We've written a lot about Derrick Rose over the last three years. We've written about everything that went into his reluctance to return from injury. We're written about how people talk about him. We've written about the pain of watching him get hurt again and we've written about how to cope. We've written about another phase of The Return and his struggles through minor injuries this season.
There's a common theme here: for all of the anxiety, hope and frustration over D. Rose the last three seasons, none of it ever involved what happens on the basketball court. After watching Rose key two of the best wins of the year in the last two days, finally, Derrick Rose is back to being a basketball player.
No one knows if Rose will get hurt again this season, either with nagging injuries or something more serious. After watching all of my favorite basketball players drop like flies over the last few seasons, I've developed a stock response to this: it's a physical game. If it happens, it happens. What's more important is that it seems like after all this time, Rose is finally back to playing like Rose. That's no small feat, because there isn't another player in the world who plays the game the way he does.
There's been minor alterations, of course. Those kamikaze drives to the lane have been replaced more measured shots, like the flurry of floaters he uncorked on the Wizards on Tuesday. Other times it's been pull-ups, whether they're the ones from behind the three-point line that typically careen off the rim or the attempts a few feet in that have been money lately.
Rose's approach isn't the only one that has been more measured. He was able to dominate the Raptors in 31 minutes, scoring 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting in only the final seven minutes of fourth quarter. He did the same damn thing the next night in Washington by matching the incredible John Wall shot for shot to seal a victory in the final 6:36 of the final period.
Rose has rarely played over 30 minutes per game this season (his average in December: 29.9 minutes per game), which would qualify as the most restraint Tom Thibodeau has shown in his career. It'll pay off down the line when things start counting for real, and Thibs would only help himself by applying the same type of care to the rest of the team. There's depth here, and Thibs needs to be flexible enough to truly use it to team's advantage in both the short-term and long-term.
At the beginning of this season, I wondered if it really was all about Derrick anymore. He had more help than ever, and that was even before we realized Jimmy Butler's offseason objective was to turn into Batman. What's becoming evident is that Rose is far from a one-man army anymore. Butler is the best player on the team, at least so far, and a healthy Noah might also be more consequential to winning.
As Rose settles into this new reality, he's maintained his role as the engine. Everyone's life is easier when Derrick is pushing the pace and putting pressure on opposing defenses. Whether he ends up as the team's leading scorer or third leading scorer isn't really relevant. For those who have followed his career since he was winning state titles at Simeon, it's always been apparent that this is how Rose prefers to play.
The late game heroics he's showed the last two nights? Oh, that might be a trend, too. Do you remember the state title he lifted Simeon to as a junior, when he only scored six points the entire game but sealed the championship with a devastating floater?
That's who is he back to being now. He's Mariano Rivera coming out of the bullpen to metal music and the floater is his cutter. It's not so much hero ball as it is a nod to everything he's done in the past and everything he's still capable of doing. Here, Derrick, go win us the game. Whether it's breaking down the defense and finding Noah for a slam or diverting attention away from Butler on the weakside, Rose is always at the center.
In a sense, the more things change, the more they stay the same.