The arrival of Derrick Rose in New York was met with a suspicious eye by a wary fan base. With an injury history longer than the word count for this story, and with Rose 10 years removed from his MVP season and a long relationship with coach Tom Thibodeau, maybe that reaction wasn’t wrong.
But then a night like Thursday comes along. Eight games into Rose’s tenure in New York, with Elfrid Payton sidelined with a hamstring injury, he ascended to the starting lineup, connected on his first six shots, finished with 18 points and helped lead the Knicks to a 140-point outburst (albeit against the Kings’ league-worst defense).
What Rose has shown in his eight games is that he remains a very capable offensive threat and that it has taken him little time to acclimate to Thibodeau’s familiar system. Rather than take time from Immanuel Quickley, he has paired with the rookie in the backcourt during much of the span and taken him under his wing, imparting some of the knowledge gained through years in which he went from a superstar to an injury-riddled afterthought.
Rose took his own lessons from those years, including his previous time in New York alongside Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.
"I think I’m doing a decent job," he said. "A lot of people look at the fact that when I came here the first time with Melo and KP that I was the third option, and I think that helped me, helped my game, helped me figure out how can I still affect the game being the third option. That was the first time in my career that I was put in that position.
"I think I did a decent job. That carried on to me going to different teams and just playing my game and finding ways to affect the game in different ways, and that’s one of the things I was telling Quick when he was on the floor and I was playing with him on the second group. He never has to look over to the side or I don’t want him thinking when we’re on the floor. I want him to play his game. He’s a dangerous guy when he’s playing that way. You never know. He’s getting so much attention when he’s playing free like that. I think it makes everyone else play free and get open shots."
Those lessons helped Rose adjust and maintain his play through all of the injuries — a torn ACL in 2012 and then a torn meniscus in each leg, among many others. He is not the player he was, but a different, more mature player. If he’s not the explosive player he was, he has converted 43.8% of his three-pointers with the Knicks — a number way above anything he had done in his career. Taking threes has opened up other opportunities.
"I think his quickness is the same," Thibodeau said. "And obviously I think as players get older, what they do is they get experience and they add things to their games. So he’s a lot different than he was when he was 22. And obviously, that athleticism is different now. But he also has the knowledge of all the experiences he’s been through."
"Yeah, don’t get it twisted — yeah, yeah, I never lost that confidence," Rose said. "It was just the situation that I was in and opportunity. In this league, I feel like every player can do — can’t do what All-Stars do, but give a guy an opportunity to go out there and play free, I feel like they can really produce.
"A lot of people don’t see — the fans, everybody around them — the leash that’s on a lot of players. You can’t shoot, you can only shoot a certain amount of shots. Shots are limited. If you turn the ball over, you’re going to get pulled. If something happens, you’re on a one-year deal, or this or that. So it’s so many elements that go into it that players rarely get the opportunity. I was blessed enough to get it a few times.
"With me playing efficient and building trust with the coaching staff, the teams I’ve been on, that plays a huge role. But my confidence has always been there even though I’m not the same player, reckless or explosive player. I feel like I’m skilled. I felt like I’ve been working on my game prior to having — I mean, after all my injuries, it’s about just showing it and adapting."