Rose's potential: Best point guard, Chicago product?


Rose's potential: Best point guard, Chicago product?

During Derrick Rose's press conference Tuesday to announce his five-year, 94-million contract, the reigning league MVP was asked whether one of his goals was to become the best point guard in NBA history. Predictably, he deferred.

"I try not to think about that, being the best point guard. There's so many other great point guards that have played the game. Just mentioning me in the category, I think, at the end of my career, that would be something that would be great to me," the superstar answered. "I always want people to think Derrick Rose -- when they think about me -- I want them to think of a winner. That's it. Someone that went out every single night, played crazy, played well. Someone that was just a plain winner, did anything to win a game and that's what I want people to remember me for."

Since Rose is too humble to truly delve into the possibility, let's do it for him. It's only his fourth season, extremely early in what should be a long career, and he's still just scratching the surface of his potential, as hard as that may be to fathom. But it's a legitimate question, especially given his resume thus far -- two-time high school state champion, NCAA finalist in his lone college season, No. 1 overall draft pick, Rookie of the Year, two All-Star Game appearances in three seasons (including one as a starter) and of course, being named the youngest MVP in the history of the league -- and his determination to continually improve.

Magic Johnson is generally regarded as the best point guard of all-time, but he almost deserves an asterisk because a 6-foot-9 point guard was something unfair, seemingly out of a basketball geek's movie fantasy and something we haven't seen before or since. If some traditionally-thinking coach decided to stick Magic in the post as a youngster and he reluctantly embraced the role for the rest of his career, it's tough to say that the Hall of Famer wouldn't have still gone on to stardom as a revolutionary power forward-small forward hybrid (at the time) or at least been a solid pro.

When it comes to normal-sized point guards, however (yes, that excludes Oscar Robertson), most observers of hoops have the following players on their list: Isiah Thomas and John Stockton, and to a lesser extent, Tiny Archibald and Bob Cousy. Cousy was obviously a pioneer, but so few people can actually recall seeing him play live that it's hard to compare him to the others. Archibald, the only player to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season, was definitely a great player, but he was considered more of a solo artist, who only found team success when he was an aging veteran and on a balanced Celtics team that didn't require him to be a virtuoso.

Stockton, the all-time NBA assists leader, is a tougher call. Overshadowed as an individual talent by longtime teammate Karl Malone -- arguing which player benefited more from the others' presence is like the chicken-and-egg theory -- the former Jazz great never won a title and wasn't a gaudy scorer, but when it comes to pass-first point guards, he's without peer.

But as much as basketball purists crave pass-first point guards, true superstars in this game are capable of dominating the game themselves, without having to rely on their teammates capitalizing on their passing, no matter how pinpoint. Thomas, a Chicago native, best exemplified a floor general who blended unselfishness and takeover ability, as evidenced by his many legendary performances en route to two NBA championships in one of the league's most competitive eras.

Perhaps his post-playing career has obscured some recollections of his greatness, but Thomas was a first-magnitude star with the credentials to back it up. That's why it speaks volumes when former Bulls guard Randy Brown says Rose has a chance to be the best point guard ever.

"With Derrick, he does because he amazes me with the stuff he does. It goes back to last season, back in December. We were having a conversation and he asked, 'Can he be MVP?' out of a regular conversation, and he does it. He said he wanted to be a three-point shooter and he did it. Isiah -- outstanding -- I grew up watching him as a kid and loving him, but Derrick is in a stage of his life where he could be the best point guard to come out of Chicago," Brown, who now works in the Bulls front office, told CSNChicago.com. "You know what? Clearly Rose has a chance to be the best point guard ever. I'm with him every day, so I know it's kind of biased. He's in a Bulls uniform., but really what the kid does, I think he has to be mentioned one day as the best point guard to play the game."

The anecdote Brown -- who, like Thomas, hails from the city's West Side -- retold rings a bell for this writer because I remember having a similar conversation with Rose last season. It was before the Bulls played the Cavaliers in a half-empty Cleveland arena (due to a massive snowstorm), on the sideline as he waited to warm up. The best part of this job are the casual, off-the-record conversations with players -- ranging from basketball discussions to current events, pop culture and life in general--but now that Rose's (first?) MVP is safe, I don't feel any sense of betrayal in disclosing it.

