MIAMI -- The workouts this summer were grueling. Rob McClanaghan made sure of that. Every time Derrick Rose touched the ball, he was being challenged to improve.
If you want to be an MVP candidate, start for the All-Star team and lead your team deep into the playoffs, you have to do more than anyone else. You have to sweat more, hurt more, put up more jump shots and leave everything you have on the practice court with no fans or TV cameras around.
That's what Rose, the Bulls point guard, did this summer. He spent two months, working twice a day for six days a week, at St. Monica High in Los Angeles with McClanaghan, a noted basketball trainer. Also at these workouts were Timberwolves forward Kevin Love and Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. If you look at the season each of these players is having, it's no surprise, based on how McClanaghan worked them in that gym.
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"I can pretty confidently say I saw this coming," McClanaghan said. "His work ethic was always there. This summer, he took it to another level."
McClanaghan, a former player at Syracuse, has worked with Rose since before his NBA debut as the No. 1 overall pick out of Memphis in 2008. He knew what Rose needed to change coming into this season. Rose was already a skilled playmaker and unstoppable off the dribble, but to become an elite point guard at the level of Chris Paul and Deron Williams, he would have to do more.
The first thing was improving his jump shot, especially from the 3-point line, and McClanaghan had Rose shoot at least 1,000 treys a day from a variety of angles. McClanaghan said no team would be able to sag off Rose's jumper as they have in the past.
Coming into this season, Rose made 32 3-pointers combined in two seasons, and he never shot better than 27 percent from beyond the arc. After a victory Monday against New Orleans, Rose has 89 3-pointers on 33 percent shooting. Go ahead and leave Rose open from deep -- he'll make you pay now.
"His biggest thing was to be more consistent," McClanaghan said. "Before, when he made a shot, it was a good-looking shot, but he didn't have that repetition. When he missed a shot, you can see the flaws. This summer, he brought a different mentality, and we worked on expanding his range to become a threat out there."
|Derrick Rose is averaging 24.6 points and 8.1 assists a game. (Getty Images)|
Rose made 197 free throws as a rookie on 79 percent shooting and 259 free throws last season on 77 percent. He already has 320 free throws on 84 percent this season with 21 games remaining. The improvement in those two areas have helped Rose's overall game look and feel better.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who watched Rose from afar the past two seasons as an assistant coach with the Celtics, has been impressed with his maturity this season. Thibodeau has also challenged Rose to be better defensively and work on getting his teammates involved, and he likes the way Rose is running the team.
"Experience has helped him a lot," Thibodeau said. "Each year he's gotten better. The first two years he established himself as a player, individually, and now he's helped lift the team. The thing you really respect about him is that he's never satisfied. He's driven. He wants to get better every day. He's been a great leader for our team."
Rose is a legitimate MVP candidate, and it's not just because he's averaging 24.6 points and 8.1 assists -- the only player in the NBA in the top 10 in both categories. It also helps that the Bulls are 44-18 and battling Boston and Miami for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
He is trying not to listen to the MVP talk, even as it grows louder as the season winds down. His main focus is helping the Bulls improve, and he hasn't had this feeling since leading Memphis to the final of the 2008 NCAA Tournament in his only college season.
"It's fun, but at the same time, winning takes care of everything," Rose said. "So hopefully we continue to win. If I don't get it [the MVP award] this year, it's still a great year. I can't complain about anything."
He's also starting to think about what he can do to enhance his game going forward. Even with all the accolades this season, Rose is already consumed with how to improve. Before an 87-86 victory Sunday against the Heat, Rose said he still finds flaws in his shooting and "finishing more" at the rim. He also wants to become more knowledgeable as a point guard.
"I still don't know the NBA game as well as I want yet," he said. "I can still improve in a lot of things. No one is perfect in this game."
When Rose went to work in that Los Angeles gym with McClanaghan, Love and Westbrook last summer, he never set out to be perfect. He just wanted to improve, and it's obvious the workouts were effective.
And even if he wins the MVP award or even an NBA title this year, Rose plans to return to the gym next summer to continue to enhance his game. It will be fun to see what happens and how much better he can actually get.