Thibs: Rose is now a stronger leader

WICHITA, Kan. -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau believes that, after sitting out almost a year and a half, Derrick Rose is a better all-around player than he was before he injured his knee.

Thibodeau can see Rose has taken the next step in his development on and off the court.

"I think he's gotten much stronger as a leader," Thibodeau said before Rose scored 26 points in a preseason victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday. "And I've never worried about Derrick in terms of himself ... but I think in setting the tone for the team, not tolerating others not doing their job. I think that's probably his biggest growth."

As far as his on-court exploits go, Thibodeau believes that Rose's time on the bench last season, and away from the day-to-day grind, made him better at seeing the way defenses are trying to attack him.

"The way our team is defended and the way he is defended, I think he has a much greater understanding of where the openings are now," Thibodeau said. "His progressions in reads, I think he knows how to beat double-teams. He can beat you with the pass, he can beat you with the shot. I think he's locked into playing much better individual defense. His individual defense has been outstanding, so those are all pluses."

Thibodeau's respect for his star's game goes beyond Rose's talent. Like teammate Luol Deng, Rose continues to work on his game, trying to get better.

"He's always been extremely focused, so that's never been an issue," Thibodeau said of Rose. "I think that's one of the main reasons why he continues to improve. And I think he's very aware, and he learns from each experience. He's very hard on himself, but in a very good way. I think he's always striving for improvement."

That work ethic is infectious for the Bulls.

"I think he sets a great tone for our team," Thibodeau said. "He gets there early, he's been great in practice, sets a great example for the team. He stays late every day. I think he's put a premium on taking care of his body now. Last year it started -- a big part of the rehab was the amount of time he could spend on working on his body -- but he did all he could to improve last year. He couldn't play in the game but he could study the games, and I think that was good for him. It gave him a different look at things, and I think that's helped him."