- Michael Wilbon, Pardon the Interruption co-host
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The great ones are almost always precocious. They reveal themselves early. Of all the things he does well, you know what Derrick Rose's greatest attribute might be? Impatience.
At age 22, the one thing it appears Rose has is time. His window of opportunity is barely open.
Even so, don't dare expect Rose to wait his turn. He's got somewhere to be, like a winner's circle, and step on it.
The kid could cross you over before most boys his age could tie their shoes. He was ambidextrous before he was old enough to really know the significance. How will this postseason affect Rose's career? Better to ask how Rose will affect this postseason. Let the people obsessing over his field goal percentage or his only-adequate assist-to-turnover ratio analyze this.
Everything he's ever done suggests that Rose is just the leading man your franchise should want. He's had one real basketball hiccup in his life, and that took place as a freshman in the NCAA championship game. The kid's been on the scene for just five years, yet here are the entries on his résumé:
In 2006, Rose led Simeon Career Academy to an Illinois state championship. In 2007, he led Simeon to a successful defense of that championship. Hell, the only reason he didn't win three or four titles was that Simeon's venerable coach, Bob Hambric, wouldn't allow freshmen to play for the varsity team.
So, that's a championship in 2006 and a championship in 2007 in Illinois, a big-boy basketball culture. In 2008, he led Memphis to the NCAA championship game, laying a 25-point, nine-assist game on UCLA in the process. He went to the NBA right after that, and the first time Rose laced 'em up for a postseason game, he went for 36 points, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for points by a rookie in a playoff debut. It was just the second time in NBA history anybody had put up 35 and 10 assists (Rose had 11, actually) in a playoff debut.
In 2010, Rose averaged 26.8 points in the playoffs and exited promising to come back with a legit 3-point shot and a better all-around game. After one summer, he came back with enough new stuff in his game to likely become the youngest MVP winner by taking a team from 41 wins to 62, from eighth in the conference to first. And imagine, he did all this without even taking his talents to South Beach.
Calling Rose's career an arc is a total misnomer. The line is virtually horizontal and as high on the graph as it could possibly be, and has been since he was 15 years old.
I suppose there's an argument to be made that he can't keep this up; nobody ever has, well, not since Magic Johnson went high school championship, NCAA championship, NBA championship in four years.
And trust me, I have enough respect for the NBA playoffs to make the argument that Magic is about the only player, at least in the modern game, to avoid heartbreak at the beginning of his career. Larry Bird got his hopes crushed early on. Michael Jordan had his heart broken for seven years.
Shaquille O'Neal, and then Shaq and Kobe Bryant, didn't just get knocked out of the playoffs before ever winning but got kicked out, swept. Carmelo Anthony, after presenting himself pretty darn early and winning an NCAA championship as a freshman, has been to one conference final. Hell, LeBron James' career is close to half over, and he hasn't won a game in the Finals yet.
The history of the league almost dictates that Rose get crushed before getting back to those winning ways. You don't just pick up and go from zero playoff series victories to four or even three. Maybe Rose's supporting cast -- can I borrow a phrase from Jordan we all got sick of in the late 1980s? -- isn't good enough. Maybe the Chicago Bulls really don't have that second necessary guy who can break down a defense all by himself. Maybe the Bulls have played so hard this regular season that they simply can't raise their game any more, while teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics know not to expend such energy chasing 60-plus wins when it has nothing to do with how a team performs in the spring.
On the eve of the NBA playoffs, Rose's Bulls really do remind me more of Jordan's Bulls than Chicagoans would want. There's little doubt Rose will impose his will, even in the playoffs, on lesser players and hold his own with the other superior ones. Still, Rose will have to learn even before the end of the series against the Indiana Pacers to trust his teammates more, while still being the brilliant all-court artist and headstrong closer he was all season.
He and the Bulls should have enough to beat the Pacers in five games, the Orlando Magic probably in five but no more than six games. And then we'll find out -- Rose will, too -- whether he's a great player or one of the great players. The playoffs don't lie.
To break through and get to the NBA Finals now, Rose will have to score more, score more efficiently, create more plays for others, make fewer mistakes and be even more demanding, all of which we've come to expect from him, even at 22.
But he also is going to have to get increased tenacity, production and efficiency from, say, five teammates: Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Kyle Korver and probably Ronnie Brewer. They will have to realize -- as Jordan's teammates finally did -- that playing with somebody who can deliver you and deliver right now doesn't happen all that often.
Could he be scarred by a first-round loss to the Pacers, a team many think is the worst in the playoff field other than the New Orleans Hornets? Yes. And the same goes for a second-round loss to Orlando.
At the other end of the spectrum is the very real possibility that Rose can take LeBron out of the playoffs, a scenario embraced by a great percentage of people who identify with Rose's humility as opposed to LeBron's perceived arrogance.
When everybody in the basketball world was talking late this past summer about LeBron going to Miami, Rose wondered aloud, "Why not me?" when the issue of the MVP was broached.
Little did we know the question was rhetorical. History should have told us he didn't plan to wait around to see what might happen.
Michael Wilbon is a featured columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. He is the longtime co-host of "Pardon the Interruption" on ESPN and appears on the "NBA Sunday Countdown" pregame show on ABC in addition to ESPN. Wilbon joined ESPN.com after three decades with The Washington Post, where he earned a reputation as one of the nation's most respected sports journalists.
2mChris Broussard and Brian Windhorst