During his first run with the New York Knicks in the ill-fated 2016-17 season, Derrick Rose became a meme when he proclaimed they’re a super team. A legal battle off the court divided his attention. His infamous AWOL poked a hole in his character. Another knee injury cut short his first stint with the team.
He plummeted into a dark place, as he described it, but found a way to climb his way back like the way he pulled the Knicks out from a 21-point hole to rout the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, 113-98, on Friday night.
In the words of Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer and his two-time All-Defensive First Team guard Jrue Holiday, Rose did “a little bit of everything” to fuel the Knicks’ biggest comeback in franchise history.
His season-high 23 points came in various forms, from his signature daredevil drives to floaters and pullups. He laced it up with eight rebounds, four assists, and two steals in a complete two-way performance that elicited Vintage D Rose tweets from fans.
He scoffed when a reporter asked if he still hates that label.
“What’s vintage about it? I wasn’t shooting threes. I wasn’t pulling up shots like I am now,” Rose said. But if you want to say it, you could say it, though. It’s whatever.”
Ten years removed from his historic MVP season, the 33-year old Rose remains defiant. But not in a way like he did in his first season with the Knicks when he refused to shoot more three-point shots.
Rose’s 0.9 three-point attempt in the 2016-17 season remains tied with his lowest mark in his career, which happened during his rookie year. Over the last five years, that gradually improved to a healthy 3.7 attempts per game. He’s hitting close to two triples per game, and he’s currently the second-best three-point shooter in the team with a top-20 45.5 percent mark.
“It’s not really vintage. Look at the tape,” Julius Randle said of Rose’s evolving game. “Who he was as MVP and who he is now, I would say he’s a much more complete. He’s a better player than he was then. [There’s] nothing really vintage about it. [He’s] evolved and become a much better player [when it comes to] understanding the game, clear mindset.”
Rose’s daredevil drives remain to eat the largest portion of his shot diet, as was the case on Friday night when five of his 10 field goals made came from the restricted area. But since the 2016-17 season, Rose’s frequency of shot attempts within less than 10 feet have decreased from 55.3 percent down to 42.1 percent this season. Last season, it was 42.9 percent.
His pullup game has evolved from 34 percent frequency in the 2012-13 season to 37.9 percent this year and peaked at 43 percent during his last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“That’s something that I’ve been working on the whole time, pulling out and just trusting my shot,” Rose said. “I’ve put a lot of work into my shot for the last [five years]. This is my 14th year. So, trying to adapt my game to how the young guys are playing and whatever presents itself.”
His catch-and-shoot game also dramatically changed from his first stint with the Knicks as he transformed from a lead playmaker to a combo guard off the bench. These days, Rose usually plays with a three-guard alignment alongside Immanuel Quickley and Alec Burks, with RJ Barrett doing moonlighting at times. From 6.7 percent frequency in the 2016-17 season, his catch and shoot attempts have peaked at 18.9 percent this season.
Rose had a pair of catch and shoot opportunities which all came from behind the 3-point line on Friday night. But he missed both of them. It didn’t matter as he sank 3 of 6 pullups and made 7 of 10 within 10 feet.
Through nine games, Rose is averaging 12.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.0 steals against a single turnover in 22 minutes off the bench, making him a strong candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Rose’s transformation from the youngest MVP to one of the oldest Sixth Man of the Year candidates this season came with maturity. He has the chance to duplicate what Bill Walton has accomplished at 33 during his stint with the Boston Celtics during the 1985-86 season. If Rose wins the award, he will join Walton as the only former league MVP to be named Sixth Man of the Year later in their careers.
Rose’s redemptive story remains one of the most inspiring career arcs in the NBA.
Rose is in a much better headspace now. He wants to do a Tom Brady. Based on his stellar play, it looks like he could pull it off barring any (knock on wood) serious injury.
“I’m playing with joy like happiness ain’t the same,” a cryptic Rose said.
Rose has come a long way. He has learned to manage his knees, his body, and the game better than it was a decade ago.
“I’ve been through a lot. I’m in a great place,” Rose added. “And I’m on a very talented team. I don’t have to score. It’s not on me every night to score 30 points, so I don’t have a burden on myself like that. I can go out there and play the game and try to affect by passing or just pushing the ball. So, I’m in a great place.”
Rose has come a long way. His evolution has sparked joy in his game. And it’s helping the Knicks in a big way.
“I feel like happiness is temporary and joyfulness is everlasting,” Rose said.
Restless for the most part of his career, Rose is finally at peace.
Follow this writer: @alderalmo