Evolution of Derrick Rose: Why things have clicked with Knicks and in NBA playoffs

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Knicks' Derrick Rose treated image with MSG background
Knicks' Derrick Rose treated image with MSG background

John Calipari and Leon Rose were on the phone Thursday night.

The topic, naturally, turned to Derrick Rose.

Calipari: “How about my man D-Rose?!”

Leon Rose: “Can you imagine this? (It’s like he) hasn’t aged!”

In his 13th NBA season and at age 32, Derrick Rose is playing a pivotal role for Leon Rose’s Knicks.

In Game 2 of New York’s first-round series against Atlanta, Rose came off the bench to score 26 points in 39 minutes. He also had four rebounds and four assists; the Knicks outscored the Hawks by 12 while Rose was on the court.

Rose last scored more than 25 points in a playoff game in 2015. His above-the-rim athleticism has been muted by knee injuries.

So the casual NBA fan may have been surprised by Rose’s Game 2 performance .

But those closest to the former league MVP weren’t shocked.

“To be honest with you, I always felt that he was going to be a consistently good basketball player (after his knee injuries). It’s not even about the pop or the burst – the fundamentals are there,” Taj Gibson said. “Left hand, right hand, you name it he can do it. It’s not even about the athleticism. Now, he’s all around.”

The numbers back Gibson’s point. Rose is shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks. Stretched over a full season, that number would be a career high. He also posted an effective field goal percentage of 53 with New York, which would be another career high.

Why has it clicked so well for Rose in New York this time around?

As Gibson notes, it’s due in part to his surroundings. Rose knows Tom Thibodeau, William Wesley, Leon Rose and Scott Perry well. That familiarity has been a factor in his play.

“One thing about Derrick I’ve noticed, when he’s in a familiar situation, in a situation that he’s comfortable in (and) he understands it’s family, he understands that it’s a good environment, a winning environment, he’s going to flourish,” Gibson said. “And right now he’s around familiar faces he’s been in battle with for a long time. It’s no coincidence how he’s been playing.”

However you describe Rose’s play, just don’t refer to it as ‘vintage Rose.’

May 26, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (4) reacts against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half of game two of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Elsa/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports
May 26, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose (4) reacts against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half of game two of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Elsa/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

He wrote a detailed Instagram post recently about that label, and why it doesn’t fit.

Rose said what he expressed in the post was “something that’s been on my mind for a couple of years, but it’s something I felt like it was true.”

“I am a totally different player now,” he said. “I did change my game, people have to defend me different. They’re putting bigger guys on me and (they) can’t under the screen anymore. Just everything, I’ve changed my game.”

If you were watching the NBA in 2010, you certainly remember Rose’s other-worldly athleticism. He attacked the rim with such force; it felt every drive had the possibility to end with something the viewer hadn’t seen before.

A native Chicagoan, Rose was beloved in his city and around the globe. But serious knee injuries kept him out of 50 percent of the Bulls’ games between 2012-2016. After one injury, fans in Rose’s hometown set up a makeshift shrine for him under an overpass.

Chicago sent Rose to New York in a trade in 2016. His one-year stint with the Knicks was defined by frustrating losses and an unexcused absence from a home game. At the end of the season, Phil Jackson was removed as team president and the Knicks had little interest in re-signing Rose.

Rose went from Cleveland to Utah (which waived him) to Minnesota to Detroit over the next four seasons. Midway through this season, he asked the Pistons to trade him to New York, where he’d reunite with Thibodeau, Wesley & Co. He was also back with Gibson, who always felt that Rose would be successful after the knee injuries.

“I knew he was going to come out of that. That’s just the kind of person (he is), and how he’s built – he’s from Chicago,” Gibson said. “It’s just the growth of it – how he’s really locked in and he’s really out there going full steam. It’s not any kind of – take me out or anything. He’s really going full steam, he’s really into it. It’s just a testament to his heart, it’s a testament to growing up in Chicago.”

Rose played 38 minutes in Game 1 of Knicks-Hawks. He played 39 minutes in Game 2. There are no plans for Rose to rest in Game 3 of the series, on Friday night in Atlanta.

Rest and recovery defined a long stretch of his career. But he doesn’t see it as a topic that needs to be addressed at this point.

“I’m good, man; I prep myself for this,” Rose said after Game 2. “I’ve been working my butt off for a couple of years now, (to) get my body right. (I) take care of myself pretty good. I don’t want to say too much about that, don’t want to jinx myself. I’m good.”

Rose’s play – and health – have been so strong that some teams monitoring free agency believe his presence will factor in to the Knicks’ approach in free agency this season.

But that’s an issue for August. At the moment, the Knicks are going to count on Rose to help them win in Atlanta this weekend. Rose is grateful for the opportunity.

“I’m just appreciative to be in the league. there’s a lot of guys that are my age, that are a little older, that still feel like they can hoop, there’s younger guys than me who are out of the league and feel they want another opportunity,” Rose said earlier this week. “My job is to play as hard as I can and do it for them guys. I’m very fortunate to be in this position -- not only am I in the league, but I’m on a great team. They allow me to come here and play the way that I play. That’s all any player can ask for.”