A couple of months ago I tackled the question of what it takes to be an MVP. It was an exploration of how former MVPs had ranked in terms of four important categories: PER, Team Wins, Points Per Game and Win Shares. At the time, Derrick Rose was heating up as the MVP favorite and I wanted to dive into the numbers to see if he had a legitimate shot at the MVP.
Looking at where the majority of MVP winners had ranked in those four categories over the years and where Rose was this year, I concluded that Rose couldn’t or probably shouldn’t win this years MVP. I didn’t rule it out as a possibility (Steve Nash won back-to-back MVPs win far worse rankings) but I certinly didn’t think Rose was the odds on favorite. The main reason I didn’t think Rose had a good shot at the MVP was because he was hurting in the one major category voters look at: Team Wins.
Flash forward two months and a healthy Chicago Bulls team is now in sole possession of first place of the Eastern Conference. Rose has been sensational this season, improving almost every single statistical category and leading a team who finished .500 last season to a 50-19 record. The ESPN-hype machine is pushing it’s Derrick Rose propaganda and Madison Avenue is about to turn into a river from all the drool from Derrick Rose’s fan club. If Rose wasn’t the MVP favorite two months ago, he sure is now.
And I can understand that. He is the leader of this team, both on paper and in our eyes. He has the swagger, the stats and the highlights. But the fact remains that Rose doesn’t lead the league in a single stat. In fact, he doesn’t even make the top five in any metric. Not in points per game, assists per game nor steals per game. Even in the advanced stats, like PER and Win Shares , Rose is a very good player, but not a top 5 performer.
The one number that does stand out is the wins. The Bulls have crawled their way up to the #1 seed in the East and that’s no small accomplishment. For this reason alone, Bulls fans are ecstatic. The rambunctious Chicago fan base is hungry for another Michael Jordan and more importantly, the championships that Jordan brought and for that, they are hopeful that if they have the MVP, the rings will follow. I can understand all of that, and I do.
Rose is certainly a top flight MVP candidate. But I’m still not convinced that he deserves the MVP. Let’s take a look at where Rose ranks among other MVP candidates:
The chart above tracks PER, Team Wins, Win Share, Win Share Per 48MP and Points Per Game. All the data came from basketball-reference.com and is as recent as 3-24-2011. I decided to include Win Shares Per 48 MP (WS/48) this time around because some guys had missed time yet contributed greatly when active and WS alone doesn’t account for that.
When you glance at the chart above, you notice a few things. The most glaring is that Rose isn’t in the top five in a single category except for Team Wins. Total wins is a funny category to me when considering the MVP race since it is a Team accomplishment that plays a major role in determining an individual award, but that’s a topic for a different time. Like I mentioned earlier, the MVP award has no clear cut rules or stipulations. Is it the best player in the NBA, the player most valuable to their team, the best player on the best team or a combination of all three? We don’t know exactly what constitutes an MVP and no one will come out and explain it. I guess the NBA front office loves ambiguity.
What we do know is how players have been selected before. Again, looking back at Part.I of this MVP debate, we saw that Team Wins and PER have been heavily favored in MVP voting. Typically, the player that finished with the best Win Shares usually takes home the NBA’s MVP award. In the last 20 years, 13 times has someone finished #1 in Win Shares and won the MVP. 12 times, they have had the best record in the NBA and 9 times, they have led the league in PER. Points Per Game has been the worst determining factor, only 6 times has the MVP also led the NBA in scoring and only twice if you take Michael Jordan out of the equation. Now looking at the chart above, Rose is not #1 in a single category. He ranks 10th in PER, 7th in PPG, 2nd in Team Wins, and 15th in WS/48.
A Rose By A Different Name:
I’m not so sure Rose is the best point guard in the NBA, let alone the best player. His game has been nearly identical to Russell Westbrook’s this year. Rose has the advantage in some stats and Russ leads in others, but overall, it would be hard to tell who was who. Take a look at this chart below and tell me which player is Rose and which is Westbrook:
Difficult, right? Player A is Rose and Player B is Westbrook. The real difference between the two has been the overall team records and the public perception. Russell plays in a tiny market in a division that houses 4 playoff bound teams amidst a very difficult Western Conference. Westbrook also has the label of sidekick to Superstar Durant. It’s not his fault he’s been mislabeled and this season he’s been more of a 1b than a #2. On top of all this, OKC had some success last season and the team is seen as better overall when compared to the Bulls, but that’s a misnomer.
