Derrick Rose, the NBA’s staid, reigning Most Valuable Player has had himself a somewhat unlucky week. On Monday, Rose surprised everyone by finally complaining to officials that he doesn’t receive his fair share of foul calls before getting in a minor fender bender the next day and sitting out a revenge game against the Miami Heat, the team that soundly thrashed the Bulls in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. While his bad week was not of Iversonian proportions as far as bad weeks go, comparatively, Monday’s blotch on Rose’s heretofore unblemished record may indicate an exasperation that’s been festering a long while.
If the NBA were being honest with themselves – which they never, ever are – they would admit their referees are unduly influenced by the grumbling and glowering of those they deem marketable commodities. Many of the league’s stars, off clean misses, look for fouls reflexively, like dropping to the pavement at the backfire of a 30-year-old Coupe de Ville.
Many games are marked by LeBron James lounging with the officials during timeouts, or Kobe Bryant shooting them that “playoff grimace” he practiced for so long in the mirror, or Tim Duncan’s now trademarked bug-eyed look of incredulity.
What makes it so bad: those tantrums work.
Rose, however, is too quiet and reticent for such unrestricted outbursts of emotion. And it may be to his detriment.
Rose is one of the NBA’s most fearless and aggressive attackers – the most daring since Allen Iverson. Rose is a blaze of red on the drive and athletic and strong enough to assault the rim while solidly absorbing contact. Yet, in the 2010-11 season he took less than seven (6.9) trips to the line. When one looks at the ferocity with which Rose plays (Rose attempted 6.3 shots at the rim per game, 2nd among guards only to Dwayne Wade), those numbers don’t entirely line up.
As comparison, the NBA’s other elite guards hit the stripe with regularity despite, often, taking more jumpshots. Kevin Durant shot nearly eight free throws per game but finished at the rim less than four. Kobe Bryant went to the line seven times on three and a half at-rim finishes. LeBron James finished at the rim less than half a percent more than Rose but shoots one and a half more free throws per game. Wade, who led guards with 7.2 FGA at the rim, went to the line 8.6 times per game, and, for him, that was a career low.
This metric, while not a scientifically precise measure of equitable foul calls, provides a general idea that perhaps the officials aren’t giving Rose the respect they extend to the other superstars.
The NBA goes out of its way to protect its stars, the usher them through poor shooting games by putting them on the line, ignoring blatant travels and palms and pretending they have a tear in their contacts when the star commits a foul of his own. Rose is quiet, almost shy and is embarrassingly inarticulate. It’s easy to imagine that nothing goes on behind Rose’s skull besides basketball. He is a man without an outward personality.
And good on him. While LeBron seemingly uses basketball as a means to further his celebrity and Dwight Howard forces a “wacky” and “zany” act in embarrassingly trite NBA on TNT skits, Rose sets about his work impassably, with hard work and humility. While James, Howard and Wade shuck and jived at the All Star game, Rose sat stonily unimpressed, later remarking “there’s a time and place for (dancing).” Basketball, to Rose, no matter how meaningless the game, is serious business.
But, as Rose’s stillness gets him no respect from the officials, it won him the MVP last year with the sportswriters. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve the award – he did – but that the award should to be accompanied by a couple caveats. No player submitted a truly transcendent season in 2010 unless we count LeBron, whose 27/7/7 statline has become so routine we have begun ignoring it. By default, Rose won the award, partly because the Bulls were the most cohesive team and partly, whether they will admit it or not, because Post-Decision, Rose was the Anti-LeBron.
But when it comes down to it, 25.0 PPG 7.7 APG, 3.9 RPG and 1.0 SPG doesn’t strike me as a clear-cut MVP season. It was a very good season, don’t get me wrong, but as far as MVP seasons go, this one would fall short in most years.
I feel as though the sportswriters awarded the MVP to the best player on the best team who didn’t throw a one-hour self-flagellating infomercial telling his old team to fuck off.
Rose’s scoring numbers were great for a point guard (though his assists fall somewhat on the low side), the only points who have scored comparably were Tim Hardaway in the 91-92 season (23.4/10.0/3.8/2.0) and Marbury in 00-01 (23.9/7.6/3.1/1.2). Neither won the MVP that season.
There’s a very high chance I’ll be accused of hating Rose – we’ve entered a period, as a society, where to critique is to hate – but his jersey is the first I’ve purchased since a Penny Hardaway Orlando throwback in 2006 and I would have voted for him to win the MVP last year – due to lack of interest in the race if nothing else.
What I’m saying is that, although he produced an undeniably “good” season, it was not historical in any sense. The greater point being, while Rose’s placidity played a marginal piece in his winning the award, it may also deny him the official’s respect.