Monday marked 10 years to the day that Derrick Rose was named the Most Valuable Player in the NBA, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to earn the honor at 22 years old.
Given the medical textbook of injuries that have befallen him since, which robbed him of some of his jaw-dropping athleticism, that hardly inspired faith that on his 10-year anniversary, he would be playing the way he did Sunday.
Rose came off the bench in the Knicks’ 122-97 destruction of the Rockets and supplied 24 points on 11 field-goal attempts, converting eight and sinking four three-pointers. He added six rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes.
While the injuries to Rose often were accompanied by knowing glances from critics who pointed to his hard-driving coach, Tom Thibodeau, Rose never did that. And reunited in a third city, he doesn’t hesitate to credit Thibodeau for what he’s accomplishing now.
Rose, who was dealt to the Knicks on Feb. 7 from the lottery-bound Detroit Pistons, has found his form again — maybe not the MVP, high-flying form but a style that has made him a key contributor to the team.
He averaged at least 30 minutes in each of his first eight years in the league, including his season with the Knicks in 2016-17. He was playing 22.8 minutes per game with Detroit and has raised the figure to 26.3 with the Knicks. But entering Monday night’s game against the Grizzlies, he was averaging 30.5 minutes in the last seven games, topping out at 35 minutes.
"I mean it’s all Thibs," Rose said. "It’s whatever the team needs, whatever they want me to do, I’ll go out there and play. It wasn’t a set number or anything. In the past, people were throwing out different numbers, saying when I played over 26 minutes that I will get injured or crazy stories like that, which I didn’t understand. Because practice, you have an hour-and-a-half practice and I’m on my feet moving around and practicing for an hour and a half, two hours doing training camp and all that.
"They overlook the practice. How do you overlook that we’ve been on the floor for an hour and a half, two hours in practice, but tell me I can’t play over 26 minutes in the game? Like, it makes no sense, especially with the way that I played. Now I’m not driving every time. I changed my game. So I felt like it was always an excuse. And now Thibs is allowing me to be out there. I don’t pay attention to the minutes until after the game. As long as we win, I don’t care about the minutes."
His production has risen and his efficiency has not dropped. In that seven-game span, he averaged 18.7 points and shot 57.1% from the field, 47.1% from beyond the arc and 86.4% from the free-throw line. He also averaged 5.1 assists to 1.1 turnovers.
"I’m not surprised at all," Julius Randle said. "When we made the trade for Derrick, I was really excited. When we picked up Taj [Gibson] at the beginning of the season, or whatever it was, I was really excited for that, because I know what they bring to the game. I know what they bring to our team. I’m not surprised by it at all. They’re already great players, and putting them with a person like Thibs, who they’re familiar and comfortable with, it is only going to help us. I’m excited about what they bring to my team every time."
Rose endured a bout with COVID-19 that sidelined him for 23 days. It drained him of strength and added weight, which he is working hard to shed with extra work and running.
"I’m still trying to drop some pounds during COVID," Rose said. "I gained some weight, I was eating a little bit. Now that I’m playing, around that time we didn’t have that many practices, so I’m trying to do extra conditioning, things at practice or whenever I get a chance to do my three-minute runs so that I can lose like two or three more pounds.
"I feel like my rhythm is getting there but I don’t feel like I’m totally back,’’ he said. "But I’m pacing myself. I’m not taking crazy shots. I’m taking my shots, and they’re giving me shots. They’re giving me my three-ball now, I feel like I can make those shots, and now that I’m getting my legs under me a little bit more and it’s an easy shot for me, especially when I’m taking my time. But I’ve just got to keep playing, keep pushing myself and my teammates. They allow me to play in a way that I play. I wouldn’t be playing this way with as much freedom if they didn’t allow me, so I appreciate them more than anything."