Could Derrick Rose Ever Usurp LeBron James' Throne as NBA's Best Player?

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterJuly 29, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 12: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls drives past LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat at the United Center on April 12, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Heat 96-86 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Derrick Rose has never been one for bravado and/or shameless self-promotion. The guy doesn't even approve of dancing at the NBA All-Star Game, for crying out loud!

So when the Chicago Bulls superstar speaks up, people tend to listen—especially when what he says seems, well, audacious.

Like when he told CNN's Pedro Pinto that he's the best player in the NBA right now:

That statement might not have turned quite so many heads, say, two years ago, after Rose was named the league's MVP. But much has happened since then to delay Rose's rise to the top, to say the least. He tore his ACL at the end of the Bulls' first game of the 2012 playoffs and missed the entirety of the 2012-13 season while recovering from the injury.

Meanwhile, LeBron James took home two "trebles" (an NBA MVP, a Finals MVP and a title) while establishing himself as one of the most complete basketball players we've ever seen. He added a post game to his already-extensive repertoire, sharpened his jump shot and saw a team built around him that featured and accentuated his talents like no other.

Even when Rose was the reigning MVP, LeBron was still widely regarded as the best player on the planet. Championship or no, James was (and is) the most dominant force in basketball, with the versatility to impose his will in any number of ways on both ends of the floor.

If anything, James was "robbed" of what would now be an unprecedented streak of five straight MVPs by the way in which public sentiment turned against him following The Decision in 2010. Some measure of voter fatigue was to be expected after LeBron had earned the Association's highest honor during each of his last two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But the ire he drew by spurning his hometown team on national TV while joining an easy-to-hate supersquad in South Beach only hastened the pace with which ballots were dispensed elsewhere. In 2010-11, he posted numbers that, while still superb (26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 51 percent shooting), were, at first glance, a step below those he'd compiled during his penultimate years with the Cavs.

The stats, though, don't explain why James finished third in MVP voting in 2011, behind Rose and Dwight Howard, or why he was listed in first place on just four ballots.

To his credit, James has since done plenty to rehab his image, both on and off the court. Derrick, on the other hand, has worked diligently to rehab his surgically reconstructed knee.

Rose's efforts figure to pay off soon enough. He recently told HoopsHype's Jorge Sierra that he should be ready to go for Chicago's first game of the 2013-14 season (against LeBron's Heat, per Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel). In fact, Rose plans to play well before that: during the Bulls' preseason trip to Rio de Janeiro for the first-ever NBA game in Brazil.

Chances are, Rose will need some time to get re-acclimated to the pace and style of play with which he'll be faced after what will, at that point, have been nearly 18 months away. He'll have to work himself back into proper "basketball shape" and trust his body after being let down the last time he took to the court.

And, like an infant learning to crawl before it can walk and walking before it can run, Rose will have to get back up to speed before he can focus on improving his game to the point of being the best player in basketball.

When last we saw him, Rose was an outstanding athlete who put himself in harm's way at nearly every turn—whether driving through the paint, attacking the rim, crashing the glass or setting up a teammate off the dribble. He does everything with tremendous intentionality, to the point of potentially injurious expense.

Not surprisingly, then, some of the more finesse aspects of his game remain in need of refinement. Last we saw him, Rose still turned the ball over a tad too frequently (3.1 per game in 2011-12, 2.9 per game for his career) and didn't shoot sharply enough from the perimeter for an All-Star point guard (.312 from three in 2011-12, .310 for his career).

It's possible, then, that his knee injury will prove to be a blessing in disguise. A renewed concern for his health and well-being may push Rose to work on changing speeds, a la Chris Paul, rather than going full-bore all the time, as a means of moving through space and manipulating his on-court circumstances.

Likewise, the need to go easy on his knee over the past year-and-a-half has probably given him plenty of time to get up shots in the gym. Shots that, if they start going in more frequently during live game action, will make him that much more of an all-around threat and, in turn, open up the rest of the floor for his off-the-bounce forays.

But we don't know how much of that (if any) we'll see from Rose right away or at any point thereafter. For now, we can't even assume he'll be the same scoring point guard with a fearless/reckless style (and a wonky jump shot) who averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists during his last full (read: non-injury-plagued) season in 2010-11.

(Remember: Rose missed 27 games in 2011-12 due to myriad lower body injuries, some of which may have contributed to the ACL tear.)

That's not to say that he won't regain his form in due time or that he won't improve. He doesn't turn 25 until early October, which, hypothetically, means that the prime years of his basketball career are still ahead of him.

As such, the prospect of D-Rose being the best player in the NBA at some point isn't far-fetched. As great as LeBron is and has been for some time, he's unlikely to remain the same superhuman for more than, say, the next five years or so, if that. He's approaching his 29th birthday, with 10 years of NBA service already under his belt.

And not just any 10 years. We're talking 10 years of driving the lane, getting hacked at every turn and absorbing all manner of punishment along the way.

Especially against Rose's Bulls.

At some point, all of that—along with the expected wear and tear of playing deep into the postseason, as LeBron has since 2006 and will continue to for the foreseeable future—will be brought to bear on his seemingly unbreakable body. 

When that day will arrive is anybody's guess.

For Rose, the competition for "top dog" in the NBA won't come from LeBron alone. Rather, it will be with the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, Paul George and still-amateur youngsters like Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle that he will have to contend.

He can hope that LeBron will tail off, even if James' career arc and skill development suggest he'll be relevant at an elite level well into his 30s. He can also hope that the up-and-comers don't overshadow him too quickly.

Or, better yet, Derrick Rose can do what he's always done: outwork everyone and expand his own game to the point where he can't be ignored among the greatest of his contemporaries.

With or without the bravado.