Rose vs. Wall? More please
They didn't like comparisons, but matchup between young guards just what NBA needs
CHICAGO -- As Derrick Rose practiced his corner 3-pointer an hour and a half before Saturday's game against the Washington Wizards, he was unexpectedly crowded by a bunch of guys in sweaters and sportcoats hanging around the visitors' bench.
He looked over, a bit confused, and kept shooting.
Why was the media invading his space?
Not to see returning "icon" Kirk Hinrich, who later got a very nice ovation from the crowd and a video tribute. Hinrich said a few hellos, tied his shoes and jogged to the opposite end of the court.
Nope, Rose' s shooting space was where the Wizards wanted their rookie phenom John Wall to talk, maybe to keep the horde from invading the locker room, where Wall is just a rookie on a middling team.
By the time Wall came out, Rose was done shooting, probably still wondering what we were doing there.
Much later, Rose picked that spot, or perhaps the spot picked him, to provide the most fitting moment of the Rose-Wall matchup that was practically billed as an undercard to the big boxing match later in the evening.
In the third quarter, as the Bulls cemented a halftime lead, Rose got a quick inbounds pass near the Wizards bench. With Wall on his tail, he feigned left, catching Wall leaning, then in a split-second, effortlessly put the ball behind his back and zipped in for a layup. It was the kind of play you had to watch again to appreciate the fleeting beauty.
It was a veteran move and one that very few players can make.
And it brought me back to the words Rose uttered to me Thursday at his locker about Wall: "I know I'm going to come at him just to see where he's at."
These weren't bragging words, or fighting words. Rose was speaking flatly, and he added that he wants to "come at" every player he goes against.
But he stayed true to those words, and came at Wall. Most importantly, Rose's team won, 103-96, in a rather artless game that pushed Chicago to 5-3. It was an important win because it preceded the Bulls' annual two-week circus road trip.
"It's all about winning, I told you that," Rose said. "People were trying to make it a big matchup. I was just trying to win this basketball game. In spurts where the team needed something, I was trying to give that to the team, and we came out with a win."
After a slow start, Rose finished with 24 points, hitting 8 of 20 from the field (7 of 12 in the last three quarters) and all seven of his free throws, to go with eight assists, two steals and three turnovers. He scored eight, hitting four of six shots, as the Bulls took control in the third. He had four assists in the fourth.
In truth, Rose had nothing to prove against Wall, the reigning No. 1 pick and most recent addition to the exciting crop of young point guards in the NBA. Rose knows that, and Wall knows that.
"We're two different people," Wall said before the game. "He's Derrick Rose, I'm John Wall. He's proved himself on this level already for three years he's been in the league. I'm trying to prove myself that I can be the kind of player he is."
Wall looked good, but not great, perhaps bogged down a bit by playing three games in four days. He sat out for part of the second half with a strained foot, but returned late in the fourth.
Wall is certainly every bit as fast as Rose and a lot of people think his jumper is already better -- though that's like saying someone is better with their money than Scottie Pippen.
Wall had some highlights of his own, the best being an alley-oop pass on the break to JaVale McGee that was probably the play of the game. Wall finished with 16 points, six assists, three steals and four turnovers.
In the second half, Rose abused Wall a few times, a little rookie hazing. After the behind-the-back magic, Rose crossed him over once or twice, hit jumpers and even did a nifty "Jordan switching hands" layup in transition.
"I'm just trying to make people fear me on the court," Rose said. "That's being aggressive and putting pressure on them."
Rose had a little something for everyone, including a nasty step-back 3 on Gilbert Arenas in the fourth in a matchup of current and former adidas pitchmen.
Arenas had a good game off the bench, scoring 30 points and keeping the Wizards within double digits in the fourth. He hit 7 of 11 3-pointers, including four in the fourth quarter. It's hard to remember that he was a star not that long ago.
"He was shooting shots where we were in his face, falling down, shooting from half court," Rose said. "He was just hitting everything."
If you have to compare Rose and Wall, you can see the former's maturity on the floor.
While Wall's game needs little more than some experience, he could learn from watching how Rose can take over a game, even if it's just with his passing.
Too often, I saw Wall standing around while his bigs dribbled around and took ill-advised shots. I know that's not an every-game experience, but Wall's game should grow when he develops more of a consistent presence in the half court. He needs to run the team and demand the ball.
It's probably the same stuff we said about Rose when he was a rookie, deferring to his veterans. Rose's veterans were probably better, though.
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Rose said Wall will have to get used to constant comparisons to other guards in the league, something few players enjoy hearing about from us reporter types.
"It's not going to stop," Rose said. "He's going to have to answer every call, every matchup. Every point guard in the NBA has a matchup. It's kind of like a faster game now, so the point guards are dominating the ball and really almost like the best players on the team. So every night he's going to have someone coming at him."
If Rose could learn something from Wall, it would be his penchant for thievery.
Wall, who leads the league in steals, had three in the first half. The only one I remember is watching him sneak behind Noah near the top of the key for a swipe. It was the kind of freelancing that Rose is capable of, but doesn't do often enough. Tom Thibodeau can't teach that either; it has to come from inside.
The best part of the Rose-Wall matchup was that it happened.
The NBA needs rivalries that have nothing to do with Twitter potshots, past cheap shots or taking one's talents from the Rust Belt to South Beach.
Rose-Wall is all about basketball, and it matches two exciting, fast, up-and-coming players. It's a relief, quite frankly, and I'll take that every night.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.