We were talking about how realistic it would be for him to win the award and how historically, few players had gone from not even being a candidate the previous season to winning it the next; Steve Nash was the notable exception we cited. Fast forward a couple months and the next thing you know, there's Rose giving an emotional speech after taking home MVP honors.

But back to his all-time best point guard potential. Something Brown and I talked about is that with Chicago's lineage at the position--in addition to Thomas, there's Tim Hardaway, for starters -- Rose simply surpassing Thomas as the best player to come from Chicago would be a major achievement. At the end of his career, despite Rose's ever-growing popularity and being a nightly fixture on highlight reels, he'll ultimately be measured by titles, the thing he cares about the most. But assuming he can win at least one (and not at the end of his playing days, just chasing a ring), when you factor in unparalleled athleticism he has for the position, he has a chance to stand alone as both the best point guard ever and the best player to come from Chicago.

Obviously it helps that he plays for the Bulls, a storied franchise in a major market, as well as his hometown. But Brown, another hometown product, says it's not always easy to play in your own backyard.

"It is difficult, playing at home because of the distractions. A lot of family, a lot of friends, people pulling at you all the time and coming from the neighborhood you came from. I grew up on the West Side of Chicago and playing on the West Side, it was tough. It definitely humbles you. I had a great supporting cast, just like Derrick does, with a lot of brothers and sisters, and my parents," said Brown, who played alongside the greatest player in franchise history, Michael Jordan, one player Rose will have a hard time passing in stature. "The most important thing is -- Derrick says it all -- he has a good foundation with his family and he stays humble. It was tough at first, as you can see, but it also was a privilege to wear a Bulls uniform because I dreamed about it and I'm pretty sure he did, too. So, it was an honor."

Rose himself talked about being from Chicago -- specifically, the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side -- but regarded it as a less of a burden than a source of pride.

"Coming from where I'm coming from, I can't explain it. I really can't explain it. I never would have thought in a million years that I'd be signing a contract like this, especially coming from the area where I'm coming from. No one from Englewood, period, has ever been in my position and sometimes it makes you think, 'Why me?,' and for me to be 23 years old, I know that I'm truly blessed, I don't take anything for granted and I appreciate everyone around me, all my fans and my family," he said. "I'm pretty quiet, so I watch everything, watch everybody and just try to learn from everyone's mistakes from the past that really got people in trouble. I'm blessed to have my friends around me that I have around me. We've been knowing each other -- some of us, the people I hang with; it's like eight of us -- been knowing them since I was in third grade, sixth grade. Played together in grammar school, high school. It's a small circle of us. It's just loyalty and trust with us, and like I said, I don't take any of them for granted, and I hope our relationship and friendship just builds on from now on."

"For me, it's kind of weird, where I hate attention, but being the player that I want to be, it comes with the territory, so I've just got to live it up. I'm always blessed to be in the position that I'm in and I just try to stay positive," he continued. "I'm just going to continue being the way that I am."

Doing just that could leave him in some rare company as a player. He's already there as a person.

No, Zach LaVine wasn't ranting at Jim Boylen in latest viral video

No, Zach LaVine wasn't ranting at Jim Boylen in latest viral video

In the final moments of a hard-fought 124-122 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night, Zach LaVine was caught on camera saying something to the effect of, "I've got 40 [expletive] points."

LaVine has been broadcast multiple times this season appearing to exhibit expasperation over late-game timeouts called by Jim Boylen, so some segments of NBA Twitter took this as another show of frustration towards the Bulls' head coach. But it seems that's not the case.

According to reporting by Eric Woodyard of ESPN, LaVine was merely jawing back and forth with Thunder guard Dennis Schröder. Common practice in a closely-contested game.

The report quotes LaVine, himself.

"You get into the heat of the battle and between players when you guys are talking, you talk smack sometimes, right? And that's all it was," LaVine told Woodyard. "We were still down. Dude was talking a little mess to me and I just let him know 'Look, I've got 40, I don't know why you're talking to me.

"I don't know why they said they thought I was talking to Jim but it was just people being competitive in the game talking."

