Not only is Derrick Rose having an MVP-type season, but he also might be the most improved player in the NBA. | Getty Images
Derrick Rose doesn’t have to do too much to ignite the United Center crowd these days. But the way Rose is going, the sellout crowd at the UC might want to consider a twist on the chant Rose elicits with almost every big play he makes: M-I-P. M-I-P. M-I-P.
The Bulls will be bigger contenders in the East by playoff time than even the experts expect because Derrick Rose is a candidate for an unprecedented double: the Most Valuable Player in the NBA and the Most Improved Player in the NBA.
It’s never happened before. In fact, a player who previously made the All-Star team never has won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. But after Rose led the Bulls out of trouble at the end of their five-game road trip last week, he enhanced his credentials not only for the MVP award, but the MIP award as well.
The reality of the situation is that Rose has a better chance of beating out LeBron James for MVP than he does of beating out the Timberwolves’ Kevin Love for the MIP award. Love is scoring more points, grabbing more rebounds and shooting better from the field, from three-point range and the free-throw line this season.
But he’s also playing more minutes and taking more shots — a key factor to winning that award more often than not. Rose played nearly 37 minutes a game last year, made the All-Star team and established himself as an elite player who could someday be an MVP candidate.
And he’s there already. Not by playing more minutes, or jumping any higher or running any faster. He’s just a better basketball player. He’s a better shooter who takes more good shots and fewer bad ones than he did last year (his three-point shooting is up from 27 percent to 37 percent this season). He’s a better distributor (his assists are up from 6.0 to 8.1). A better defender. A better free-throw shooter (up from 77 percent to 83 percent, with 19 straight and 90 percent over his last 24 games). He’s more well-coached (he had two fouls in the first quarter against Utah last week, then none the rest of the game while outplaying Deron Williams). He’s better before the game, during the game and after the game.
Playing in his hometown, with expectations and anticipation at levels that have beaten down others, Rose at 22 is doing the impossible — he’s overachieving. Once upon a time, the GM here wouldn’t even draft a local player for fear that the pressure would be too much. But Rose keeps exceeding our expectations by growing into the job of superstar in Jordan-like fashion— improving his weaknesses, playing through injuries and illness and doing things he’s probably not comfortable doing, like being the face of the organization and handling multiple waves of reporters before and after games.
More than anything else, he’s accepted the fact that he’s Derrick Rose. He’s not to the point of referring to teammates as his ‘‘supporting cast.’’ But he knows what’s going on. He knows who he is. Rose is a soft-spoken, humble, reticent guy who doesn’t look like he has the personality to lead a team with his will as well as his ability.
But give him time. The kid grew up on a cocoon on the South Side, insulated — as best as one can be, anyway — from the perils of a tough neighborhood. But he’s 100 percent Englewood on the inside. I covered his brother Reggie at Hubbard in the early ’90s, at the height of King’s dominance in the Public League with 7-footers Rashard Griffith and Thomas Hamilton, and Reggie didn’t back down from anyone. He’d have taken on King by himself if he had to. He not only wanted to be the best, he thought he was the best.
You can already see that Derrick Rose has that kind of grit and will deep down inside. So as good as he’s been in three years with the Bulls, as much as he’s improved since last season, he has a lot more room to grow. It’s been a long time since the Bulls have had a player as good. And even longer that they’ve had one as good who is getting better and better every day. The best is yet to come.