This week in the Bulls: Chicago played one of its most entertaining games of the year against the Rockets. Jimmy Butler held James Harden without a field goal in the second half and Nikola Mirotic did an admirable job in closing the game at small forward. Wednesday's game against the Jazz didn't go so well -- the Bulls shot 33.3 percent as a team and were promptly blown out at home by Utah. The Bulls are in Washington tonight for their second meeting with John Wall and Wizards.
The Bulls have won 10 of their last 12 games and moved into second place in the Eastern Conference standings over the last three weeks, but somehow the mood around the team still feels a bit tenuous. We're at the point in the season where we know the Bulls are good -- recent wins at Memphis, against Toronto, at Washington and against Houston prove as much. For as great as the Atlanta Hawks look right now, the Bulls still seem like the most popular pick to come out of the East at the moment. So, what's with that nagging feeling of uneasiness?
Like most things with the Bulls, it comes back to Derrick Rose. Rose has only the seventh best PER on the team right now, but he can't ever be treated like just another piece on a powerful team. He forfeited that right when he won MVP in 2011. Everything that's happened since then -- the contract, the injuries, the self-sabotaging quotes and the overblown ad campaigns -- have unfairly felt like a referendum on his future.
I'm at fault for this, too. After watching Derrick rip apart Kyle Lowry and go toe-to-toe with John Wall in back-to-back games around Christmas, I declared he was finally back. Since then, Rose has shot just 30 percent from the field.
It hasn't been all bad. As Rose's overall efficiency has plummeted, he's still turned in several great fourth quarters. He scored 13 points in the fourth in a close win against Denver recently, which included a nasty step-back jumper to make it a five-point game with 24 seconds left. He shook the Celtics in overtime with a late layup that sealed that victory. Against New Orleans, Rose had three field goals in the last six minutes to give the Bulls enough juice at the end to pull out a win.
The late game of heroics have enabled some to deem Derrick 'the closer'. That's proven correct on occasion but it also feels like another example of how badly people want to project their premonitions about the sport onto Rose. He's never asked for that.
The fact is, Derrick Rose has been struggling for seven games now. He's had some killer fourth quarters, but he also shot 0-for-6 against Indiana in the final frame two weeks ago, went 1-for-4 against Boston in overtime (it was a memorable make) and looked awful all the way through against the Jazz and Nets. So, who is the new Derrick Rose?
It takes me back to the start of the season, a time before we knew Jimmy Butler was one of the best players in the NBA, before we knew what the Bulls had in Mirotic and before we knew how brilliant Pau Gasol would be. Back then, I remember the consensus mindset being that as long as Derrick looked good by March, everything would be OK. Bulls fans had been burned too many times by promising regular seasons only to see the playoffs reveal real flaws. With Rose now in tow, we're aware that the postseason is the part of the schedule that truly matters for this team.
Along the way, that timeline has been accelerated thanks to Jimmy, Pau, Niko, Dunleavy, AB and everyone else. There's no denying that there's a major opportunity in the Eastern Conference this season, and our Bulls certainly seem capable of taking advantage of it. For that really to happen, though, there's the feeling that Rose needs to be Rose.
It's an unhealthy mindset. Right now, Derrick is a high-volume, low efficiency player. He's seventh in the league in usage rate ahead of Steph Curry, LeBron James, Monta Ellis, John Wall and Kyle Lowry. He just finished a month where he shot 41 percent from the floor and 23 percent from three-point range on 5.6 attempts per game from deep.
It's not about Rose 'shaking off the rust' or getting comfortable so much as it is about Rose playing well and playing within himself. That means he can't have games where he goes 1-for-7 from three-point range twice a week. It also means he doesn't have to be MVP Derrick or even Best Player on the Team Derrick because the variables around him have changed.
It isn't all about Derrick anymore, but he still needs to have a positive impact on games. When that happens, it feels like these Bulls will be capable of achieving anything. So, for the rest of this season, I'm going to do my best not to be concerned with the rest of the bullshit that orbits around him every game. It doesn't really matter. What does is that Derrick can play more consistently and more aggressively. It's only Jan. 9. With Derrick Rose, we know how fast things can change.
Houston highlight reel
I'm pretty sure Monday's game against Houston had the most highlight reel players of any game this season. There was Jimmy's alley-oop slam:
And, of course, Jimmy's block on Harden at the end of the half:
That was a sweet game. More games like that, less like the one against the Jazz.
Pau sings John Lennon
This is beautiful to me.
Bulls go to the White House
You know what that means:
Selfie gang! This is truly a historic Instagram video by Aaron Brooks. Also, I can't stop laughing at that caption.
Rose didn't go because he is as socially awkward as your favorite blogger, but everyone else seemed to have a good time.
The Booz News
Kobe's reaction made this even better. Oh, we're not stopping here:
This has been the Booz News.