on a nearly nightly basis. What they are used to seeing is this. With Rose they see this, and that's pretty much a nightly thing.
The reason Rose doesn't get calls is not that he doesn't get fouled. The NBA officials are so used to seeing players exaggerate the tiniest amount of contact that they are not seeing that Rose minimizes the effect of contact. In the video above don't just look at whether Rose got knocked to the floor. Look at whether there was contact. If there was contact, there was a foul.
Derrick Rose is extremely strong for his size. He's fast, and he's so athletic that when he gets bumped in the air he is able to compensate and fight his way through to get off a shot. When most guys are going to be making it look like they've just been body-slammed when someone breathed on them too hard, Rose is making hard contact appear incidental.
The thing is that when we see a guy like Rose at 190 pounds get bumped by a 300-pound guy like Shaquille O'Neal, we aren't expecting to see him not going flailing about the court. Rose covers the amount of contract though. He makes it seem like there is less contact. You don't want refs blowing whistles every time there's the slightest amount of contact, but with Rose, they need to understand that he is masking, not exaggerating the contact.
While the rest of the world that doesn't watch the Bulls is saying that Rose needs to stop avoiding contact, the rest of us who watch are wishing he'd start avoiding it a little more. We kind of like having him around. If it's going to take that kind of contact to get a foul, I'd rather not have the foul shots.
Hopefully last night's attention will be something of a wake-up call. Prior to that there were numerous times where not only was he not getting whistles on the fouls against him, much more ticky tac falls were be called on him.
It got to the point where Rose, who isn't the whiner type, complained. For the first time in his three-year career he got whistled for a technical. He really doesn't need to improve there. The refs need to improve on calling it. Of course if he were to get those extra two or three calls a night, he would be the NBA's leading scorer.
Moving on, there's been a lot of talk about how Rose's three-point shooting has taken a big boost and how that summer work is really starting to pay off lately. I couldn't agree more.
During the Bulls six-game winning streak, which includes wins over the Lakers and Thunder, and a combined margin of victory of 50 points over the last two games, Rose has shot 62 percent and made 19-of-31 shots from behind the arc.
In fact, his three-point percentage on the season has gone up 15 percent. This season he's already made a career high. To put it in perspective, he's already made 125 percent of how many he made in his first two seasons combined. He's turned a liability into a real strength.
Finally, there is another aspect of his game that he worked a lot on this summer. He also put in a lot of work on his defense, and lately that's been coming out during the streak as well. Over the last six games his defense has been superb. Opposing starting point guards have been averaging less than 10 points, about 69 percent of their season average.
They have gone a collective 26-for-81 from the field, approximately 32 percent. Only two of his opponents have even reached double figures, and all have been held below their season averages.
His defensive rating has been impressive as well, an average of 96.8 over those games (by comparison Rajon Rondo, generally considered the best defensive point guard in the NBA, has a DRtg of 98.0).
They haven't all been slouches either. Even Russell Westbrook was held to 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting, only drawing one foul. Over the course of the season Rose has kept the average opponent to 85 percent of his regular production and about 31 percent from the field.
His DRtg is sixth best among all starting point guards, and it's getting better. His emergence as a superstar is not only the offensive side of the ball. However, defense is a "reputation" in the NBA, and his improvement in this area has gone overlooked.
Statistically, he has outplayed players like Russell Westbrook and Andre Miller who have reputations as good defenders, but the reputation might not have caught up with his play yet. It's time for people to realize just how much better Rose has become on the other side of the ball as well. This no doubt has something to do with Tom Thibodeau.
If you're still thinking Derrick Rose is that guy who avoids contact, can't hit an outside shot and only plays on one side of the ball, I suggest you park yourself in front of the TV the next time there's a national broadcast. Derrick Rose might very well be the league's most improved player, and frankly, it's worth watching him play.
His scoring is up nearly 25 percent. His assists are up 38 percent. He's also carrying career highs in rebounding and steals. He's already got a career high in three pointers, and he's just getting going. His defense is among the best at his position and still getting better almost nightly. It's rare for an All-Star to show this much improvement in one season, but Rose has.
He's also in the conversation for MVP. At the ripe old age of 22, he's the unquestioned leader of the team. He's tough as nails, and rather than leading with a ballooning ego, he leads with quiet confidence.
He's picking up the team and carrying them routinely in the fourth quarter. Heck, he even went head to head with Kobe and won. It may be possible that Rose could be the first player to win Most Improved and MVP in the same year. He's arguably both.