The Bulls have a great team this year mainly due to the various additions from the off-season. The addition of offensive players like Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver have helped Rose out by giving him viable options on Pick’N'Rolls or Drive-N-Dishes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the addition of C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer has turned the Bulls into a defensive juggernaut. Many maintain that Rose carried this team while Boozer and Joakim Noah missed a combined 50 games this season and for that he should be rewarded. But this makes little sense to me. While both Boozer and Noah missed long stretches of the season, Rose has always had a combination of either Boozer and Luol Deng or Noah and Deng. I think many have severely underrated Deng’s contributions for the season. He’s putting up nearly 18 points, 6 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game this year and has been a wrecking ball on the defensive end. All of this from Chicago’s 3rd or 4th option. Another thing people are forgetting is that Chicago hasn’t been on top of the East more than a week now. When Booz or Noah were out, the Bulls were somewhere between 4th and 3rd. Only when they had their full roster did they blossom into a championship contender, but the general rhetoric around the blogosphere makes it seem like the Bulls have been #1 despite their injuries and it’s all due to Rose.
Looking at the similarities between the two players brings up an interesting question that Tom Ziller tackled this morning; If Rose and Westbrook switched teams, would Westbrook be the odds-on favorite to win the MVP? I think so, only because Chicago’s roster and coaching staff is better than Oklahoma City.
The Bulls Are A Defensive Team:
A few other factors that hurt Rose are the fact that his greatest contribution to the Bulls comes on the offensive end, yet the Bulls aren’t winning because of their offense. last year, the Bulls ranked 27th overall in ORtg, scoring 103.5 points scored per 100 possessions. This year they rank 13th with a mark of 108.0. An improvement, sure, but they are still, no one is mistaking this Rose lead offense as a high octane machine. The Bulls have been winning because of their defense. Their DRtg jumped from 105.3 (11th) last season to 99.9 this season, the best in the NBA. This jump is attributed to the additions of great defenders to the roster and the defensive mastermind behind the Boston Celtics recent championship run, head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Measuring for defense is a difficult task since no real reliable metric exists. But we do have some decent ways to calculate for defense and one of those is Adjusted +/-. Overall, Rose is a +8.46 for the season. That means that the Bulls outscore opponents by 8.46 points when Rose is on the court. That mark is better than both Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant but worse than LeBron James and his own teammate, Luol Deng. This figure seems to back up how good Rose has been, but when we pull back the curtain, we see that without Rose, Chicago has been just as good, just different. With Rose off the court, Chiacgo still outscores opponents by a margin of 7.56 points per game but it’s not because their offense keeps firing at a ORtg of 110, it’s their defense that takes over. With Rose out of the game, the Bulls only allow 92.6 points per 100 possessions. That mark is not only incredible, it’s the best in the NBA. This is mainly because Brewer, Gibson, Watson all do a superb job in executing Thibodeau’s defensive schemes. It’s not part of the reason the Bulls are 51-19 and in first, it is THE reason why.
Stacheketball contributor Jason Frazier made a good point in our email round table about this topic: “Answer this: Is Rose a first-team All-NBA guy? I don’t think so. Bron, Dwight, Dirk, Kobe, Wade. I think there is little debate that Kobe and Wade have been better than Rose, although you could argue for another forward if you wanted (Durant, Love), but I’d still go with those 5. If a guy isn’t clearly All-NBA, can he be the MVP?”
It’s a great question and one that I think should carry some weight. If Rose isn’t a sure fire All-NBA First Team guy, how can he be the MVP? I’m not sure if Rose will or will not be voted into the All-NBA 1st team but that doubt alone should be enough to question the idea of him as MVP. Another thought that always runs through my head is who would I want playing for my team right now. If you could build your own Dream Team around one guy in the NBA right now, not accounting for age, potential, or future accomplishments, who would it be? Would you really take Rose over LeBron or Dwight right now? Would you take Rose over Wade or Kobe? i’m not sure I would and I’m not sure most non-Chicago fans would, either.
At this point, no one can stop the Rose-4-MVP stamped. It’s almost a lock, but the question I have is “Is he deserving?”. I’m not sure I want to say yes. So, if Rose isn’t worthy, who is? It’s a though questions to answer and we’ll get to it in Part. III of the 2010-11 MVP discussions. In the meantime, you can find Part.I here.
(Photo via Yahoo! Sports by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Shane is a contributor to Stacheketball.com, LarryBrownSports.com & NBAoffseason.com. You can find him babbling about basketball all over the net or tune in as he tweets nonsense on twitter @Suga_Shane.