by Ryne Nelson / @slaman10

The spotlight always shines bright on Derrick Rose, even when he’s not playing. It was especially harsh last season when Rose was going through the final, drawn-out stages of his recovery from ACL surgery.

For all his considerable talents, Rose’s greatest strength is quite possibly his ability to tune out the noise. To ignore drama and prove doubters wrong. And that’s exactly what he’s started to do again in ’13-14.

Rose spent the summer in the gym three times a day with longtime trainer Rob McClanaghan. He toured Europe and Asia, during which he made headlines by saying that he thinks he’s the best player in the NBA.

Let us not forget that Rose was once named the NBA’s MVP—at the age of 22—not only for his nightly dominance, but also his ability to lead Chicago and their League-leading defense to a 62-20 record during the ’10-11 season. This is the same man who rescued the Bulls from the Lottery and carried them to the Eastern Conference finals three years later.

This is the same guy who, during his one season at Memphis (NCAA be d**ned), managed to lead a team whose next-best players were Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey to the National Championship game and the most wins in NCAA history. This is the player who won two state championships and lost only 12 games during his four years at Simeon (IL) Academy.

The man is finally back on the court, but is he truly back? Or will he limp through the rest of his career as a shell of his former self?

Based on the six- to eight-minute stretches we’ve seen him play throughout the preseason, all signs indicate that yes, D-Rose has #Returned.

From the moment he drove straight at 7-2, 290-pound Roy Hibbert’s chest with his first shot attempt on October 5, 2013, Rose has been pushing the tempo and attacking the rim like it stole something from him. There has been rust—Rose committed careless turnovers and struggled from the line during his first two pre-season games—but he’s looked completely confident in his movements, unafraid to take contact and says he’s even more explosive than prior to his surgery.

There was the steal against Paul George and a breakaway two-handed jam on October 5. There was the coast-to-coast drive and layup where he outran two Grizzlies to the cup on October 7. There were the 18 first-half points against the Pistons on October 16. The crossover that sent Peyton Siva twirling like a ballerina and the falling flip off the glass over Andre Drummond on that same night at the United Center.

And of course, there was the soreness in his surgically repaired knee that caused Rose to sit out the Bulls’ third pre-season game in Rio against the Wizards on October 12. Whether that was due to, according to Rose, Chicago’s front office being conservative or the beginning of something larger, time can only tell.

And that’s why Rose comes in at only No. 7 in the SLAM Top 50. Our writers believe that Rose is back and will play like his former MVP self during the ’13-14 season, but returning from major knee surgery casts some doubt on how the knee will hold up as the season wears on.

Rose controls his own future—and that of the Bulls. He’ll be asked to lead the team and take over late in games, just as he did last night against Indiana.

In only his fourth game in a year and a half and his only fourth-quarter appearance this preseason, Rose played the final 5:50 and scored 10 points in the last 3:44 to close the game. He finished with a game-high 32 points and 9 assists to go along with 4 rebounds. Rose also showcased a reliable outside jumper—4-7 from the three-point line—against one of the L’s top defensive squads.

With last season’s soap opera thankfully over, Rose, and quite frankly everybody, is ready to put it behind them. A Championship is now all that lies between Rose and a Hall of Fame career.

Where should Derrick Rose rank in the SLAM Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Monta EllisMavsSG5
49Luol DengBullsSF10
48Ricky RubioTWolvesPG14
47Greg MonroePistonsPF12
46Kawhi LeonardSpursSF9
45Mike ConleyGrizzliesPG13
44Al JeffersonBobcatsC9
43David LeeWarriorsPF11
42Jrue HolidayPelicansPG12
41Anthony DavisPelicansPF10
40Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
39Serge IbakaThunderPF9
38Kevin GarnettNetsPF8
37Rudy GayRaptorsSF8
36Paul PierceNetsSF7
35Ty LawsonNuggetsPG11
34Pau GasolLakersPF7
33Al HorfordHawksC8
32Andre IguodalaWarriorsSF6
31Brook LopezNetsC7
30Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF6
29DeMarcus CousinsKingsC6
28Damian LillardBlazersPG10
27Josh SmithHawksSF5
26Joakim NoahBullsC5
25Roy HibbertPacersC4
24John WallWizardsPG9
23Chris BoshHeatC3
22Tim DuncanSpursPF5
21Dirk NowitzkiMavsPF4
20LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF3
19Rajon RondoCelticsPG8
18Marc GasolGrizzliesC2
17Blake GriffinClippersPF2
16Deron WilliamsNetsPG7
15Kevin LoveTWolvesPF1
14Dwyane WadeHeatSG3
13Paul GeorgePacersSF4
12Russell WestbrookThunderPG6
11Tony ParkerSpursPG5
10Stephen CurryWarriorsPG4
9Kyrie IrvingCavsPG3
8Dwight HowardRocketsC1
7Derrick RoseBullsPG2

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.