Depending on how you look at it, the Bulls picked up the biggest, or second-biggest, win last night against the Thunder with Derrick Rose turning back the clock with 29 points. And really, this is where we have to start. Because Rose, after all, still plays a huge role for this team and him finding any type of traction is that can separate the Bulls from being a middle-of-the-pack team.
More than the shot-making last night, I liked his confidence. When he caught rhythm, he understood that it had to be milked and he would routinely get himself involved in the offense, and separating himself from defenders, while launching mid-rangers, floaters, and on occasion he'd ignore the talk of separation and simply go to the cup to make something happen. It was refreshing.
Now, I'm not jumping on the whole "He's back" wave as the national media seems to do every time he looks like his old self for one game. Rose being the player he once was is a thought we should probably forget, because he isn't going to be that guy. He's going to be something else, maybe even someone else. As the injuries have piled up over the years, Rose's lack of interview moxie have gone the other way. He's honest, maybe to a fault sometimes, and whereas before, when his game did all the talking and soundbits were hard to come by, he's the opposite way today. That's why these games mean more. When he suddenly finds himself in the featured role, and delivering in it, there's this feeling of him somehow backing up his own constant claims of confidence.
Yesterday's victory didn't only give us all a glimpse of that, but it gave us a short-lived sense of validation in the sense that Derrick, for all that's happened, is still capable of taking over and showing us why he was once the MVP of the league. Just don't expect it to be a theme, because it won't be. That's not being harsh, but rather painting a realistic picture of a player who isn't that guy anymore, except for the few times here and there when he actually is. It's confusing.
Moving on to Jimmy Butler, and it's pretty clear what he is right now. A fringe MVP-candidate. The ball-handling, the security with the ball in his hands, the confidence in his shot, the aggressiveness in going to the hoop, the defense, the do-it-all mentality.. I mean, this guy is turning into an elite player right in front of us. I had serious concerns that he'd drop off after defenses got a chance to zero in on him, but instead, he's taken that challenge and come up big. If Rose can just squeeze out a bit more of what he provided last night in a continuous basis, he and Butler would more often than not look the way they did last night, albeit on lesser volume.
Also encouraging was the effort on defense. The lane was closed off, guys rotated, the defense on both Durant and Westbrook was physical, and the Bulls generally answered the call whenever Oklahoma City went on a run. If the Charlotte game gave them a wake-up call, I'll take that blow-out.
And McDermott is now a starter. Or, well, part-time starter. Fred Hoiberg will go to him depending on match-ups and situations, which is a theory that's been kicked around in the comment sections here and there, and one I agree with. While his 9 points in 23 minutes were sort of problematic in the sense that McDermott didn't provide enough defense to cover for a low-volume shooting night, giving him a chance to start against Durant is one of those development steps we've all longed to see.
Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah had some throw-back moments last night, in shutting down a few OKC sets, and connecting on an alley-oop on the other end. They're a long way from being where they once were collectively, but Taj seems to have regained a lot of explosion, which is necessary moving forward. Noah, in his own way, has found a way to contribute. He's begun forcing less shots, and focusing on the Rajon Rondo-aspects of the game, in doing everything else. His numbers are by no means impressive, but he looks better than they indicate. Last night, Noah led the team with a +16 ranking, and do while being somewhat invisible offensively.
I'm politely going to ignore Nikola Mirotic, because I'm in a good mood. But I will mention he's been off for three straight games, and I'm counting the Orlando game here. One can only imagine how these Bulls would look if Niko joined the Rose and Butler party.
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