Commentary

End game

With Ben Gordon gone, Derrick Rose needs to become the clutch option

Originally Published: September 25, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Whenever something is going wrong in your life, it's always comforting to think that a billion people in China could care less.

Derrick Rose, who has hardly left Chicago in his young life, got a firsthand taste of that notion in late August.

After a summer in which he was accused of not taking his own SAT and embarrassed by a college picture on the Internet, Rose got a chance to visit China as part of an Adidas promotional tour. Needless to say, no one was asking him how he felt about standardized testing and amateur ethics.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDespite stuffing Rajon Rondo in Game 6 of the first round, Derrick Rose gives himself a C for the playoffs.

"China, it was crazy," Rose said at the Chicago Bulls' media day Friday afternoon at the Berto Center. "People over there, they're caring people. All they care about, when you're over there, is you. They don't care about what you got into, or anything negative thing you got going. They care about how good you're doing on the court. It was crazy over there. I didn't eat for a couple days, but I loved the experience."

In America, Rose can eat, but he also has to take questions. He reiterated Friday that he took his own SAT to get into the University of Memphis. Internal and NCAA investigations at the school questioned whether that was true, and also revealed someone at Simeon High School might have fixed a grade for him. One dogged reporter even asked him if he remembers his SAT score.

"That was a long time ago," he said placidly. "I don't even remember my last report card."

School days are long over for the reigning rookie of the year, who is expected to drive the Bulls deeper into the playoffs this season.

Rose's life is basketball. He socializes like any 20-year-old millionaire, but his main focus is improving his game. It's plainly obvious to see how much the sport means to him, and watching him spin a basketball on his right finger while holding a conversation, I remembered how entertaining he is on the court.

Rose is a legitimate NBA star, especially after wowing the league in the Bulls' thrilling seven-game series loss to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Rose doesn't think too highly of his performance, not publicly at least.

"It went well," he said, "but if I had to grade it, it would be a C. To tell you the truth, that's how hard I judge myself. I want to win everything. No matter how hard it is, I want to win."

The Bulls went 41-41 last year, buoyed by the trades for John Salmons and Brad Miller at the deadline. Rose started 80 games, averaging 16.9 points and 6.3 assists in 37 minutes. Rose is fast enough to take anyone to the hole, but his 3-point shooting could use some work. He shot only 22.2 percent (16-for-72) last year, and the Bulls are going to need him to improve tremendously in that area, because "Big Shot" Ben Gordon is playing for big money in Detroit.

Rookie free-agent swingman Derrick Byars wore Gordon's No. 7 jersey at media day. But the Vanderbilt product has got as much of a chance at replicating Gordon's scoring as stout center Jerome James -- who fills out a Bulls uniform quite, um, snugly -- does at beating Rose in a footrace.

A host of players, from Salmons to Jannero Pargo, will have to combine to fill Gordon's void, but at the end of games, the Bulls need someone confident enough to take the big shots, and Rose is the natural choice.

Gordon had the 15th-best "clutch" scoring average at 36.3 points, as compiled by 82games.com and defined as the per-48-minute average of fourth quarter and/or overtime stats, when there is less than 5 minutes to go and no more than a five-point differential either way.

Rose wasn't much further down at No. 35, averaging 29.9 "clutch" points. His 3-point percentage in those situations was 33 percent, 10 percent lower than Gordon and the equally clutch Salmons, but still impressive.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesA highly-lauded rookie season needs to be followed by a clutch sophomore season if the Bulls are to improve.

"You just got to grow into that guy," Rose said of being the No. 1 option at the end. "At the end of the game [last year], I missed so many shots to end the game. Just being a rookie and them giving me the decision to make the shot or pass it, it tells a lot about the organization, going into the future."

Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said Rose will obviously be the man with the ball in late situations, but reminded the media that people have to be patient with him this season. But we all know that's not going to happen.

Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng, provided he's healthy, are complementary players, as are forwards Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas. Rose is the face of the Bulls and with that come certain responsibilities. His teammates have faith in him.

"Derrick's never shied away from taking a big shot," Noah said. "Obviously BG hit a lot of big shots for us, but I think it's on everybody to step up. It's not on one person's back to take off that whole scoring load. I think Derrick wants the ball at the end of the game, definitely. He always has."

In a summer spent practicing with the U.S. national team in Las Vegas and making his first trip overseas, Rose said he was bored a lot. Just making the short commute to the Berto for workouts didn't satisfy his desire for competition. There are only so many summer nights you can spend on the rooftop of the Wit Hotel.

Rose said one key to camp is improving on-court communication, and the soft-spoken guard needs to continue making his voice heard. He wowed everyone with his skills last year, but now he has to be the one true leader on the court.

"It starts tomorrow," Rose said of Saturday's practice kickoff. "Being in practice, talking a lot, yelling, making sure everyone is running. I know the veterans will make sure everyone is playing hard."

One billion Chinese people don't care about Rose's SAT scores and neither do Bulls fans. All they care about is winning championships, and Rose sounds pretty ready for that next test.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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