New York Knicks backup point guard Derrick Rose turned 33 Monday, and he’s blooming in a different way in the Garden that has looked like a basketball paradise for most of last season.
After a tumultuous first stint with the Knicks in 2016, Rose’s game withered, and he was already out of the league until Tom Thibodeau came rushing to resurrect his career in Minnesota in 2018. Thibodeau watered and nurtured his game in a different role. Rose bloomed as a second unit leader of a young Timberwolves team.
Thibodeau brought him in the middle of last season to New York to reprise that role and instantly catapulted the Knicks’ bench into the league’s upper echelon. But his return to New York was initially met with some skepticism as the city has fallen in love with last year’s rookie Immanuel Quickley’s floaters and long bombs.
“People were kind of worried about me coming in stunting Quick’s growth,” Rose said during the NBA media day. “Coming in, I just wanted them to play free and understand that if they get the ball, they don’t have to look for me. I’ll find a way to do my thing while I’m on the floor or try to affect the game in my little way without hurting or stunting someone’s growth.”
So the first thing Rose did was set the record straight with Quickley when he approached him and Obi Toppin on his first team dinner with the team. Rose’s leadership pushed the Knicks rookies to flourish in the second unit, especially Toppin, and raised the team’s ceiling. Quickley’s game did not significantly drop as the naysayers have feared.
Quickley averaged 11.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 42 games since the Knicks acquired Rose in February, according to Stat Muse. It was on par with his production in 21 games before the Rose trade: 12.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists.
Per NBA.com tracking data, Rose was second, tied with Nerlens Noel, behind Toppin in the list of Knicks players who passed the ball frequently to Quickley last season. Rose was also second behind Julius Randle when it came to teammates who assisted the rookie guard with his shots.
While Rose tried to blend in, for the most part, he rose to the occasion in the playoffs when Elfrid Payton was unplayable, when Randle was shackled, and when Quickley’s game shrunk in the big stage.
When the Knicks needed a leader, the former MVP took over. Rose was the Knicks’ best player on the floor in their return to the NBA playoffs.
After Thibodeau handed him the keys to the Knicks backcourt during the playoffs — where he pushed himself and stamped his class — that was pivotal in avoiding an embarrassing sweep to the young but bold Atlanta Hawks, Rose said he’s ready to return to his old role.
Once the Knicks’ weakest link, the point guard rotation instantly becomes one of their strongest suits after Rose re-signed for another three years and former four-time All-Star Kemba Walker arrived in a relatively cheap two-year deal this summer.
Rose is handing the backcourt keys over to a newcomer but a player who’s earned his respect, a proud son of New York who was raised under the bright lights of the city’s playgrounds and the Garden.
Rose ended the debate on the Knicks’ starting point guard right on the first day of training camp. Walker appreciated the gesture.
“For me, I’ve always been a huge D Rose fan regardless if I’m starting or not starting. Whatever, like it, doesn’t even matter. I just want to win. And to have a guy like him — a former MVP, a guy who’s been through it all — to be on the same team with him is really special for me,” Walker said.
“D Rose is one of the biggest reasons why I came here, and I wanted to be around him. I wanted to get a chance to see how he prepares himself every day. You know, just really to the chance to pick his brain as best as I can.”
Walker hopes to learn from Rose how he took care of his body following long bouts with knee issues that almost ended his career prematurely.
Rose and Walker are of the same breed of dynamic point guards, yet they operate from the point of attack in contrasting styles. Miles McBride, the defensive-minded point guard out of West Virginia, is trying to pick up each of their strengths and roll it into one.
“[They are helping me by] Just reading the game. In college, I didn’t run as many pick-and-roll (plays), so I’m trying to learn that. Their pace coming off [the point of attack] is a lot different. Obviously, Derrick is a lot more explosive than Kemba. Kemba likes to use angles a lot more. So just learning kind of two different and trying to mash it into one,” McBride said.
Quickley had an extensive dry run as a point guard in the NBA Summer League, an insurance policy if ever Rose’s 33-year old body and Walker’s 31-year old knees break down during the course of a long season that is returning to its regular 82-game schedule.
