Derrick Rose said that when he decided he wanted to leave the Detroit Pistons, the only choice in his mind was to reunite with former coach Tom Thibodeau and executive William Wesley with the New York Knicks.
“Of course,” Rose said after scoring 14 points in 20 minutes in his debut Tuesday night, a 98-96 loss in Miami to the Heat. “Even though I couldn’t say that at the time, I just wanted to be comfortable. Like I said, I’ve been knowing these guys ever since high school, eighth grade, high school, so coming here, like I said, it’s family. I never really thought about anything else but really getting here and understanding they wanted me to help grow the young guys they’ve already got here.”
Rose, whom the Knicks officially acquired Monday in exchange for point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and Charlotte’s 2021 second-round pick, played well in his first game with the franchise since leaving as a free agent at the end of the 2015-16 season. Rose went 5-for-9 from the field, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range, to go with three assists and two turnovers in his 20:20 of court time.
Those minutes came exclusively with Knicks rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley, with whom Thibodeau partnered Rose on the court. Thibodeau said after the game that he liked the look that pair provides together and indicated that would be New York’s second-unit backcourt going forward. He added that the player Rose replaced in the rotation, Austin Rivers, would now be a “situational” player.
“I think you see it often when you have multiple point guards out on the floor, it gives you another ball handler, secondary ball handler, and you can probably include Alec (Burks) in there, as well,” Thibodeau said. “So it gives us three guys that can go off the dribble, and all three are very efficient in pick-and-rolls. Their versatility allows them to actually blend with both groups. So I think we’ll see some of that as we go forward, as well.”
For Rose, this marks the third time in his career that he has played under Thibodeau, his coach in Chicago from 2010 through 2015, and then again as part of the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. When asked what makes them connect with one another, Rose laughed and said he and his coach are an “odd couple” before talking about their shared love for the game.
“The synergy we’ve got, I can’t explain it,” Rose said. “We’re an odd couple, but for some reason, we understand the game. And the closest thing I probably can say is we’re students of the game. We watch the game. We try to understand the game more and try to get better if not every day, every week, every month, every couple of months, every year. There’s always room for improvement, and it’s for the betterment of the team. Wherever I go, wherever he goes, we’re always trying to win.”
After the trade was made, there was some trepidation among Knicks fans that Rose would eat into the minutes Quickley, the 25th pick in November’s NBA draft, would get to play.
Quickley, who entered Tuesday’s game averaging 12 points as a rookie and shooting 36.3% from 3-point range, has been impressive in his rookie season. He has shown flashes of the game of one of his idols, veteran guard Lou Williams, in terms of being a solid 3-point shooter who also is adept at drawing fouls and hitting floaters in the lane.
If Tuesday’s game was any indication, however, Quickley’s rotation spot is secure moving forward. And, for his part, Rose was effusive in his praise of the rookie. Since the trade, he has said on multiple occasions that he is excited to play alongside Quickley.
“It shouldn’t be too hard [playing] with him,” Rose said. “We’re similar. He’s getting double-teamed in his rookie year. There ain’t too many rookies getting that type of attention. For him to see that kind of early, it’s just going to make his game better. The game is going to slow down more. And he listens. That’s the greatest thing about him: He listens. With that, you always got room for improvement.
“He’s a dog. He’s a dog. I can’t explain it. You’ve got to be a player to understand it. [If] we’re in a fight, I know he’s fighting.”
Ultimately, however, Rose’s debut was marred by a late comeback by the Heat, who swept this home-and-home series with the Knicks by pulling the same trick — escaping with a win thanks to better execution down the stretch — both Sunday in New York and Tuesday night in Orlando.
After Jimmy Butler, who led Miami with 26 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists, missed 1 of 2 free throws with 6.2 seconds remaining, the Knicks got a good look at tying the score, as second-year guard RJ Barrett caught the ball at the top of the key with Butler defending him and attacked the rim with his dominant left hand.
But Barrett’s layup attempt rolled off the front of the rim, and the Knicks fell for the seventh time in 10 games after a promising start to the season. They are tied with the Heat in ninth place in the East and are just one game ahead of the Orlando Magic in 13th.
“I had a really good look,” said Barrett, who had 13 points and six rebounds but shot just 5-for-14 from the field. “Layup going to my strong hand … got to finish those.”