Derrick Rose is a former NBA MVP, but after so many years and so many injuries, his inclusion among the finalists for a league-wide award has been among the most unexpected developments of the Knicks’ rejuvenation this season.
Rose, acquired from the Pistons for little-used guard Dennis Smith Jr. and a second-round draft pick in February, was named Thursday as a finalist for the Sixth Man of the Year award, alongside two Jazz players, guard Jordan Clarkson, the favorite, and forward Joe Ingles.
“It means something, but at the same time I’m just happy, I’m more happy with being in the playoffs, to be honest,” Rose said on a Zoom call after practice Friday. “Being in that category, being a finalist, that shows that when I came here, I guess I did my job.
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“Just playing as hard as I could, trying to be that vet role that’s on a team. I guess my play was up to par with everyone that ends up being in the finals [of the voting]. It’s cool, but it’s more cool like I said, being in the playoffs. Missed it for the last couple of years. Being back here, being in a market like this, it means a lot.”
Rose has appeared in 46 postseason games, second only to backup center Taj Gibson (66) on the largely inexperienced Knicks. But his teams reached the playoffs only once over the previous five seasons, a first-round loss with Minnesota in 2018.
That Timberwolves team was coached by Tom Thibodeau, for whom Rose also played with Chicago from 2010-16.
The 32-year-old Rose, the league MVP with the Bulls in 2011, has made a wide-ranging impact on the Knicks since arriving for his second stint with the team (also 2016-17). He averaged 14.9 points, 4.2 assists and 26.8 minutes in 35 games, coming off the bench in all but three of those appearances.
Rose has a chance to become the Knicks’ fourth winner of the Sixth Man award, joining Anthony Mason in 1994-95, John Starks in 1996-97 and J.R. Smith in 2012-13, the year of the team’s most recent postseason appearance.
“Anytime he’s been healthy, he’s played well,” Thibodeau said of Rose. “I felt that I had a good understanding of who he is and what he means to a team. Whether he was the MVP of the league or he was playing with me in Minnesota, he’s always been a team-first guy. His teammates have always loved him. I thought getting the right veteran leaders here was going to be important for us to build a foundation.”
To that end, the Knicks posted a 24-11 record in the 35 games in which Rose played. Younger teammates, such as rookie Immanuel Quickley — his frequent backcourt mate on the second unit — regularly praise the advice and example the 13-year veteran has provided.
“This will be the first time for a lot of the players on the team. So for all of us to be in this position, it means a lot,” Rose said. “I’ve been there a few times at an early age and just the butterflies that you get, the excitement, the anxiety — just everything that comes with playing your first playoff game in a series, it’s cool to see. It’s cool to be in this fight.”