SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The lane opened, and suddenly Derrick Rose(notes) was bolting toward the rim. Surely, the Chicago Bulls' young point guard would deliver a highlight to remember, a soaring dunk, maybe even a vicious one-handed flush like the one he memorably threw down on Leandro Barbosa(notes) last season.
Not on this night. Rose instead opted to coast toward the basket for an easy layup, looking far more like John Stockton than Michael Jordan.
The truth is Rose has yet to dunk at all this season.
"The times I've attempted to I was barely getting up," he said. "So I will just say it was a high layup."
A sprained right ankle Rose suffered early in the preseason has limited him. Three weeks into the schedule, it's clear his game isn't the same as last season when he was named Rookie of the Year. Nor is Rose certain when exactly he'll regain his explosiveness. He just knows he's getting better – slowly.
"Every day it's improving," Rose said. "…Before when I got up in the morning, I really couldn't walk well. I'd be stiff. But I haven't been stiff in about two or three weeks, so it's going fine."
Rose injured a tendon behind the bone in his right ankle in a preseason game against Indiana on Oct. 2. He wanted to continue playing, but the Bulls wisely persisted in holding him out until the regular season began.
By the look of Rose's play and statistics, his ankle still isn't 100 percent. Bulls officials also think the rust from Rose's long layoff has contributed as much to his struggles as any lingering soreness in his ankle. Rose averaged 16.8 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the field, 6.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds in 37 minutes per game last season. This season, those numbers have dropped to 13.4 points on 43.8 percent shooting, 5.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 32.4 minutes per game.
"I really can't run [well] unless I'm taped," Rose said. "I depend on the tape a little bit too much. But I know it's getting back there."
Rose worked on his jump shot this summer with shooting coach Rob McClanaghan, and during Team USA's minicamp practices, he looked much more confident shooting from midrange. Rose's sore ankle, however, has made it more difficult for him to get the necessary lift on his shot. Against the Kings, he missed all 10 of his jump shots. Opposing teams are willing to let him fire away.
Chicago has capable veteran guards, most notably Kirk Hinrich(notes), who can help fill in for Rose until regains his form. Still, Rose has no desire to sit out now, even if he's playing at only about 80 percent of his capability. Bulls management and coaches also are comfortable with him playing.
Rose smiled at the thought of people wondering what happened to the reigning Rookie of the Year. Give him time. He might not look like much now, but he's confident he'll get better.