Stan Van Gundy is right — Derrick Rose is going to win the MVP award this year. He has everybody including Michael Jordan’s endorsement. Influential media members are lining up behind him.
The question is: Does he deserve it? Or, more accurately, do others deserve it more?
You can make a good argument for Rose — he is the team leader and best player on the Chicago Bulls, the team that right now is (and very possibly at the end of the season will be) the top seed in the East. His ability to get to the rim and finish — through at times impossibly small spaces — is the best in the league. He carries the Bulls offense averaging 24.9 points and 7.8 assists per game. And where would the Bulls be without him?
But the argument against Rose — and really for others — goes like this: What makes Chicago great is their defense, and Rose is not an integral part of that (the Bulls defense gets better when Rose goes off and C.J. Watson comes on). Rose is integral to their offense, but the Bulls offense is 13th in the league (in points per possession). It’s average, it’s not efficient. Rose averages 24.9 points per game but he has to take 20.2 shots per game to get there.
Basically, this is the 2001 Allen Iverson wins MVP scenario all over again, argues Neil Paine over at Basketball-Reference.
All told, Rose and Iverson’s MVP campaigns are almost eerily similar. Each player was worth approximately 6-7 points of on-court offensive rating above average for a middling offensive team, and each was essentially an average defender on a very strong defensive squad. Each man’s role was to carry the offense (almost single-handedly — with apologies to Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, & Aaron McKie) and let his surrounding role players handle their defensive duties.
Iverson’s 2001 Sixers team made the NBA finals. Bulls fans would welcome a similar outcome.
The guy who will come in second in the MVP balloting this season is Dwight Howard, but statistics and Stan Van Gundy say he is more deserving. (To be up front, if I had a vote this would be my guy.) He is averaging 23.1 points and 14.2 rebounds a game shooting 60 percent (Rose is 44 percent), but he is also the primary reason the Magic are an elite defensive team. He is integral to everything the Magic do. Where are the Magic without Howard?
But the Magic will be the four seed, the Bulls will be the one seed. That influences people. So does the fact that Rose makes plays with real flair and style, much more so than Howard. Much like Iverson used to.
But if you’re going to consider Rose the MVP, then you also have to consider Russell Westbrook, since they have about the same stats and impact on the game, argues Tom Ziller at SB Nation.
The basic per-game statistics for Rose and Westbrook are seriously similar. Rose averages 24.9 points and 7.8 assists per game; Westbrook is at 22.2 and 8.3. Each shoots 44 percent from the floor and a touch below average — 34 percent for Rose, 33 percent for Westbrook — from long-range. Westbrook draws almost eight free throws a game and shoots them quite well; Rose draws seven FTs on average, and shoots them quite well. Westbrook averages 4.6 rebounds per game; Rose, 4.2. Westbrook gives up 3.9 turnovers, Rose 3.4. Just under two steals for Westbrook, just more than one for Rose.
Use advanced metrics and the same numbers play out, maybe Rose is a little better than Westbrook but not much. And if so, why is Rose the runaway winner and Westbrook not even considered? Ziller’s argument is that Rose is the MVP because he has a good narrative — we like the resurgence of the Bulls (we really do), we like that he has stepped up to be the leader on that team and improved his game. We like what he and the Bulls symbolize — hard work and defense — in a season that was supposed to be about the Miami Heat and their egos, about Carmelo Anthony and his trade demands.
But is that what MVP should be about, Ziller asks?
If you’re handing your support to Rose without considering Westbrook and the others strongly, know that you’re not awarding the Most Valuable Player trophy, you’re awarding a kindergarten gold star for a totally awesome story or the Man Booker prize or something. Awarding MVP trophies based on warm fuzzies should be reserved for youth soccer, not the highest levels of sport.
LeBron James is the two-time defending MVP and is putting up monster numbers again. Dirk Nowitzki gets overlooked but he is having a huge year and the Mavericks are in the thick of things in the West. Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant can and should be in the discussion.
And that’s my issue — that this discussion seems over. Rose is the guy. When he wins it will not be some great travesty of justice — he has had a good season on a very good team. But there are better choices to be considered.