By Ben Fisher
Ask any Chicago Bull who the league’s MVP is at this point in the season, and there isn’t much hesitation.
On behalf of the team, I’ll let PF Carlos Boozer handle the answer.
“D. Rose,” states Boozer assuredly. “He does everything for us. He takes the game over every game, makes plays for us night in and night out, takes on every challenge and kept us going with myself and Joakim [Noah] out.”
Boozer is, of course, talking about Derrick Rose, the team’s 22-year old point guard and locker room leader who has taken “the jump” to superstardom in his third year and might just be able to stake his claim as the best at what is probably the NBA’s most talent-heavy position.
Rose leads all point guards with 25.0 points per game and ranks 10th with 8.2 assists per contest. But even the gaudy stats are secondary to his mere court presence as a guy who expects excellence from both himself and his teammates, who seem to get the message loud and clear.
“I’d say I am [the MVP] so far, but I can’t play like this and we can’t win games without my teammates stepping up and helping give me my confidence right now,” says Rose.
The Memphis product could be forgiven for not particularly feeling like an MVP on Wednesday night, following a stunning 118-113 loss to the lowly Toronto Raptors, a rare night in which Rose’s Bulls lacked both defensive intensity and any urgency down the stretch.
But even in defeat, Rose managed to both act and sound like a pro. Not only did he contribute 19 of his team-best 32 points in the final frame and almost single-handedly secure a victory, but he displayed tremendous maturity and leadership in the aftermath of the loss. Instead of speaking up, the two-time All-Star showed that you can lead by simply trusting those around you to get the message, themselves.
“With this group of guys here, we know [what has to get done],” says Rose. “We’ve got a big game [Thursday] night [playing at Miami] and these guys know what needs to be done, that it’s not time to be messing around.”
It can be a difficult balance to strike for a leader – knowing when to be vocal and when to let your teammates figure it out for themselves. But Rose has a veteran group around him – chiefly, Boozer, Noah and Luol Deng – that know their role, know how to play together and share the same fierce competitiveness as that of their floor general.
The result? A 38-17 record, complete control of the Central Division (they hold an NBA-best 12.5 game lead over the Indiana Pacers, their closest in-division competitor) and inclusion into any talk of teams in title contention, all while having lost both Boozer and Noah to injury for significant chunks of time.
“Sure, Derrick is unquestionably the leader of this group, but we have a room full of guys willing to speak out if they have something to say,” says head coach Tom Thibodeau, when asked about the point guard’s presence in the locker room. “Carlos, Joakim, Keith [Bogans], even [Brian] Scal[abrine]. Derrick’s still developing, so we want to surround him with people who will listen to him, but also know what they need to do.”
In other words, Rose may be The Man, but he certainly isn’t alone out there (in spite of how things may have looked on Wednesday).
It’s that environment that has allowed the 2008 No. 1 over-all pick to grow into the elite talent and dedicated leader that he is, and could usher in Chicago’s return to dominance with their new backcourt superstar.