NBA Saturday: Derrick Rose Rounding Into Form

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Derrick Rose Rounding Into Form:

It’s been a bumpy start to the 2014-15 NBA season for former MVP Derrick Rose. He has been criticized for missing games to nagging injuries that he may have played through earlier in his career. But after missing effectively two consecutive seasons to major knee injuries, Rose is unapologetically taking his time to round into top form. On Friday, Rose showed a glimpse of his pre-injury form, scoring 31 points, and leading the Chicago Bulls to a win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Rose’s 31 point performance was his best since scoring 32 points against the New York Knicks on March 12, 2012.

Earlier in his career, Rose was notoriously aggressive in the way he played the game, especially on offense. With elite athleticisim, Rose used to drive to the rim relentlessly and often times would finish over much bigger players. However, through the first quarter of this season, Rose has looked uncomfortable at times, and has settled for long jumpers, rather than attacking the rim. That was not the case last night against the Trail Blazers.

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Rose’s coaches and teammates know that he is at his best when he is aggressive and attacking the rim. But they also know that Rose is going through a process and it will take time before he fully recaptures his old form.

“We all feel that he’s going to be back to the same guy that he was,” said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. “He’s going step by step. He’s got to keep building, keep attacking; when he’s aggressive like that there’s no one like him.”

One of Rose’s newest teammates, Pau Gasol, also noticed Rose was in attack-mode against the Trail Blazers.

“From the get-go he was aggressive,” said Gasol. “I think he scored 11 points in the first quarter. Being aggressive, getting to the lane, shooting those tough floaters outside the lane. So you could tell he was on tonight and he was on that go mode. That’s always a great sign to see from anyone, but especially from Derrick.”

In 14 games played this season, Rose is now averaging 17.2 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.2 rebounds in 27.1 minutes per game. However, over his last two games, Rose is averaging 27 points on 56.4 percent shooting from the field in roughly 27 minutes per game.

Though the increased scouring output is a nice trend, the key number here is that Rose is still averaging just 27.1 minutes per game. Before his knee injuries, Rose never averaged less than 35 minutes per game. Like Thibodeau said, Rose is going “step by step,” and isn’t going to press himself and risk another catastrophic injury by playing too many minutes per game- at least for now. But until Rose is physically ready to handle more minutes per game, performances like his last two, where he is attacking the basket and scoring nearly a point per minute, certainly help.

At this point, Rose is still not the player he was earlier in his career, but it’s good to see that he is rounding into shape and is able to show flashes of his old self.

Kobe On The Verge of Making History:

Entering Friday night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, Kobe Bryant needed 30 points to tie Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Bryant ended up with 22 points in 40 minutes of action and now needs just nine points to pass Jordan. To his credit, Bryant is not focusing on the scoring record and is more focused on team success and championships.

“I’ve never been a record-driven person,” Bryant recently told Bleacher Report. “I’ve always been a person who really enjoys building the game that gets me to the record. I really enjoy that part of it more so than the actual accomplishment.”

“I’ve always understood the purpose of playing in the NBA, on a team, with an organization, is to have the end goal of winning. And I always kind of sit back and let people banter back and forth for media’s sake or whatever or what critics want to say. But at the end of the day, we play to win championships—and I’ve got five of ’em. That’s a pretty damn good number.”

In spite of statements like these, Bryant has been criticized this season for shooting too often, scoring inefficiently (39 percent shooting from the field on a league leading 22.4 shots per game), and playing as though he is in hot pursuit of Jordan. It didn’t help that earlier this season, Bryant set another NBA record, becoming the all-time leader in missed field goals.

But there is a lot to be said for a 36 year old player coming off of a torn achilles and season ending knee injury to be playing as much and as well as Bryant has this season. And though he has been accused of chasing down Jordan’s every achievement, Bryant maintains that he has learned a lot from Jordan throughout his career and that the two have a good relationship with one another.

“We hit it off very well,” Bryant recently told Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report. “He was really like a big brother, and whether it’s because we see things in a similar way in terms of our competitive spirit or fire or whatever the case may be, there’s an understanding that we have—a connection that we have.

“I don’t know if he opened up with me more than he did with other players, I’m not sure. I don’t know if other players had the balls even to ask. But we have a really, really good relationship.”

Bryant has reached this point through a consistently stellar career, unlike Jordan, who notoriously retired several times, and lost two seasons of his prime. And though Jordan scored his points more efficiently, and in less games, Bryant deserves credit and recognition for relentlessly working on his game and staying in top form for nearly two decades.

“Nineteen years is a long time to be playing, and I’ve had a different career path than Michael,” Bryant said to Ding. “It has been a hell of a marathon. I’m really proudest of that.”

Bryant will get his next shot at making history on Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

LeBron James Addresses Reports of Declining Athleticism:

Earlier this week, Brian Windhorst and Tom Haberstroh (Insider) of ESPN wrote about the declining athleticism of LeBron James.

Anyone familiar with James’ game and who has watched him play this season can tell that he doesn’t have the same lift on his dunks, and isn’t finishing shots at the rim as well as he had in prior seasons. This is a bit surprising when you consider that James famously went on a no-carb diet during the offseason to shed a significant amount of weight (to increase his speed and mobility and reduce strain on his body), and is still just 29 years old (he will turn 30 later this month).

But James has been in the NBA since he was 19 year old, and has put a ton of miles on his body over his 11 year career. Nevertheless, the noticeable decline in athleticism, which James admits to, didn’t prevent him from going off for 41 points last night against the New Orleans Pelicans. After the game, James was asked whether his 41 point performance was intended to send a message about the reports about his declining athleticism.

“It’s funny you say that because a family member of mine sent me the same message you just talked about,” James said. “You can look at it in a bad way or a good way. I’ve expanded the rest of my game. I’m still out there making plays. My athleticism, obviously I’m not the 18-year-old kid that I was before. But I can still do the things I need to do to be successful.”

As Haberstroh pointed out, James is not finishing around the rim as well as he has in past seasons (72.9 percent last season compared to 61 percent this season); Nor is James dunking as often as he is accustomed to. But Haberstroh also noted that James got off to a similarly slow start in the first twenty games of his first season with the Miami HEAT, which hints that James’ deflated stats are more the result of adjusting to a new team than a decline in his overall game.

James is not the same guy who years ago could throw down a huge dunk over Tim Duncan, but he is still arguably the most well-rounded and effective player in the NBA today (though players like Stephen Curry, and Anthony Davis may have something to say about that), averaging 25.5 points, 7.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game and leading the Cavaliers to eight wins in their last ten games.