You never really know how these things are going to go. You can have a good feeling about them: Tom Thibodeau surely did. From the start, from the moment it was clear that his old star, Derrick Rose, was going to hook up with him a third time, he believed in what he was getting.
“He still has gas in the tank,” Thibodeau said then, “and I really think he’ll be a positive influence on the younger players.”
And so far, he has been exactly that. So far, the only person associated with the Knicks – player, fan, coach, anyone – who could have even a slight beef with Rose is Austin Rivers, and that’s because his playing time has been reduced to the garbage-time minutes that littered the very end of the Knicks’ blowout win over Houston at the Garden Saturday night.
(And, for the record, if he actually does harbor those beefs, to his credit Rivers has yet to share them with anyone.)
No, Rose has been exactly what Thibodeau promised he would be. He has been productive, for starters. In three games prior to Monday night’s Knicks-Hawks game at MSG – two Knicks wins, two defeats – he is averaging 14.7 points and 4.0 assists in 21 minutes per game, he’s shooting 54.8 percent, he’s helped elevate the pace among the Knicks second unit, with whom he plays much of the time.
And his presence has been an absolute benefactor for the two players who most needed it, rookies Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. It’s a tiny sample size, sure, but Toppin’s scoring is up (4.6 to 7.7) and his shooting percentage is way up (.435 to .647) playing alongside Rose and his accelerated pace. And while Quickley’s scoring is up slightly (12.0 to 13.3), as telling is the fact that in the three games he’s played with Rose, sharing almost the exact same minutes, his plus-minus is a remarkable plus-40.
“I try to let [Quickley] do whatever he wants,” Rose said Tuesday following the morning shootaround. “Bring the ball up. Whatever. Let him play his game. And with me being able to play off the ball, I think it helps because you kind of lose sight of him when he’s rolling like that. If anything I want him to be as aggressive as possible because with that second unit it clicks whenever he gets things going.”
In essence the Knicks really have gotten the best of Rose’s two worlds so far. He is happy coming off the bench, seems content to play his two 10-or-so minute shifts per night, genuinely seems happy playing for Thibodeau again.
“He’s just a totally different person now,” Rose said of his first NBA coach in Chicago, with whom he also reunited in Minneapolis a few years ago. “He’s smiling. I’ve never seen him smile as much as he has right now. So it rubs off on me. I’m feeling his energy.”
It makes perfect sense, of course. It was 10 years ago that Rose became the youngest-ever MVP of the league, when at age 22 it seemed he might actually challenge from the point guard position the presumed dominance from LeBron James and Kevin Garnett. In those years there was no more fun team than the Bulls and no more fun player than Rose to watch, no matter where you lived.
Quickley was 11 that year. Toppin was 12. There is no more impressionable an age than that. And now Rose is their co-worker, dispensing with free advice and with the basketball, both things that can only make them better at a time in their career when both can use all the encouragement available to them.
And Rose, through three games, seems to be having a hell of a time himself.
“I’m just naturally letting it come,” he said. “I’m not forcing it. I’m not trying to be too opinionated while I’m here. It’s only been three games. I’m trying to get guys involved. And the game will tell me what to do. And when I’m out there, I’m getting shots that I normally – that’s in my game. They’re giving me 3s. They’re giving me my floater. They’re giving my pull-ups. And it’s just feeling that trust with my teammates.”
It’s a mutual feeling that’s already taken root. And so far, it’s been something to see.