Like McBride, Quickley is enthusiastic about continuing learning from Rose and soaks in Walker’s wisdom and experience.
“Two veteran guys. Two people that I can learn from competing with and just really pick their brains. All-Star, MVP, talking about high-caliber [players] that have been at the top of the league, still at the top of the league. So just in terms of play, how to be a pro, I feel like I can learn a lot from those two,” Quickley said during the NBA media day.
Thibodeau’s gift is his ability to create a team of leaders. It’s a staple of Thibodeau wherever he goes.
Thibodeau produced the league’s youngest MVP in Rose, a Defensive Player of the Year in Joakim Noah, a perennial All-Star in Butler, a two-time All-Star in Luol Deng, and several veteran leaders like Taj Gibson. Karl-Anthony Towns became an All-Star despite the reports that he resented Thibodeau’s hard coaching. Even Zach LaVine, who only played one season for Thibodeau in Minnesota, credited him for his development as one of the rising stars in the league. Last season, Randle became a first-time All-Star.
Thibodeau accelerated the Timberwolves timeline and ended a 13-year playoff drought with the leadership of his trusted veterans (Jimmy Butler, Rose, and Gibson).
He recreated that last year with Rose and Gibson lending experience to a Knicks young core that broke an eight-year playoff spell. This year won’t be any different.
Thibodeau had this knack of extending his coaching ropes to the young players through the veterans.
“The two guys have really been Kemba and D-Rose,” Grimes said. “They both helped me for sure just going in drills, telling me what to expect, competing every day in training camp, how it’s going to be during the season, just little things to do recovery-wise. Just having two big-time veterans like that, it’s going to be really good for my development for sure.”
Rose had gone a long way with Thibodeau. Throughout his time with him from Chicago to Minnesota and now New York, Rose grew from a timid dynamic scorer and playmaker to a vocal leader. Going into his first full season with the Knicks in his second go-round, the 33-year old veteran guard wanted to grow more in a leadership role.
“Just being a vet, being vocal, I would say, that’s the key point,” Rose said of his role. “Making sure that I’m steady talking and growing as a leader on the team, being the OG. Being honest with everyone that’s on the team.”
“That’s building a relationship with everybody. Just making sure I have a personal relationship with them, so I can be honest whenever I approach them about certain things on the floor or whatever I see.”
Rose is content and comfortable with his role over a decade since becoming the league’s youngest MVP at 22.
John Calipari relayed a story during their time in Memphis back in February that encapsulated Rose’s selflessness.
”[Derrick] would never take a picture unless his teammates were with him. He didn’t want the stuff by himself,” Calipari told Empire Sports Media when the Knicks re-acquired Rose.
Thibodeau continues to experience that humility to this day.
“For the guys that have been around him, and you guys will get to know him better as we go along here, he’s always been that way,” Thibodeau said last week.
“He was totally selfless and happy for his teammates. His teammates have always loved him. He’s always cared about them, and so he’s always been a team-first guy. He’ll do whatever you ask of him, and that’s what makes him special.”
The Knicks will have two of the most selfless leaders at the backcourt next season. The hope is Thibodeau can lean on Rose and Walker when the lights are at their brightest toward next summer.
Rose has the opportunity this season to join Bill Walton as the only NBA player to transform into a Sixth Man of the Year after becoming the league’s MVP. But that will only come as a bonus, not the goal.
“The team and winning have always been first for [Derrick]. Kemba is that type of guy too. I think his teammates will love playing with him,” Rose said. “Derrick has always been happy for his teammates when they’ve done well as he is for himself. So if someone has a big game, he’s the first guy to congratulate him, and he understands how important that is.”
”A truly great player not only brings the best out of himself, but he also brings the best out of the group, and Derrick has always been that guy.”
Rose reinvented his game to stay afloat in the league that has evolved dramatically since his 2011 MVP run. But at the core of his transformative journey is being true to himself and avoiding the pitfalls of becoming full of himself.
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