LOS ANGELES -- Derrick Rose is making the point guard debate as tough as … stopping Derrick Rose. Whenever the inevitable question about who’s the best point guard in the NBA came up I used to give myself an out and say that Derrick Rose was the best player at the point guard but Chris Paul was the best point guard. Paul did a better job fulfilling the traditional duties of the job: running the offense and setting up teammates, thus the distinction. But if Derrick Rose is going to play like this, dominate in every facet of the game the way he did by beating Paul’s Clippers on Friday night, then he’ll deserve to be called the best point guard -- in addition to the reigning Most Valuable Player.
It can’t be done much better than Rose’s 29 points, 16 assists and eight rebounds.
That it came against Paul makes it more definitive. This game was like a tutorial on how to play the position. (That it came on Dec. 30 and not Dec. 25 is still a sore subject for those who favor the purple and gold colors in this town.)
“It’s a point guard-driven league,” Paul said. “Every night I play, I’ve got my hands full. It was Tony Parker two nights ago.”
Sunday brings Ty Lawson, the first day of a month that will see him square off against Ray Felton, Deron Williams, Ricky Rubio and Russell Westbrook before it’s done. I’ll be interested to hear his rankings after he gets an up-close look at all of them.
Rose called these type of matchups: “Fun. Fun. Fun.
It’s a challenge, especially when you’re on an island. The crowd gets into it.
I’m taking the challenge. It’s fun, man. It could be anybody.”
On this night it was Paul. Paul’s line of 15 points, 14 assists and four steals would normally jump off the stat sheet, but it didn’t even amount to the best numbers on his team (those would be Blake Griffin’s 34 points and 13 rebounds). Still, the artistry of Paul’s game was evident throughout the night. Paul might be the greatest threat in the league when he’s standing still, dribbling. He can cause chaos without moving. That’s what he did in the third quarter, when he circled around Griffin, got into the lane and then came to a halt. Rose trailed off the screen, Carlos Boozer ran behind Paul to cover a potential jump-shooter and Joakim Noah stepped toward Paul. That left Griffin with an open path to cut down the lane, collect a bounce pass from Paul and slam it home.
There was also a Lob City pass to DeAndre Jordan, and a pretty drive for a layup after an offensive set broke down.
But Rose was more dominant.
“They’re both fierce competitors,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Derrick got our team going offensively. We had some easy baskets, we had a good pace. And his rebounding was terrific tonight. The assists, the points, but the rebounding was excellent.
“He’s gotten significantly better because of his experience. He’s seeing every type of defense there is, and I think he understands where the holes in the defense are. Every time you put two [defenders] on the ball or do certain things, there’s going to be openings. And he’s got to read those and I think he’s doing a good job with that.”
Rose says he’s gotten back to the way he played in high school. He swears he was pass-first back then, but shifted to more of a scorer at his coach’s request during his lone college season at Memphis.
“Ask Coach Cal,” Rose said.
That style continued in his first three years in the NBA. But now, with the addition of free agent Richard Hamilton and with Carlos Boozer available from the outset of the season, Rose has more options at his disposal. The problem was he started playing that way, as indecisive as that annoying person in front of you at Starbucks who had his entire time in line to look at the board but still can’t figure out his order when he gets to the front.
In the season opener against the Lakers, Rose kept standing at the top, trying to direct the offense from there. The tell-tale stat: He did not attempt a free throw. He tried shooting a little more the next night at Golden State and wound up firing eight 3-pointers, missing seven. The tell-tale stat from Friday: He got to the free throw line 11 times, and made 10.
“Me attacking first, it opens up everyone else on the court,” Rose said. “The first game I was basically on the perimeter, passing everyone the ball. Settling for jumps shots. I think the Golden State game was like that too. Since then, I’m trying to push the ball and get to the line.”
Rose’s hands were all over the decisive sequence midway through the fourth quarter, by firing a pass to Luol Deng for a 3-pointer from the right corner, driving to the hoop then dishing to Kyle Korver for a 3 from the left corner, then hitting a 3 of his own from the top to put the Bulls ahead by 15.
He also didn’t let Paul and the Clippers come back. That’s another element of the experience Thibodeau talked about. Rose sounded pretty knowledgeable about the tendencies of a Clippers team that has only been together for a couple of weeks.
“If you watch their games, at the end of the quarters, especially in the fourth quarter, they always give [Paul] an isolation at the top of the key,” Rose said. “He loves shooting at the top of the key, at the elbows, and you really have to get into him. He’s a great player, especially when he has the ball in his hands in isolation.”
Keep in mind, Rose won the MVP after only three laps around the league. He’s still downloading information, but he said, “My basketball IQ is getting very high.”
Meanwhile, he’s counting on his buddies to keep his ego level low. “I don’t have any yes men in my circle,” he said. They’ll usually hit up his cellphones during or right after games and call him out on any mistakes.
On Friday night he checked his Blackberry and saw 11 text messages and four BBMs, then unlocked his iPhone and quickly scrolled through about 10 more messages. Not much negative to say about his performance. It was Derrick Rose who sent out a signal that was more emphatic than any text or tweet: After being crowned the best in the league, he’s ready to be the best at his position.