Now, with just a little over a full season under his belt, Rose has found the answer: athleticism.
The 6'3"point guard may not be the tallest guy on the floor night-in and night-out, but he's shown that he can bang with the big fellas.
He may not play get-in-your-face straight-up-and-down defense like Bruce Bowen or possess a glove like Gary Payton, but he does have one attribute that's proving to be very valuable: the kid's got hops.
Rose first showed glimpses of this leaping ability on the offensive side of the floor, rising up in clogged lanes and throwing it down over big men. But slowly he started to show that in the NBA there's a fine line between a great defender and a great athlete.
The same has been seen before with a guy nicknamed the King. Most said that the one negative surrounding LeBron James was that his defense was suspect. But who could've really doubted a 6'8", 250 pound man who can jump out of Quicken Loans Arena? Eventually the athleticism showed, and now LeBron is being mentioned in annual talks about Defensive Player of the Year.
And now that you think of it, who could've really doubted a 6'3" point guard who can jump out of the United Center? Rarely are other point guards as quick, athletic, and/or possess the jumping ability that Rose does, creating a defensive advantage from the start.
Rose has already showed off this advantage first hand. In Game Six of the infamous Celtics-Bulls playoff series last season he made sure that Rajon Rondo's potential game winning shot was negated by gently slapping the ball away as Rondo released it.
Not only is Rondo quickly becoming known as one of the better and most well-rounded point guards in the league (his knack for triple-doubles helps with that), but Rose is proving that he can swat other elite players as well. Most notably this season has been his blocks on San Antonio's Richard Jefferson and Denver's Chauncey Billups.
Ok so do three blocks entitle a player to be known as a great or even good defender? No. But if you think about it, Vinny Del Negro hasn't even given Rose the honor of guarding the opponent's best player, an honor bestowed by some of the best, LeBron, Kobe, and Jordan.
I have the feeling though that eventually Del Negro will buck his trend of playing lengthier guys like Luol Deng and let Rose fend for himself.
At least if guards such as Dwyane Wade (25 points) and Brandon Jennings (28) keep having solid scoring nights, he may have no other choice.