Every player who has ever won the NBA's Most Valuable Player award has had that one season in which he makes the leap.
He goes from being a perennial All-Star candidate or All-Star player to one of the league's elite players. He becomes the man. Karl Malone, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki have all done it.
For Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, that season is now.
All you needed to do was see Rose play in person against the Jazz on Wednesday night to realize the leap is in progress. He's more explosive this season and more confident. He can score with anyone in the league and he carried the Bulls to victory. He had 29 points and seven assists — compared to 11 points and 12 assists for Deron Williams.
Carlos Boozer was the Bulls' next highest scorer against the Jazz with 14 points. That was no problem for Rose because he has been accustomed to carrying Chicago in certain games. In an 82-77 win over Dallas last month, he had 26 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. No other Bulls player scored in double figures in that game. Boozer sat out against the Mavericks, which I know, is shocking.
"He's been playing like that the whole season," Boozer said of Rose's performance against the Jazz. "It's why we keep chanting his name for MVP because he's been phenomenal all year."
He's been phenomenal despite Chicago being hampered by injuries. Boozer has missed 18 games this season and Joakim Noah hasn't played since mid-December because of a hand injury. The Bulls, entering Saturday's game against the Hornets, are 35-16 and have their best team since Michael Jordan left the organization.
Best player, too, in Rose. He'll be the first Bull to start in the All-Star Game since 1998.
"He's been playing really well," former Jazzman and current Bulls guard Ronnie Brewer said. "We've had a lot of guys go down with injury. He's kind of carried us. Whenever we've needed a go-to guy he's been that for us. To me, in my eyes, he is (the MVP)."
Rose, in his third season, has grown in all areas this season. All of his stats are up from last year as he averages 24.7 points, 8.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. He has also improved at reading situations and knowing when to attack and when to get his teammates involved.
Rose's ascension can probably be traced to the summer when he played for Team USA in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. He showed he deserved to be mentioned among the league's best players, and his confidence grew from the experience.
"I think that (playing for Team USA) helps anyone," Jerry Sloan said prior to coaching his final game for the Jazz. "He's a hard worker. He's having a terrific year."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose's hard work is why he keeps getting better. Rose was the league's Rookie of the Year two seasons ago. He was named to his first All-Star team as a reserve last year.
"I think it's his drive," Thibodeau said of what's made Rose better this season. "I think he's never satisfied. He always wants to do better. He wants the team to do better. He works extremely hard at his game. He gets there early, he stays late. He practices hard. He studies. He prepares. I think he'll continually get better throughout his career."
I brought up the subject of winning the MVP with Rose after the Bulls practiced in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. I asked if he's paying attention to all the people that say he's the leading candidate to win the MVP this season.
"I could care less," Rose said. "Right now, I'm just trying to win. We lost two in a row (before the Bulls played Utah). There's a lot of great players out there playing great basketball right now."2 comments on this story
Rose is the MVP of the NBA so far this season, and here's another reason why. He has helped the Bulls rally from 13 fourth-quarter deficits and win each of those games this season. And just as impressively, he never let the Jazz retake the lead in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's game in front of a hostile crowd and against another great player in Williams.
After a little more discussion, Rose admitted that winning an MVP would be a nice honor.
"Hopefully I'll get it, but if not I'm just happy with the way we're playing right now," Rose said. "We're playing good. The city is happy for us. We can't complain."