Where would the Knicks be if they hadn't traded for Derrick Rose.
ATLANTA — Where would the Knicks be if Derrick Rose didn’t push for a trade out of Detroit? Where would they be if Tom Thibodeau didn’t lobby management to bring him back to New York for a second run?
The answer is nowhere close to three victories away from the second round of the playoffs. Thibodeau shouldn’t just win NBA Coach of the Year, but NBA Executive of the Year too.
Not only did Thibodeau beg president Leon Rose to make the trade with Detroit that was finally completed on Super Bowl Sunday, but he also lobbied for the Knicks to sign 35-year-old center Taj Gibson. Knicks management was content not to bring Gibson back from last season’s team.
As the Knicks head to State Farm Arena to face its 16,000 fans, Rose and Gibson, Thibodeau’s top two playoff warriors dating to their days together in Chicago and Minnesota, are leading the charge.
Thibodeau started the duo to begin the second half Wednesday and the whole series changed with the Knicks rallying from a 13-point halftime deficit to knot the best-of-seven series at one game apiece. They’ve gained momentum if not home-court advantage.
It’s hard to imagine Thibodeau reverting to starting Elfrid Payton at point guard for Game 3 after Rose continued to blossom.
In the first two games of the playoffs, Rose has averaged 21.5 points while shooting 42.9 percent from 3. He’s also averaging 38 minutes — which is a concern at age 32 because of the fear of breaking down.
“I was one of the ones that were very critical when Derrick Rose got traded to the Knicks, and I’m not going to lie,’’ ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins said. “I was like, man, D-Rose got a lot left in the tank. We were talking about a guy last year that possibly could have snuck into the All-Star Game, how good he was playing. I was like, ‘D-Rose, why you not going to a contender?’ But then when he got to the Knicks and when he started balling out, all of a sudden it came back to me that his relationship with Thibodeau is different. It’s special.’’
Is it ever. Rose’s role keeps expanding and he keeps getting closer to his vintage level. He’s become the Knicks’ most indispensable player.
In their playoff debuts, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are still finding their footing. Randle has scored 15 points in each game, shooting 28.2 percent. He started to look himself in the second half Wednesday but he’s got to put a full game together. Barrett, meanwhile, is shooting 37.9 percent in the series and wasn’t a factor in their comeback.
They need Rose more than ever to play like an All-Star, and he’s taking the task of battling Trae Young to heart.
“He’s amazing,’’ Randle said. “He got into the ball, made it uncomfortable for Trae to come back at the other end. It’s an adjustment for them, him coming off that pick-and-roll. He’s a highly skilled player, making plays. He’s a high IQ player making the game easy for all of us.’’
In his new state, Rose is a more savvy scorer. Last week on Instagram, he expressed frustration when it’s written he’s playing like his old self.
Rose knows he doesn’t have nearly the explosiveness he once did, but he’s crafty enough to still wiggle to the basket and has a lighter touch. He’s developed an accurate 3-point shot as opposed to when he refused to shoot them under former Kicks coach Jeff Hornacek. He’s scoring midrange pull-ups and floaters. He’s got a lot on his bag.
“I was just talking, something that’s been on my mind for a couple of years, but it’s something I felt like it was true,’’ Rose said of his Instagram rant. “I am a totally different player now. I did change my game, but I have to say that people have to defend me different.’’
Rose was on a minutes restriction in Detroit of 23-25 minutes. It wasn’t official, but the Pistons coaching staff noticed his effectiveness went down after he played 23 minutes. He averaged 22.8 minutes in Detroit this season.
With Thibodeau, Rose’s minutes keep rising with no production drop-off. In his last 15 regular-season games, Rose played 29 minutes a game, averaging 18.4 points. He’s played starter’s minutes for some time now.
“We really don’t view him as a second-unit guy,’’ Atlanta’s Kevin Huerter said. “For us, he’s 1B on their scouting report. We have to just force him into tough shots, tough pull-ups. He’s good when he gets in the paint and can elevate and get to his float game. We have to limit his transition touches.’’
Rose hasn’t become the Knicks’ leader (Randle is), but he’s getting close to that title.
“One thing about Derrick I’ve noticed, when he’s in a familiar situation that he’s comfortable in, he understands it’s family,’’ Gibson said. “He understands when it’s a good environment, a winning environment, he’s going to flourish. And right now he’s around familiar faces he’s been in battle with for a long time. It’s no coincidence how he’s been playing. His leadership role is on a whole ’nother level right now talking to the young guys.’’
Leader, mentor, scorer.
“Derrick Rose embracing it at the age that he is, towards the end of his career, it’s a beautiful thing to see,’’ Perkins said.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Marc Berman