NEW YORK — Every now and then, he flashes a glimpse of the player he once was.
Sometimes, it will come in a quick crossover followed by an acrobatic finish at the hoop. Other times, he’ll leap off the floor on one side of the rim—only to emerge on the other end of the basket to smoothly spin the ball off the glass and through the net before landing.
These days, though, most of Derrick Rose’s work is done with his feet closer to the ground. The daily displays of gravity defiance are no more. They’ve been replaced by a subtler style of manipulation, a head fake here, a dipped shoulder there, maybe a quick change of direction followed by a funky-looking toss.
“That vintage is gone, man,” Rose said to reporters recently. “The question should be: Can I hoop? I can hoop. It shouldn’t be like, ‘He’s playing like his old self.’ If I can hoop, I can hoop, no matter if I did that when I was younger or now. I can play the game of basketball.”
There are different ways to play basketball, different levels to do so, too. Some players are able to single-handedly vault teams deep into the playoffs. Rose, a former league MVP and All-Star, used to be one of those guys. Today, he’s a flawed facsimile of his former self.
He also happens to be the best point guard the New York Knicks have employed since Jason Kidd retired in 2013.
Rose’s presence on the floor elevates the team (the Knicks are 6.4 points per 100 possessions better when he plays), despite what you may be hearing on Twitter or in local bars. Nuance, after all, has never been the sports fan’s strength.
Rose is no longer a stud, so therefore he must stink? Or so the logic seems to often go, as if no large swath of gray area exists between the two extremes.
“He seems to be getting better as the season goes on,” San Antonio Spurs scout Pops Mensah-Bonsu wrote to Bleacher Report in a text message.
There are likely others around the NBA seeing the same thing, which maybe could explain the strangely timed report from the New York Post’s Marc Berman stating, courtesy of an anonymous “NBA source,” that the Knicks may or may not (are there any other options?) offer Rose, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, an extension before his contract expires.
Rose told the Post that he’s yet to discuss his contract situation with the Knicks. His agent, B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group, declined to comment to Bleacher Report.
At this point, it’s silly to dive into predictions of who Rose signs with and when. The Knicks can’t ink him to an extension until six months have passed from the day they acquired him. That makes Dec. 22 the earliest a deal could be signed. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement prohibits Rose, due to his veteran status, from signing an extension that lasts more than three years and pays him more than around $25 million per year.
If he were to wait for free agency, Rose could sign a four-year deal with another team or a five-year pact with the Knicks, both worth the maximum amount allowed under the CBA.
All that makes the equation sound more complex than it actually is.
Here’s what matters: As the season has progressed, so too has the 28-year-old Rose. His first step has gotten faster. His familiarity with his teammates has gotten better. The rust he accumulated while spending the majority of training camp and preseason attending his civil trial in Los Angeles is wearing off, revealing a player who could wind up forcing the Knicks into a trying offseason decision.
“[He’s] getting more and more comfortable with the team and his role on it,” Mensah-Bonsu added. “He may not be the D-Rose of old, but he has a great ability to get to the basket and can still finish at a high level. He isn’t dunking the ball or finishing over people, but he is still very explosive.”
Rose has remained relentless attacking the rim. His ability to blow past his man has provided the Knicks with a dynamic that they’ve sorely lacked since Jeremy Lin left town. The 10.5 drives he averages per game are 12th-most in the league, and the rate with which the Knicks are scoring on these drives is right in line with what the Cleveland Cavaliers are putting …