Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010
10:13 PM

By Aggrey Sam

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.

5. Will Derrick Rose make the leap to NBA superstar this season?

Behind tournament MVP Kevin Durant's 28-point game -- a day after his USA Basketball-record 38 points against Lithuania on Sept. 11 -- the U.S. defeated host nation Turkey, 81-64, on Sunday to win the gold medal at the FIBA World Championships, clinching an automatic bid to the 2012 Olympics in London. Bulls point guard Rose added eight points and six assists in the win, while 2008 second-round draft pick and Turkish starting center Omer Asik contributed five points and four rebounds in a losing effort.

Rose, the championship team's starting point guard, had an up-and-down event, averaging 7.2 points, a team-leading 3.2 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals through the USA national team's nine victories. Rose was the MVP of the team's final exhibition game and much was expected of him heading into the tournament, but he struggled with his outside shot -- shooting 45.8 percent from the field, but just 27.8 percent from behind the three-point arc (not to mention an uncharacteristic 50 percent from the free-throw stripe) -- and was benched in favor of reserve spark plug Russell Westbrook, Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder teammate.


That said, this summer's experience has been invaluable for Rose and should transfer over to the upcoming season with the Bulls. Playing alongside respected veteran and former NBA champion Chauncey Billups in the USA backcourt, Rose was able to see firsthand how a game could be affected with one's basketball I.Q. as opposed to physical tools. Playing in the team's defensive scheme, in which sound, pressure defense was the catalyst for the squad, he received an introduction to what he'll experience back in Chicago under noted defensive strategist and new Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. And while his outside jumper eventually went cold, he did experience some success from behind the arc (particularly in the early going for Team USA) and at the very least, he had the freedom to launch shots from deep after spending the early part of his summer working on expanding his range and consistency. On top of that, Rose was encouraged to progress as a vocal leader, something that doesn't come naturally to him.

But some of the necessary components for Rose to make the leap from promising young star to an elite player were already evident at the end of last season. While Rose demonstrated the ability to take over games, he did it by simply making plays and not always controlling the action, thus leaving himself and the Bulls vulnerable on nights when he wasn't in his groove. Obviously being able to keep defenders honest from the outside is a major part of that process, but with Rose's unique talents -- his explosiveness is regarded as being in a category of its own by many NBA observers, while his playmaking ability and strength and athleticism for his position aren't far behind -- there are other ways he can impact a game besides scoring.

With the presence of Joakim Noah and now Carlos Boozer, Rose doesn't have to turn into an elite rebounder, but he had moments for USA Basketball where he helped out enough on the glass that it's clear he could contribute more in that area for the Bulls. Rose's defensive shortcomings are often overlooked, but he showed a commitment to that end of the floor for the national team and under Thibodeau's tutelage, his progress as a defender should continue, even if he doesn't turn into a master of havoc, a la Rajon Rondo, Thibodeau's former pupil.

His summer teammates should also aid his development as a distributor. While the Bulls aren't an All-Star team, Rose certainly has more options to pass the ball to and the quicker he gauges the strengths and weaknesses of his new teammates, the better for everybody. With so many stars for Team USA, Rose had to blend his natural attacking style with a pass-first mentality, and while it's unlikely that his scoring takes a big dip, playing with the likes of automatic 20-and-10 guy Boozer, knockdown three-point shooter Kyle Korver and athletic slasher Ronnie Brewer -- not to mention an ever-improving Noah and underrated Luol Deng -- will take some of the scoring load off his shoulders and necessitate an occasional shift to pure set-up man.


At the same time, Rose must not lose the takeover mentality he flashed more and more often as the 2009-10 campaign progressed. Although he had a stellar debut season, he started off in a bit of a sophomore slump -- a lingering ankle injury had something to do with that -- and only gained confidence as a true go-to guy after the calendar year changed. This season, with an increased focus on him after his inaugural All-Star berth, outstanding playoff performance and summer exploits, the South Side Chicago native will need to start the season with intensity, yet balance it with an effort to blend in with his new teammates, develop an overall team chemistry and take more of the leadership reigns -- but not just by example.

That's the last part of the puzzle. Rose has consistently expressed a desire to become more of a vocal leader and while it's generally acknowledged that Noah holds that unofficial title on the Bulls (Boozer's veteran tenure and playoff experience should give him some of that responsibility in time, as well), as the point guard, face of the franchise and team's best player, he will need to impact the team more in that aspect.

With those types of expectations put forth by the media, fans and organization itself, it's easy to forget Rose is only 21 years old. His quiet demeanor and humility suggest he may just want to blend in, but while he may consider himself a regular Joe off the court, it belies his supreme confidence in himself and competitive fire. Perhaps the one thing most ignored by observers is how Rose time and again stepped up in the clutch to make big shots and how he wanted the ball in his hands when games mattered the most, a trait that doesn't much lend for anything but complementary players (read: not Carmelo Anthony or others of that similarly dominant ilk), at least not until Rose proves he's not in that category.

Some have inferred that Rose didn't do enough to recruit free agents like LeBron James over the summer. Maybe it's because he knows he's ready to take over Chicago's superstar mantle.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.