CHICAGO — While everyone in the Windy City waits and wonders when and how their star point guard will return from a devastating knee injury, all the attention from the locals turned to the Thunder's floor leader who finds himself stuck on the road to recovery from a similar setback.
And while answering one question after the next about Derrick Rose, perhaps providing this Midwestern metropolis some measure of optimism, Eric Maynor sounded like a man searching to seize his own straws of hope.
But the Thunder's rock-steady reserve point guard played along. In Maynor's mind, it was better the questions be about Rose than himself.
“I really don't want to get asked the questions, so if they want to ask me about somebody else, that's cool,” Maynor said. “I'm just trying to keep getting better every day.”
Maynor always has been the type to let his game do his talking.
He cleared another hurdle Tuesday night, starting in place of a resting Russell Westbrook and playing 32 minutes in the Thunder's 94-89 preseason loss to the Bulls. It was the most minutes Maynor has played since March 21, 2010, when he netted 15 points in a road loss to Indiana.
It was Jan. 7 when Maynor mangled his knee while driving to the basket in the ninth game of the season. Logging starter's minutes is a milestone Maynor can now use as momentum.
“That's good right now, so I can get my legs up under me and be ready to go when the season starts,” Maynor said. “I just want to come out and get my rhythm back and get back used to playing because it's been a whole year.”
Take away that bulky black contraption tucked beneath the black sleeve covering his right leg and you wouldn't be able to tell Maynor had even torn up his knee. There are moments like Tuesday night, when Maynor shows the same wizardry that he's always possessed running an offense.
On one trip, for example, Maynor used a Kendrick Perkins high ball screen to start left before crossing over to his right and pulling up for a rhythmic free-throw line jumper. Moments later, Maynor hauled in a James Harden swing pass on the left wing and stepped into a textbook catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.
Maynor has made similar plays since early September, when Thunder coach Scott Brooks knew once and for all that his best playmaker was back. Still, repetition is required for Maynor.
“It takes you a couple of games (to trust the knee),” said Perkins, who famously fell victim to his own knee injury in Game 6 of the 2010 Finals. “But once you get the rhythm, it just takes that one breakout game before you get back to going.”
Maynor has had better performances this preseason than his 13-point, two-assist effort against the Bulls. But playing without Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who also got the night off, Maynor and the Thunder were short on threats to keep Chicago's swarming defense in check.
More importantly, Maynor's range of motion and mobility has returned. Neither seemed burdensome even while covering a bigger, stronger guard in Kirk Hinrich or a smaller, quicker guard in Nate Robinson. Maynor fought over ball screens and chased his man on off-ball screens. He changed direction without hesitation and attacked with confidence when necessary.
“He still dictates the game, looks for his shot when he's open and makes great decisions,” Harden said. “Obviously he has to get back into a feel. But these last few weeks he's done a great job of getting there. And I think as time goes on he's going to feel more comfortable out there on the court.”