Monthly Archives: February 2016

Time has come for Rose to pass off to backcourt ‘mate

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With the game on the line and the Bulls needing a bucket, the ball wound up in the hands of their most reliable player, their best player and quite honestly, the face of the Bulls, where it belonged.

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In the past in these situations, that player was almost always Derrick Rose, whenever he was healthy. But the closing moments in overtime Wednesday against the Pacers was perhaps symbolic where he and the Bulls are right now. Rose was sitting out with an injury (though not serious) and even if he was good to go, he deserved to be a spectator on that play.

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Amazing Play By Chicago

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With 3.7 seconds left in overtime, Paul Gasol throws the lob to Jimmy Butler and Butler tips it in for the two point lead.

It was Jimmy Butler who gently tapped in an alley-oop pass from Pau Gasol in the final seconds, which makes sense, since it is Butler who gives the Bulls their best chance to win games. The Bulls are balanced and deep and hardly a one-man act and so the team doesn’t “belong” to anyone. Yet if we are to designate the one cheap nba jerseys player who makes a difference, then you can safely assume his identity now or wait until the All-Star Game next month to see which guard will be there to represent the Bulls and which won’t.

The transformation from Rose, the 2011 MVP, to Butler, a former 30th draft pick, is a quirky surprise you don’t see very often in the NBA. But it has been apparent for some time now, and other teams are game-planning more for Butler, a terrific player on both ends of the floor, than Rose, who’s still grinding to once again be the force he was before the injuries hit.

At times, the last person on Earth who recognizes this is Rose. He still has an MVP mindset and embraces the idea that he can and must take the bulk of shots and rescue the Bulls whenever necessary. And that mentality hurts the Bulls at times on the floor, while also keeping Rose motivated to reach the level of four years ago.

There’s a very subtle tug-of-war between the guards, and it’s one that Rose can’t win, and the sooner he understands this and embraces it, the better off he and the Bulls will be.

Butler is a true NBA success story, and it’s only getting better and more unfathomable. Remember, he wasn’t a big star in high school, couldn’t generate any attention from the major colleges, landed at Marquette and was only mildly successful; he never made Big East first or second team, just Big East honorable mention. Upon arriving in the NBA as the final pick of the first round in 2011, he made himself the balanced player he is now and scored a $95 million contract last summer as a free agent, which underlines how much he means to the Bulls.

Suddenly, it’s no surprise when the Bulls are depending on Butler to rescue them and he’s elevating over Paul George for the winning tap-in.

On that play, teammate Taj Gibson gushed: “That’s a tough basket, the balance, the hand-eye coordination. Plus, you have to go get (the lob) with Paul George, one of the best defenders in this league, challenging.”

When Derrick is out, he really steps it up.

– Pacers’ Frank Vogel on Jimmy Butler

When Butler became the Bulls’ starting two-guard a few years ago, Chicago ran very few plays for him. That was odd, how someone at a scoring position rarely saw the ball by design. That’s because Butler was mainly for defense. If he wanted to hear his number, he couldn’t settle for being one-dimensional. He couldn’t play 38 minutes and only shoot 40 percent and average 13 points. He had to evolve.

Well. Butler scored 28 points in that win over Indiana, 15 coming in the fourth quarter and overtime, proof of how far he has come in that regard. He averaged 20 points in his breakout 2014-15 season and is at 21 points now, while maintaining doberman-like defense. He belongs in a select group of athletic all-around players whose fingerprints are at both baskets: George, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard.

The short road to stardom hasn’t come without a cost. Butler made a clumsy attempt at leadership recently when he took new coach Fred Hoiberg to task publicly. He soon backtracked and conceded that this is all new to him.

More importantly is the relationship between Butler and Rose, which could dictate how far the Bulls go this season and if they have the chops to beat the Goliath of the East. There’s almost a consensus in the NBA world that, until someone else steps forward, the conference belongs to LeBron and the Cavs. And the Bulls have been so inconsistent this season that they haven’t done anything to torpedo that theory.

The best way is if Rose can show respect for how far Butler has come and play more like a pure point guard and become more of a facilitator. And how’s that process going? Well, Butler averages 15.5 shots. Rose is at 15.3.

Some things are hard to surrender. Rose hasn’t had a double-figure assist game this season, which is difficult to digest given that he’s on a team with Gasol, Butler and a batch of three-point shooters. Of all NBA starting point guard averaging Rose’s minutes (32) or more, only Kemba Walker averages fewer assists. Somewhere in Rose’s mental approach, there’s a shooting gene that’s beating up the passing gene.

Compounding the issue is Rose’s shooting, which is at 38 percent (24 percent from deep) because he settles for too many shots that are either well-defended, poorly chosen or beyond his comfort zone. His jumper travels flat instead of a soft arc. Also, the Old Rose would finish strong at the rim, and while reports of Rose losing explosion are somewhat exaggerated, he misses more than a few point-blank shots.

It’s his stubborn nature to believe he’s Still That Guy. Earlier this season, Rose insisted that he remains an elite player, although once the year progressed and he struggled at times, reality has softened him somewhat.

“There’s still a lot to come,” he told reporters, “but there’s no point in talking about it. The season’s so long, we’re still trying to figure out my game. It takes time to be great.”

If Rose made an aggressive attempt to lead the NBA in assists instead of trying to wrestle the shots load from Butler, LeBron and the Cavs might get nervous. At the very least, we would be able to identify Cleveland’s biggest challenger in the East.

Nobody’s suggesting Rose is finished as a solid player, and if anything, Pacers coach Frank Vogel made a point to say otherwise.

“We still have to prepare the same way (for Rose) because he shows it in flashes, you know, the way he played a couple of years ago,” Vogel said. “We still have to prepare for Derrick Rose to go for 30 every night.”

And yet, about Butler?

“When Derrick is out, he really steps it up,” said Vogel. “A great, great, two-way player.”

When Rose suffered the first his his multiple knee injuries, the Bulls had time on their side. The franchise essentially went into a holding pattern, waiting on Rose to get right. In the process, along came an unexpected bonus in the form of a vastly improved Butler, and the player the Bulls were waiting on suddenly was right there before them.

The Bulls are lucky to have both. But the dynamic has clearly changed. Rose no longer can or needs to carry this team as he did in 2011. For the good of the Bulls and their chances in the East, when Rose gets the chance, he needs to pass, quite literally, and let Butler finish.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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