So where are we now with the Derrick Rose rehabilitation, three weeks into the former MVP’s return from his year on the sidelines?
The numbers aren’t bad: the Chicago Bulls are off to a 7-2 start, nestling 9th in scoring (103.6, a leap from dead last in 2013-14) and 12th in points allowed (97.8), despite the health wrinkles afflicting Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler.
Pau Gasol has fitted in seamlessly, a distinct upgrade from Carlos Boozer. And Rose himself – heading into tonight’s home clash with the Indiana Pacers - has averaged 5.4 assists and 18.0 points, not far below his career averages, even though he’s been eased into the fray with a workload of 28 minutes per.
That’s the bright side. The counterpoint is that Rose hasn’t looked like an All Star – and certainly hasn’t spoken like one. Coming out and saying his post-basketball health was a factor in deciding whether to play or not earned him few friends, with Charles Barkley among those slating that attitude as ‘soft’.
Even though you’d be throwing away money to back him for a second MVP at 31.00, let’s cut Rose some slack, as he pushes onwards on his surgically twice-repaired knee and with a sore hamstring and dodgy ankle that has kept him out of four games already.
These are still early days. And the bottom line is the Bulls – now third-favourites for the title at 8.00 – are a much better team with him back and clearly the best in the East, for now.
On the current pace, they might even be worth a punt at 2.50 for the Central Division ahead of Cleveland, even if the Cavaliers room to improve is huge.
And Gasol’s influence should see them derail the Pacers who can’t generate any offense, even though they are pulling off defensive miracles with a depleted roster.
Anything Rose generates is a bonus. And his best, surely, is still to come.
Best bet: Go under 189.5 total points in Chicago-Indiana