WICHITA, Kan. — Accelerating past defenders in the open court. Contorting through the lane. Blasting toward the rim. Ripping through contact. Finishing end-to-end in a flurry.
It didn't take much more than a fast break or two during the Bulls' 104-95 preseason win over the Thunder on Wednesday to tell Derrick Rose is back. And some would argue the Chicago guard is better than ever.
“From what I've seen so far,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, “he's obviously (back to being) one of the best players and the MVP candidates.”
Great news for Bulls fans. Good news for Thunder fans, too.
Because when comparing NBA star to NBA star, Russell Westbrook's high-octane game has always resembled Rose's more than anyone.
And with what looks like a full recovery from his serious knee injury, Rose's return should provide Westbrook backers with tangible evidence that the Thunder star can do the same.
“Years ago, you have major surgery, it's hard to come back,” Brooks said. “But now you can come back. All the medical (advancement), great training and staff allows that to happen.”
But of course, Rose was cautious in his rehab, sitting out an entire season to make sure he was full strength, even when doctors had cleared him to play.
The injuries were different — Rose tore his ACL, Westbrook his lateral meniscus — with Rose's more severe. But regardless, the joint is a tricky one that requires careful monitoring and presents both mental and physical hurdles.
“Our legs are pretty much everything,” Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, another quick-twitch point guard who is recovering from a serious knee injury, told reporters earlier this month. “We use our speed. (Rose is) very athletic. I'm athletic. And you need that mental aspect to go up and come down without thinking about your leg again.”
In recent practices, Westbrook has participated in a few of the team drills, even wowing teammates with some dunks.
But the Thunder has remained cautious in its recovery stance, preaching that the long-term with Westbrook is far more important than short-term goals.
OKC got an up-close look at the benefit of that approach on Wednesday night.
“Take his time,” Rose said when asked advice he would give Westbrook. “He's the only one who knows his body. There's no need to force anything.”