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Joakim’s team? Absence of Derrick Rose has led to presence of Noah

Whose team is this when Derrick Rose returns?





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Updated: March 7, 2014 12:47PM



It’s become the standard answer for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau when Derrick Rose’s return is mentioned.

“Great players figure it out,’’ he has said numerous times this season.

Thibodeau better hope that Rose falls under that category of greatness because there will be a lot to figure out when he steps back on the court.

First of all, the Bulls aren’t just Rose’s team anymore.

What Rose was and saw back in 2012 — before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee — is gone. Even the 10 games he played early this season before tearing up his right knee were more of a dress rehearsal.

The Bulls’ offense has learned to live without Rose, and in many ways it has evolved far beyond the team Rose played with before his knees betrayed him.

Look no further than center Joakim Noah.

The two-time All-Star continues to show that he is the best decision-maker the Bulls have in the fourth quarter. Yes, that includes Rose.

The offense is a lot tougher to defend with Noah playing point center and having the ball in his hands at the top of the key than it was with Rose in isolation. Noah’s decision-making opens up the cutting game, pulls out the opposing big man to open up the rim and makes it so there is no one player on whom to key.

It brings balance to a possession, as opposed to sitting back and counting on Rose one-on-one as the shot clock winds down.

Noah also has developed into an outstanding pick-and-roll player, especially late in games. That’s a skill that Rose will need to embrace.

“He’s a leader,’’ Thibodeau said of Noah after his third triple-double of the season in the victory Wednesday at Detroit. “The thing about Jo is he can beat you a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s the defense and rebounding. Sometimes it’s the passing. Sometimes it’s his scoring. His screening has gotten significantly better. His rolling has gotten significantly better. He’s significantly better at making quicker decisions. And that’s how we want him to play.’’

Noah’s development is not the only change awaiting Rose. Jimmy Butler has made just nine starts alongside Rose since being drafted out of Marquette three seasons ago.

The two might know each other off the court, but they looked out of sync on the court in their short time together at the start of the season.

Butler still earns a lot of his points with steals and offensive rebounds, but he’s continuing to show that he can be a threat from three-point range, especially the corner three. That can’t be stifled by Rose.

In the last three games, Butler has averaged 16.7 points.

“I feel like a rhythm is starting to form,’’ Butler said. “I’m getting easy baskets, getting to the line. That’s the best thing I do besides defense. When I’m quick like that, guys are finding me, and it’s easy.’’

It will be on Rose to keep it easy.

“Some post-ups, some cuts, the open jumpers, the pick-and-roll, he’s gotten real comfortable with,’’ Thibodeau said of Butler. “He’s comfortable now and finally healthy, which is the biggest thing.’’

There’s no question that the Bulls are a better team with Rose in the mix, but Rose will have to understand that he now has a better team around him.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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