Derrick Rose, Like Chicago Bulls' Offense, Is a Work in Progress

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistOctober 28, 2015

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) makes a pass around Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (5) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, in Chicago. The Bulls won the game 97-95. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

CHICAGO — The double vision still hasn’t entirely gone away, but that’s only half of Derrick Rose’s worries.

The task that Rose faces this season is twofold: He has to learn a new offense while also learning how to play with new physical limitations. Both of those things were on display Tuesday, as the Chicago Bulls kicked off the Fred Hoiberg era with a 97-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. And both of them are very much works-in-progress, with plenty of reason for optimism but a world of room for improvement.

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

After spending his first healthy summer in four years working out with his sights set on a major comeback, an inadvertent Taj Gibson elbow to the face robbed Rose of most of training camp. He suffered a fractured orbital bone below his left eye that required surgery, and when he showed his face during camp, it was visibly swollen and usually covered up by a mask.

Rose was fond of telling reporters during camp that he could see two of them, and it didn’t subside to a manageable level until Friday, when he played 10 minutes in the Bulls’ preseason finale.

The vision problems persist, but Rose is learning to deal with them.

“When I’m out there playing, I usually close my left eye,” he said after the Tuesday opener against the Cavaliers. “I just got used to it from practice.”

Rose’s performance on Tuesday was as imperfect as the circumstances. He shot 8-of-22 from the field in 32 minutes and finished with 18 points, five assists and two turnovers. But he only attempted two three-pointers, which was his Achilles’ heel last season, while 15 of his shots came in the paint. (He made five of those 15.)

“I think he sees three baskets right now,” Hoiberg said after the game. “I told him aim for the middle one. That’s part of it right now—the depth perception. It’s probably still a little bit off. He’s still out there working on [threes], shooting them, but we want him to be aggressive getting to the basket and making plays for his teammates.”

The Bulls’ new-look offense is at this point more a sketch than a finished concept. Hoiberg has stressed pace during his first NBA camp and made some significant changes to this veteran roster's rotation that is used to order and routine in five years under Tom Thibodeau.

The new regime's first game was predictably sloppy. There’s still a lot of feeling each other out going on between the Bulls and their new coach, not to mention between Rose and his own face.

“I have to rebuild my game,” Rose said. “Getting used to having the ball in your hands. Dribbling. Doing moves and stepping back like I normally do. Shooting a lot of floaters like I used to. I used to be really creative when I first got into the league, and it’s coming back to me a little bit. In practice, all I’m working on is floaters and finishing.”

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

Given Rose’s proclivity in recent years toward taking ill-advised outside shots, there was plenty of potential for the facial fracture and the mask to cause him to double down on those habits.

The idea of driving to the basket against a defender the size of Tristan Thompson or Timofey Mozgov is unappealing enough when you’ve had three knee surgeries since 2012, but less than a month removed from a broken face is yet another layer.

But the Rose that was on display Tuesday, as erratic as he was, was more aggressive than he’s been in years. Several times he passed up open or single-covered three-pointers—shots that he would almost certainly have taken last season—to drive and kick or attack the basket. The mask may be new, but the approach was vintage Rose.

“The mask isn’t a concern at all,” Rose said. “I’m used to it. The only time it bothers me is when I’m sweating and I’m coming to the sidelines, and I have to wipe the mask off and keep putting it back on. You can put me out there with goggles or whatever. I’m going to go out there and play if I can.”

The consistency will come, both for Rose and his team. Hoiberg’s offensive philosophy is such a radical departure from this team’s identity over the past five years that it’s going to take weeks, if not months, to get everybody on the same page. They knew that going in.

For Rose, learning his way around the new offense and his new mask will also be a process. But the early returns are encouraging.

“I’m a pro,” Rose said. “Not to be cocky or anything, but seriously. I’ve been playing this game for a long time. I’m still able to go out there and do positive things.”

After everything he’s been through in the last three years, a little blurred vision is nothing.


Sean Highkin covers the Chicago Bulls for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.