USA wins again as outlook becomes more rosy


Sep 4

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USA Basketball concluded pool play 5-0 Thursday with a 95-71 victory over Ukraine.

Derrick Rose playing in his third game in three days shot two for nine for four points with four rebounds and four assists.

Overall, in the five games Rose shot 25 percent from the field, averaging 5.4 points and 2.4 assists in 17.8 minutes per game.

I am not quite yet ready to declare Rose the player of the tournament and the true heir to the throne of Spain, though did you see that one drive Thursday when…

I believe it’s been a very successful week for Rose in his return from multiple knee surgeries, though some have suggested that view is a bit too cloying, that such analysis is seen, ahem, behind Rose-colored glasses.

Perhaps, though, it’s also something of a reaction to what I find is a curious community phenomenon regarding Rose. Not universal, of course, but this ceaseless scrutiny of each move and production measured against Rose as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.

“My job is to play defense, defend and not turn the ball over,” Rose told USA Basketball media staff after Thursday’s game. “Coming out here it’s kind of easy for my game to get in a rhythm.”

Rose may never return to that MVP level of play, though also because he is surrounded by a much better team than he was in 2010-11 with All Stars Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah along with Taj Gibson and a array of potentially productive role players, like rookie Doug McDermott.

After all, how many players ever are even in that conversation? It really shouldn’t define Rose. Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry and LaMarcus Aldridge never are going to be league MVPs. They still are terrific players any team would love to have. This measure of Rose against the player he was a few years ago with a developing Bulls team seems incongruous.

Rose appears the least concerned about it as anyone as he truly has a win first and win-most-important attitude.

“I wouldn’t say it’s pressure,” Rose said about the USA role as unpopular favorites. “We’ve played well these games we were here. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time. Even if we don’t have (great) games, we’re just trying to get better as a team, looking over film, just trying to read the game plans and learn the opponents. It’s been helping us so far. We’ve really been getting after guys, but we’ve been starting out sluggish in some games. We can always fix that with hustle. It’s just getting a feel for the game. When the starters go out there, they’re just trying to get the feel. Some teams give us their all in the first half and then you see in the second half they have nothing. We just have to come out aggressive. Take their heart from the beginning and see how far we go. We know that we have an important journey ahead of us. We’re trying not to look too far. I think we have four or five games left. We’re just trying to take it one day at a time and really get better as a team.”

Without having to display my psychology credentials, this seems the popular notion of the need for people to have their heroes they can merge themselves into. And when those heroes let them down—take away their sense of accomplishment through their team—then it is only the fallen one to blame. The doctor is in, Charlie Brown. That will be $350. Next.

Rose has endured an excruciating stretch for a high level professional athlete. The Bulls were truly on the brink of a championship in 2012 when Rose suffered his horrendous ACL injury. The recovery season, as we know, was a rough trip buffeted with the winds of controversy about whether he could or should play, whether he owed it to his team, the community or himself.

Rose then returned to much expectation last fall, only to be sunk by a torn meniscus in the other knee that required season ending surgery.

So now Rose returns amidst ambivalence of whether he should even play in an international tournament instead of waiting to play with his team instead of risking injury again. His return last year was uneasy with also poor shooting amidst what seemed like a physical recovery. Rose appears to be in that stage again, what the basketball guys call rust or timing or rhythm or whatever dance move that describes the latest vernacular.

Rose doesn’t have a good shooting percentage, though he hasn’t even attempted many jump shots. And those usually are without the benefit of an offensive flow or plays, like late in Thursday’s win when Rose returned after a minor injury to Kyrie Irving and missed an off balance three. Rose has only averaged about six shots per game, about a third of his career average, and most on drives in which the ball often has spun around and off or simply too hard being too deep.

This USA team has not shot well on threes. So the inside has been more congested, making drives amidst defenders more difficult.

But Rose, whom media reports in the exhibition games suggested would or should not even make the team for physical reasons, seems to have passed the big tests. He’s been fast and explosive, for instance Wednesday getting well above the rim on a lob—badly thrown and counting as another missed shot—and has been the fastest USA player into the lane and pressuring on defense.

Rose concluded a third game in three days and fifth in six days in Thursday’s win, shooting two of nine with one turnover in the past three games and good ball movement in finding teammates for scores. It’s obviously the longest stretch of NBA games for Rose in six days in his pro career.

Uncertain again with the same starting group that has Irving at point guard along with Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis, the USA team trailed by five points after the first quarter against former NBA coach Mike Fratello’s Ukraine team. The USA took a 44-32 halftime lead and stretched it out after that as Harden led with 17 points. Curry had 14 points as the five USA starters ended in double figures as the USA won its 59th straight FIBA game since 2006. The USA moves to the quarterfinals single elimination round Saturday in Barcelona against Mexico.

Rose, obviously, hasn’t always been great in this tournament. Though neither has most anyone else with the exception perhaps of Faried, whose hustle has established himself with the USA team.

“Just his energy,” Rose said in praising his teammate. “He’s been playing great. He knocked down a jump shot today, something he’s been working on in practice. He gives us extra possessions on the floor. And he gives us his all. We know he’s trying to do everything he can to help us win. That’s all we can ask for.”

Rose was at his poorest in the second game against Turkey, but given the circumstances playing well the other games.

Rose, like in the 2010 then World Championships, has primarily been asked to be a facilitator on offense and extend himself on defense. The offense isn’t geared toward him, and he’s not an isolation scorer like Irving and Harden. So he hasn’t attempted many shots. Obviously, Rose’s physical condition is the principal issue given his recent injury history. He’s moved with haste if not hastily.

The analysis is based on that level as opposed to Rose at his extraordinary best with a team playing virtually every possession to him. One reason the Bulls and USA assistant coach Tom Thibodeau have been so supportive of Rose playing on the USA team is the ability to come back more cautiously by not having to do as much offensively and transitioning to more of that sort of role as the Bulls this season should be getting much more offense inside and with better perimeter shooting from players like McDermott.

The last time Rose played for USA Basketball was in the 2010 world tournament. Rose went on to become league MVP the next season. No one should expect that again. Rose on that team averaged 7.2 points and 3.2 assists and shot 27.8 percent on threes. Only one USA player, Kevin Durant, averaged in double figures for that team. It’s why with Durant a late scratch this time the USA likely is not considered the tournament favorite against hometown Spain with new Bulls center Pau Gasol.

“As far as pacing,” Rose added, “when we’re out there we have to give our all while we’re on the court. There are five, six, seven other guys on the bench that are playing the exact way.”

Rose does seem on course for a successful return.

Derrick Rose during pool play:

Finland, Saturday: 23 minutes; 3-8 field goals; 5-5 free throws; 2 rebounds; 3 assists; 1 steal; 2 blocks; 5 turnovers. 12 points.

Turkey, Sunday: 17 minutes; 0-4 field goals; 2-4 free throws; 2 rebounds, 0 assists; 0 steals, 0 blocks; 2 turnovers. 2 points.

New Zealand, Tuesday: 17 minutes; 1-6 field goals; 1-2 free throws; 1 rebound; 2 assists; 1 steal; 1 block; 0 turnovers. 3 points.

Dominican Republic, Wednesday: 13 minutes; 2-5 field goals; 2-2 free throws; 1 rebound; 3 assists; 1 steal; 0 blocks; 1 turnover. 6 points.

Ukraine, Thursday: 19 minutes; 2-9 field goals; 0-0 free throws; 4 rebounds; 4 assists; 1 steal,0 blocks; 0 turnovers. 4 points.

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