March 24, 2011
Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy thinks the voting for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award has more or less wrapped up. He thinks there isn't much of a contest between Chicago's Derrick Rose(notes) and his personal most valuable player in Dwight Howard(notes). Here's what he told ESPN's Chris Sheridan on Wednesday:
"I don't think it's wide open. The media seems to have made their decision, and they're the ones that vote. So I think it's over. I mean, I just listen and read. I think it's over. Derrick Rose has it. I haven't really read or heard a media guy who is going another way at this point. I'd be shocked if he doesn't win it."
A simple scroll through the cable dial and a 10-minute surf on the web amongst your typical NBA columnist-types will prove Van Gundy correct. Sure, he's whining, but even in the hours before this quote hit the Interweb, I did the same math in my head whilst discussing the award on Twitter. Who will turn in votes for Dwight Howard next month?
I certainly would vote for Dwight Howard, if events conspire and a vote comes my way. Certainly David Steele and Matt Guokas, Orlando's broadcasting team, would -- and that wouldn't be a case of homerism gone wrong. Those two are the favorite broadcasting duo amongst the NBA set that values advanced statistics. Local Orlando columnists? They'd vote for Howard, and it probably would be homerism gone wrong.
The rest of the voting population? Van Gundy is right. This story is over. Derrick Rose is your 2010-11 NBA MVP.
It isn't hard to see why. Rose's Chicago Bulls are the best story in the NBA. Several statistical metrics rank this team as the best team in the NBA. And even if the Bulls were on their way to a .500 record, a short study of the team's locker room would have even the most cynical NBA scribe lauding this team as the best team in the NBA. This group cares for each other, plays selflessly, and Rose is the unchecked leader in that clubhouse.
His production aides in the presentation. He's around 25 points and eight assists per game. His 3-point shooting has taken off this year, and though he hasn't been consistently on the mark from deep, Rose is making long-range bombs at the league-average mark, a clear step up from his first two years. His defense has improved, and his team has the best record in what is the toughest top-heavy Eastern Conference in memory.
Laud the man. Applaud the man. Rest of the NBA? Fear the man.
There is a problem, though. Derrick Rose isn't the NBA's most valuable player. He'll win the Most Valuable Player award, but he's not the biggest reason Chicago is tops in the East.
He's the biggest reason the Bulls are the best story in the NBA, which is the largest driving force behind most award votes. But the Bulls are on pace to rule the Eastern Conference mainly ("mainly," geesh … completely) because they've jumped from 11th in points allowed per possession last season to tops overall this year. The team has gone from 18th in offense to 12th this year, not an insignificant jump in the slightest, but the real story behind these Bulls lies in the heart of that defensive improvement.
And Rose, we're sorry, is not the reason for that jump. The team's new coach, Tom Thibodeau, is. With myriad other factors (Luol Deng's(notes) health, the additions of Omer Asik(notes), C.J. Watson(notes), Keith Bogans(notes) and Ronnie Brewer(notes), Rose's own on-ball improvements) contributing to this massive uptick.
The fact that Derrick Rose is averaging around 25 points and eight assists, while impressive, ranks so, so far down the list of reasons why the Chicago Bulls are where they're at. He's the top offensive performer in the 12th-ranked offense. He is just one of many fine cogs behind the top-ranked defense, which has the Bulls atop the East. Listing him as the main reason for Chicago's success would be missing the point. This is a team accomplishment, and an individual award should not be used to recognize that.
Team accomplishments should. The NBA doesn't have to recognize Rose's brilliance with anything beyond what he and his team will probably earn -- namely, the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The league isn't beholden to Rose simply because he's the best player on what might be the best team in the NBA. And the group that votes on the MVP award isn't beholden to Rose simply because he's the best player on the best story in the NBA. Though they'll clearly vote that way.
This won't be a terrible miss, handing the MVP to Rose and passing over Dwight Howard. Rose's all-around play and leadership abilities make him a worthy MVP candidate, and Howard is not without fault. Defending MVP LeBron James(notes) misses that party mainly because of his failures this season in terms of leadership and clutch play. With a bit of creativity and less passive/aggressive posturing, James could have led his Miami Heat to the best record in the NBA. Instead, he fell back on bad habits and dribbled that MVP award away.
No, it'll go to Rose, and it won't be the most misplaced MVP award in NBA history. But as he lifts that trophy above his head, likely a month from now as the Bulls ready themselves to take on the Indiana Pacers in the second game of their playoff run, understand what the hardware represents.
It will be a recognition of his team, at least to the people who have been paying attention to Chicago's rise to the ranks of the superior. Rose is the leader of a group that plays bigger than its paper, its station and its individual abilities. He'll be the NBA's MVP, while working with a team that doesn't even have a most valuable player.
Stan Van Gundy is right, because the votes have already been cast. But appreciated the right way? We can all get behind Derrick Rose as the MVP.