CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose was disappointed that the Bulls' season came to a close after a lopsided loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last week, but the 26-year-old former MVP seemed surprisingly upbeat given the circumstances.
After missing all but one game in the previous three postseasons because of knee injuries, Rose said being on the floor for all 12 of the Bulls' playoff games this year was at least a minor victory.
"I got a baseline now," Rose said after the game. "I'm healthy. I'm going into this with a game plan, certain things to work on. I feel like I'm going to push myself the hardest I ever pushed myself in my career and just see where it takes me for the beginning of next year."
Rose's optimism is important. The up-and-down nature of his status took a toll on everyone in the organization since he tore the ACL in his left knee in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. The fact that he was able to play in the 2015 postseason at all, after undergoing a meniscectomy on his right knee at the end of February, is something of a silver lining for a Bulls squad that failed to reach its championship goal.
In the playoffs, Rose showed flashes of being the type of player who could carry a team, evidenced by his performances in Games 3 and 4 against the Cavs, in which he combined for 61 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds and hit a game-winning banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bulls a 2-1 series lead. There were also games in which he was simply ineffective, evidenced by a Game 5 performance in which he was just 7-for-24 from the field and a Game 6 performance in which he took just four shots in the second half and looked way too passive for a star trying to lead his team back from a 14-point halftime deficit in a closeout game.
Much has happened since Rose led the Bulls to the conference finals in 2011, and this postseason underscored how his game has changed over the past four years.
In the 16 games Rose played during the 2011 postseason, he averaged 40.6 minutes, 23.5 field goal attempts and 6.3 3-point attempts and shot 24.8 percent from beyond the arc.
In 12 games during the 2015 postseason, Rose averaged 37.8 minutes, 19.6 field goal attempts and 5.5 3-point attempts and shot 34.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Rose shot 39.6 percent in both postseasons, but was a bit more selective this year, averaging almost four fewer shots a game in approximately three fewer minutes per game.
The most noticeable change, and one that was apparent throughout the 2014-15 regular season, was that Rose wasn't as aggressive going to the rim as he had been before. In the 2011 postseason, Rose averaged 8.4 free throws a game and shot 82.8 percent from the line. In the 2015 postseason, Rose averaged just 3.3 free throws a game and shot 89.7 percent from the line.
Rose was open throughout the 2014-15 regular season that he wanted to try to get his teammates more involved, and would only take over late in games when needed. But his assist numbers actually dipped slightly: In the 2011 postseason, Rose averaged 7.7 assists a game, assisting on 39.8 percent of his teammates' makes; in the 2015 postseason, he registered 6.5 assists and 31.7 percent.
The good news for the Bulls is that while Rose didn't show as much aggression getting to the rim as he had in years past, he still averaged 10.4 drives a game, which was sixth among all players in the postseason and third among players who reached the second round, behind only Cavaliers superstar LeBron James (13.9) and Atlanta Hawks All-Star Jeff Teague (11.4).
The issue for the Bulls is that Rose took 47.9 percent of his shots in the 2011 postseason from 10 feet or closer, compared with 41.7 percent in 2015. He also took almost 49 percent of his shots from inside the paint in 2011, compared with 41.3 percent in 2015.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau expressed frustration during the Cavs series because he felt Rose wasn't getting enough calls going to the rim. Rose's problem is that he hadn't shown that same level of consistency getting to the basket, which could have had an impact in how he was officiated during the playoffs.
As usual, Thibodeau was quick to defend Rose after the season had come to a close.
"I want to say this about Derrick -- it was a long year," Thibodeau said. "The good thing is I think he's regained his confidence. Obviously, he had the surgery the second half of the season. I thought he played very aggressively. You got to remember: He hasn't played -- but overall, playing in the last five games of the regular season and getting this experience, I think is really good for him. I think he'll have a great year next year. I think he feels really good about where he is. Obviously he probably would tell you he would want to play better, but I think he's got a lot of confidence right now in where he is, so that was a positive."
Rose said he would head back to the Los Angeles area to spend his summer training for next season, as he has done several times throughout his career. The bigger concern, though, goes back to what Thibodeau referenced:
Where exactly is Rose's confidence level heading into next season?
Consistency is what Rose lacked throughout the season. Some nights he dominated and other nights he didn't look completely locked into the game. The pre-injury Rose would have been outwardly upset about his performance in Game 6 and would have made it a point to attack with his team trailing throughout the second half.
Instead, Rose allowed Cavs backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova to get the best of him and didn't take over the game the way he would have in the past.
Is the attacking nature of his game a thing of the past, or is it a trait that will come back over time? Only Rose knows the answer to that question, but he sounded happy with the progress he made in a season filled with uncertainty.
"I wouldn't say [I was at] my best, but I played very well sometimes," Rose said.
"It's all about being consistent and staying in the gym and preparing myself. That's one thing that I think I did well was prepare myself for every game, even though I didn't perform the way I wanted to perform, but my body felt good, so it's all about going back in the lab this summer and just putting my game back together and see where it takes me."