When Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski first set about making the roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball this summer, one of the biggest stories was the triumphant return of Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. The 2010-11 NBA MVP and three-time All-Star has missed all but 10 games of the past two seasons with various major knee injuries and appeared set to use the World Cup as a sort of comeback tour. At the beginning of August, Coach K even announced that Rose had returned to the level of basketball's best. It looked like he was ready to serve as one of Team USA's stars.
The eventual reality was much more disappointing. Rose sat out an exhibition game with knee soreness, took on a diminished role in the rotation, and struggled once official World Cup games began. In nine games, Rose averaged 4.8 points on 25.4 percent shooting from the field (including 1-of-19 from the shorter international three-point line), 3.1 assists, and 2.0 turnovers in 17.1 minutes per game. He was also the only American not to score in the final vs. Serbia, though he did log six assists. It's arguable that he was Team USA's worst performer in the tournament .
It came without the former NBA Most Valuable Player needing to overextend himself -- with Rose used sparingly in playing just 16 minutes in the final. That he survived intact through 50 days of national team duty without any reason to believe that his knees will be a significant issue during the coming season will be a huge relief to the Bulls as training camp approaches.
“Physically he’s great,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who shared in the victory as assistant to USA head coach Mike Krzyzweski. “Mentally he’s great. We had five games in six days. He handled that. There was a lot that was real good." [...]
“I’m going to transfer this onto next season with the Bulls,” he said. “It’s really helped me with my recovery. Being off the floor, taking care of my body, eating right. I was feeling good every time I stepped on the floor, stretching every time, I think it’s going to help me with the Bulls season.
“This has gotten my body accustomed. I haven’t been playing in a long time. I still have to get my rhythm back. But as far as I’m concerned, I think I performed well. Making this team was enough for me. The championship was the cherry on top, just coming here, performing in front of this great crowd. Just coming here. Now, sad to say, I have to put this behind me and concentrate on playing for the Bulls.”
Rose may be seeing a silver lining to his rough performance, but these comments are also not an isolated case. Before the final, he said that he would give himself an A-grade for the tournament and received strong feedback from Bulls officials. While it's hard to be too positive given the stats listed above, it's also understandable that everyone involved would want to focus on what went right. Even if that constitutes getting excited that Rose played in several real basketball games without suffering a painful setback.
On Monday, Yahoo's own Adrian Wojnarowski referred to Rose's FIBA experience as a "Double-A rehab assignment," a joke that doubles as the most effective way to think about what Rose did in Spain. In baseball, stars often appear in the minor leagues on the way back from injury without actually playing in a particularly impressive way. When that happens, it's not a problem — it's just part of a process. The situations aren't entirely comparable, if only because a string of poor games is accepted as normal in baseball to a degree it's not in basketball. Yet FIBA is also not the NBA, and it's possible that Rose would have done better under NBA rules. After all, he wasn't overwhelmingly excellent in the 2010 FIBA World Championships, and that tournament occurred right before his MVP season with the Bulls.
What's clear, though, is that we don't yet know what kind of player Rose will be when he suits up for the Bulls in late October. At that point, he will have been 30 months removed from his pre-injury peak, with only those 10 rust-covered games last fall and this tournament to serve as evidence of his abilities. Rose and the Bulls want observers to withhold judgment on his future, but that process also must involve admitting that he showed very little with Team USA to compel optimism. It makes little sense to write off Rose — it would also be foolish to declare his FIBA World Cup an unmitigated success. There's a lot left to prove.
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