In the play following the clip, LaVine nailed a pull-up 3-pointer from the logo for his 41st points of the night. It was LaVine's sixth 40-point game of the season, but despite his brilliance, the Bulls dropped to 20-39 and 1-9 in their last ten games with the defeat. A tale as old as time.

It's obviously been an up-and-down season for the Bulls, but consider this 'controversy' dead on arrival.

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Why the Bulls' loss to the Thunder was a statistical anomaly

Why the Bulls' loss to the Thunder was a statistical anomaly

For myriad reasons, the Bulls’ 124-122 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night was something of an outlier. Zach LaVine and Coby White combined for 76 points, smashing records left and right along the way. The Bulls won the third quarter 38-19, a rarity for a team that entered the night 26th in the NBA in third-quarter point differential.

And, perhaps most jarringly, the Bulls attempted 18 NBA.com-defined midrange jumpers (anywhere between the paint and the rim), making 11 (61.1%) — by far the most they’ve taken and made in a game this season. 

The Bulls have rather famously spent the third year of their rebuild touting a new-look offensive system centered around a complete eschewing of the midrange zone and an added emphasis on 3-pointers and rim looks. They’re currently tied for first in the league in restricted area field goal attempts per game (33.6), ninth in 3-point attempts per game (35.2) and 26th in midrange attempts per game (7.3).

So, how much of an outlier was the Bulls’ 11-for-18 outing from midrange in the Thunder game? 

This season, the Bulls have taken 10 or more midrange jumpers in a game just 14 times, and before Tuesday, had never made more than five. Against the Thunder, 18% of the Bulls’ 122 points came via the midrange, compared to the team's season-long mark of 4.5% (26th in the NBA). The performance sets new  season-highs for makes and attempts from midrange for the Bulls (they've made exactly five midrange jumpers in six different games and attempted 14 once). And in 58 games prior to the Oklahoma CIty matchup, the Bulls hadn’t shot more than 50% on midrange jumpers while attempting more than nine in a game.

Zach LaVine and Coby White were the biggest benefactors of this anomaly. The two combined for 15 of the Bulls’ 18 attempts and 10 of their 11 makes from midrange, using them to key an improbable second half rally that ultimately fell short (the two went 7-for-10 from midrange between the third and fourth quarters).

“I had to take ’em,” said LaVine, who shot 6-for-9 from midrange and 19-for-35 from the field in the game. “I could tell my shot was short, I missed all my free throws. And I couldn’t get, on the 3, everything was short. So I just, for me personally, I knew what I had to do to help us. You know, just gotta adjust. I know how to adjust my game, I work on it. It might not be our system, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”

This is not intended to paint a picture of strategic mutiny within the locker room — LaVine made that chide about the team’s ‘system’ good-naturedly. But it’s a fun statistical blip, and a reminder that even in the most progressive, regimented offensive infrastructures, there is room for nuance.

Take these two attempts as examples, one from LaVine and one from White. Both happen rather naturally in the flow of the offensive possession (though both are mid-shot-clock) and exploit sagging or backpedaling Thunder defenders.

Strictly by the numbers, neither LaVine nor White are eye-poppingly efficient from midrange. But if defenses are going to concede these types of looks often, it doesn’t hurt to mix a few in over the course of a game to keep opponents on their toes — especially if they’re hot. Both LaVine and White are clearly comfortable shooting from that area and have the lift to get clean shots off on occasion.

Of course, the Bulls aren’t going to change the way they play based on one torrid shooting night. They’re 29th in the league in shooting percentage on midrange looks (33.6%), even on low volume. But sometimes, when the game ebbs in a certain direction, you just have to roll with it. Head coach Jim Boylen acknowledged that point.

“I thought Zach made a couple midrange shots in that third quarter, he got his feet down and he took ‘em. I think Coby’s done a nice job of taking some of his midrange and turning them into assists,” Jim Boylen said. “A guy understanding where his efficient shots come from is part of the growth process. So we chart those things and we look at those things.

“I think it comes down to decisions and feel. You know, end of the clock, you gotta take a two you take it. What we don’t want is contested, mid-clock twos, those are — and we make some of them, everybody makes some of ‘em — but [limiting contested, midclock twos is] what we’re striving for.”

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