A few days ago, my colleague and fellow Chasing 23 editor, The NBA Realist, suggested that it was Dwight Howard who might deserve MVP, not Derrick Rose. My first instinct was to think “Rose has had a unbelievable year on a team with the best record on the East. Of course he deserves it.” Then I checked my facts.
And I changed my mind.
There are defining moments in every objective (and even moderately intelligent) basketball fan’s life, that require you to pull away from the hype, and face the reality. The reality is: we would vote for Rose over Lebron James for much the same reasons we voted for Malone over Jordan back in 1997 . It seemed like a really good idea at the time. And trust me on this. In 5 years, it will seem like a terrible idea.
6. The Heat’s record underrates their performance this year.
The Heat started the season at 8-7. If you take away their sluggish start, they have proceeded to tear up the NBA, going 43-16 since, a 60-win pace. This is even more remarkable when you consider that this is a team that lost their “glue” guy, Udonis Haslem, early in the year and has been without another starter, Mike Miller, for 1/2 the year. Additionally, the Heat were almost entirely assembled with new pieces that have never played with each other.
While what Rose and the Bulls have done has been impressive this year, the Heat’s performance has been unfairly criticized and Lebron deserves more credit for holding the ship together than he gets.
5. Lebron is statistically much better than Rose.
Let’s now look at the cold, hard facts. Lebron is simply much more statistically superior to Derrick Rose. Figure 1 below show a comparison through 71 games of the two superstars’ 2010-2011 performance.
Figure 1: Lebron vs. D-Rose – 2011 stats through 71 games.
Lebron clearly has had a more efficient and statistically impressive campaign, averaging 1.6 more points, 3.3 more rebounds, and 0.4 more steals than Rose. Additionally, his FG% is a whopping 6.6% higher than Rose’s. In short, Lebron is able to average more points per game while take almost 1.5 less shots.
Rose takes only two categories. Assists, which he surprisingly only leads by 1.1 apg, and FT%, the least important of the major categories. The sum of all of this is, Lebron’s PER comes in much higher than Rose, at 27.0 vs. 23.5.
Lebron’s statistical dominance is all the more impressive when you consider he is doing it with another alpha dog (D-Wade) on his team.
Not only is Lebron better statistically than Rose, he plays better defense as well. This has been an underrated part of Lebron’s game and he has gotten better with each year he has spent in the league (even earning his own signature defensive move: the “chase-down block” from behind). As such, Lebron often “impacts” more plays for the Heat, than does Rose for the Bulls. While Rose’s defense has improved in his 3rd year under the guidance of Thibodeau, it still isn’t consistent on a night in and night out basis.
3. The Bulls record is as much Tom Thibodeau‘s doing as it is Rose’s.
If you don’t buy this, you haven’t been watching the Bulls. Thibodeau has resuscitated the careers of players like Luol Deng. Left for dead (or at least Carmelo trade bait) just a year ago, Deng has rediscovered his game and actually has shown inklings of defensive desire for the first time in his career. The Bulls’ defense ranks #1 in the NBA, allowing opposing teams to shoot a measly 42.8% from the field, without any particularly strong defensive players outside of Ronnie Brewer and Joakim Noah. This is all Thibodeau’s doing. He has given the Bulls an identity, and if the Spurs continue their collapse, will be NBA Coach of the Year.
On the other hand, Lebron has played most of this season with a coach who is most likely to be fired at the end of the season.
2. If Lebron and Rose switched places, the Bulls would be better off than the Heat.
This is the classic argument. What would happen if the 2 players you’re comparing switched places? Imagine a Bulls team with a starting lineup that included Lebron, Boozer, Noah, and Deng – along with strong role players like Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, and Taj Gibson. It’s a team that could undoubtedly compete for the championship. Now take a Miami team with Rose, Wade, and Bosh and very little else. It’s difficult to argue that they would be better than the Heat currently are, and most likely, would be worse. It’s also likely that Rose would not be the alpha dog on that team, but rather Wade would be.
Stated even simpler, Lebron brings more to the table in either scenario.
1. At the end of the day, one is an All-star, the other is a legend.
Who do you think of when you think of basketball MVPs? Most likely, you think of names like Jordan, Magic, Kareem, Bird, Olajuwon, Kobe, Shaq, etc. These are the elite of the elite. Lebron is so good, we often do, as he likes to say, take him for granted. What other player can average effectively 27-8-7, shoot 50% from the field, lead a brand new team to almost 60 wins with an inexperienced head coach, and get almost no MVP love? If Rose were putting up those numbers, people would talk about him as if he were the second coming.
The problem is, with Lebron, just like Jordan 14 years ago, we expect it. Rose and the Bulls made such a phenomenal leap this year, that it took everyone by surprise. And like lemmings, the media anointed their next best thing. Lebron is a player that, as long as he wins a couple of rings, will definitively be in the top 5 discussion at the end of his career. It’s arguable today whether Rose is even the best player at his position (let’s not so quickly forget Chris Paul‘s runner-up MVP campaign in 2007-8 when he averaged 21-12-4, shot 49% with 3 steals per game).
There is the possibility that D-Rose may at some point evolve into an all-time great point guard, but at this point in his career, that still seems like a long way off. Rose may be an potential heir to the throne, but right now, he is no King.