I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but I’ve been shocked by the uniformity of opinion when it comes to this year’s MVP race. Everyone seems to think that Derrick Rose is either most deserving, or has built so much momentum that resistance is futile. Rose’s MVP buzz reached it’s zenith a couple weeks ago, and by now most are fastened low and snug across the waist into the Derrick Rose bandwagon. The Chicago point guard is having a great season, but the problem for me is that some other guys are too.
Shouldn’t there be some robust debate as to whether Rose is more deserving than LeBron James, who is again posting the league’s best statistical season for the only team in the top five in defensive and offensive efficiency?
Or what about Dwight Howard, who is a more efficient and nearly as prolific a scorer as Rose, while pulling in 14 rebounds and somehow leading the Magic to a top five defensive team despite the absence of a single teammate who is an even average defender?
I’m not asking for everyone to abandon Rose-mania, but to at least offer some opposition, some debate, something that will squelch my sense that Rose’s less than airtight MVP campaign is nothing more than a PR buoyed Titanic.
Here’s an outline of the debate I’ve been having in my head. Let’s start with the leakiest beam on the Cruise Ship MVP Rose:
Pro: Rose has gone from a very poor shooter to one with the mechanics and confidence to consistently hit jumpshots from all over the court. Coupled with an ultra explosive first step, Rose now has the ability to create a viable shot opportunity at any time, and from almost anywhere. This kid worked hard, rounded out his game considerably, and is now an unstoppable force. This is really important on his team, because with the exception of the oft-injured Carlos Boozer, they don’t have another reliable shot-creator.
Con: Rose is still, at best, a slightly above average shooter. Amongst comparable shot-creating wings, Rose shoots a lower percentage from beyond the arc than LeBron, and his overall field goal percentage of 43.9% is lower than Kobe Bryant, Monta Ellis, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. He’s a more efficient offensive player than he was, and his work should be widely lauded, but he’s still more Monta Ellis than Dwyane Wade. While LeBron benefits from more talented teammates this season, last year he put up even better numbers with worse teammates.
Pro: But, you dolt, Rose’s constant probing of the defense also creates tip-ins and other positive ancillary plays that, even beyond his 8 assists per game, help his team put up points. Also, Rose creates a greater percentage of his team’s points than any other player. Let me spell it out: he is a one man offense on the league’s best team.
Con: Then, my hard fact avoiding friend, why are the Bulls, who have at least as much talent as say, the Nuggets, Jazz or Suns, rank behind those teams and half the league in offensive efficiency? Rose is a volume scorer. Howard, on the other hand, is scoring just 1.8 points less on 7 fewer shots. He draws more fouls, and dominates the paint, making life much, much easier for his limited offensive teammates. If LeBron doesn’t seem as vital on the offensive end as Rose, don’t let the work Howard does off the ball, screening, sealing, fool you into think he’s idle. Also, according to Synergy, Howard scores more reliably out of isolation, and the hockey assists generated from his post-ups are an enormous part of a good offense.
Pro: Well, those teams have more efficient offensive systems. The Bulls offense has looked much better since they’ve spread the ball around with Boozer and Noah healthy, keep in mind his best teammates have been his most injured. I don’t know about those isolation statistics, because they don’t factor in all the great things that happen with Rose penetrates. And Rose makes huge plays at the end of games on offense, remember than jumper he hit after shaking down Dwyane Wade on March 6?
Con: There’s no denying Rose has played big in big games. But his team’s defense has played pretty damn well too. Despite his size, quickness, and vastly improved appetite for defensive effort, Rose is still not impacting the game defensively like James or Howard. The Bulls’ defensive scheme, like the Celtics, is built on the shoulders of their big men. When Rose is off the court, the Bulls play better D. The Magic design their entire defense around Howard’s ability to protect the paint, and James impacts the game by rebounding and making more plays off the ball than Rose.
Pro: Give me a break. You’re going on Rose’s old rep as a loose defender. He’s an emotional leader on the court for a team that plays together, on defense, better than any team in the league. Plus, the vaunted Howard’s raw defensive plus minus is actually negative. Pure statistics may not back it up, but Rose’s commitment to improving himself and holding himself accountable on that end is a big part of why the Bulls are where they are. Also, the Bulls have the most wins. He’s their best player. Why are we debating this?
Con: From an emotional storyline perspective, there’s no competition with Rose. He is, by all accounts, a genuinely great guy. He’s even “overcome his athleticism” by becoming a reasonably skilled shooter. But if this award is for the best player, it should go to James, and if it’s for the player who most improves and impacts his team, it should go to Howard. The “just wins” argument reduces the Bull’s brilliant bench and a winning defensive philosophy to the periphery. It’s a rhetorical strategy that obscures the actual individual impact of individual players. Also, his team only has two more wins than LeBron’s.
Pro: Your face is reductive. Rose is the kind of young star the NBA should be cultivating. Basketball is about heart, and no one plays with more heart and embodies the spirit of leadership more than Rose. He’s this season’s MVP, just ask his teammates. To ignore this fact would go in the face of decades of evidence that facilitating positive team chemistry yields cold hard wins.
Con: Fascinating. So I assume we’re glossing over Win Shares? What about how LeBron (5) and Howard (5) have both won more Player of the Weeks than Rose (2)? And unlike his primary competition, Rose has yet to win a Player of the Month award. If Rose is a better teammate than LeBron (likely) and Howard (maybe), does that propel him past their superior seasons? Also, your face reeks of Sauerkraut and sausage.
Pro: Well my skeptical, darkhearted friend, if they were better teammates, maybe their teams would have more wins. Like, more than the Bulls. Good vibes matter. As LeBron said, Karma’s a bitch!
Con: (taking deep breaths…) Whatever, as long as everyone is clear that he’s not the best player, as defined by having the most positive impact on his team’s season.
Pro: Pfshhfft! Most wins, best team, best player. MVP.
Indescribable sounds are uttered. Blood vessels burst from temples. Fists are brandished menacingly…
For the record, my vote, cast into the internet’s invisible ocean, goes to Dwight Howard. Today, anyways.