For the past 4 games, the Chicago Bulls have been a more polished version of the Philadelphia 76ers. They are superstar-less, completely unselfish and have played tremendous defense to knock off the number 2, 3 and 4 teams in the East. They also fell asleep one game and lost to a sub .500 team. Their superstar, their closer was not there to bail them out when team basketball wasn't enough and lack of energy put them in a hole. For however important Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng are to this team (and they are very important), in the end the paramount of importance is reigning MVP Derrick Rose.
However, what that importance is relates more to what the team is doing now than what he can bring back with a healthy body. We know he's the closer and that will solve any potential 4th quarter woes. We know he's a strong defender and that will come into play if the Bulls are matched up with Boston or New York in the playoffs. What Rose's test is involves how he fits in to what the Bulls are doing right this minute; moving the ball and feeding the bigs. The high-low game of Noah and Boozer needs to take offensive priority. Noah and Boozer have had success playing without Rose in the line-up and that success should continue if Rose can adjust to what it means. There should be no more trouble with traps in the half court or being defended by bigger, stronger wing defenders if the ball is not in his hands. He is the point guard of this team and he has done a wonderful job running it. But an offense going through Rose is just what the opposing team wants.
The Orlando Magic look forward to seeing Rose try and split double teams and run into the brick wall that is Dwight Howard. The Miami Heat love the notion of Lebron James 'shutting down' our MVP and forcing the rest of the team to scramble offensively. If 'How to solve Derrick Rose' is no longer the question that other contending teams have to answer, then what will they do defensively? If Rose gets the ball out of his hands within 2 or 3 seconds in the half court, what effect on the offense will Lebron have? What effect will Paul George and Andre Iguodala have? And this largely falls on Rose.
8 for 22 shooting nights need to end. 32 points on 29 shots is not effective offense. So Rose's test is not to simply see if he can be the facilitator first (because he tries to do that most of the time anyway), but to see if he can be the league's greatest decoy. The threat of Derrick Rose needs to have more value than Derrick Rose himself. Of course, this means that our bigs have to keep performing at a high level. The Bench Mob needs continue their resurrection (how great has Taj Gibson been lately?) And the occasional JL3 scoring outburst wouldn't hurt either. And if these things don't happen, a Championship will not happen anyway. No one man can win a championship; ask Michael Jordan.
It's time to prove in the playoffs that the Chicago Bulls are more than just great defense, rebounding and Derrick Rose. It's time for our Bulls to prove that they are a great all-around team led by Derrick Rose. And to do that, Rose must pass this test. He's very close to becoming that 'True Guard' that I envisioned he would become. If he aces this test, then he'll be well on his way and a Championship will be within his grasp.
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