I'm struggling with this, and instead of trying to act tough and act certain when I am not, I'll just have to walk through the process with you.
Derrick Rose was great this season, and I won't blink or raise a hackle when he pulls in the ROY award in a few weeks. But I saw two rookies that played better basketball than him this season, consistently better basketball, and their names are Kevin Love and Brook Lopez.
And then I go off to the stats, in order to give myself some way to get back on the Rose bandwagon, to convince myself that this is just excitement over seeing two 20-year old bigs who are actually playing damn well on both ends this early in their careers, and ... yep. The stats are better.
Per-minute, of course. Because it has to be that way. Because both Timberwolves coaches saw fit to keep Love needlessly on the bench for long stretches when his play or stamina or foul count didn't demand it. It's as if they assumed he was going to be overmatched or in foul trouble or out of breath, even though that wasn't the case, and they benched him anyway. Same with Lopez, in New Jersey. Lawrence Frank did wonders with that team, and yet he constantly kept him on a 30-minute leash as if he had to be treated like Mark Prior.
Vinny Del Negro has gotten a lot of flack this season, and he did tend to go away from Rose for some fourth quarter stretches (whether Kirk Hinrich was outplaying him or not) before John Paxson set him straight, but credit the Bulls coach for starting Rose right away and playing him big minutes. Sometimes, for too long. I still get uneasy thinking about a game against Miami in March that saw Rose playing garbage minutes in a decided game two days after missing a contest with a bum wrist that is still taped up.
And I've been doing this all year. And I've been questioning myself all year. And I've been thinking about a post like this, all year. I mean that. And it's April, and the minutes situation never changed, and the production problem never changed. And the same conversation I've had for a couple of months about the relative merits of being a big man or a point guard (I just had it again with Skeets earlier this afternoon) hasn't changed. Yes, playing point guard is tougher, but the gulf is too big between the point guard and big men here for me to go with the point guard given his extra PG credit.
Also, I'm up against the crazy. This is what Ric Bucher said last week:
"This may be the best rookie debut from a basketball IQ standpoint that we've seen since Magic [Johnson]."
What? Magic Johnson's rookie year was 1979-80, and though I've only been obsessing over this league since 1987 or so, I think there have been some pretty solid basketball IQs from rookies in the years since that. Michael Jordan's was pretty good, for instance.
Snark aside, I saw Steve Nash play more than a few times in his rookie year. The absolute first game I saw him in, I was blown away by his ability to get into open areas, find a shot, or find a teammate. I was thinking Kevin Johnson meets John Stockton from the MINUTE I saw him play the first time, knowing nothing about him then, and not making a lame KJ comparison because of his Suns uniform, or stupid Stockton comparison because of his skin color. Rose absolutely slays me in just about every game I've seen him play -- the Bulls are my team, remember -- but I don't get that same feeling with him.
And that's no slight on Derrick, who is 20 freakin' years old. But I thought the "better Tony Parker" mentions were apt. There's no shame in that. He reminds me of Rod Strickland meets Tony Parker times 2.5. And that's ... OK. He doesn't have to rule the world.
The idea about Rose carrying the Bulls until the trade deadline brought them Brad Miller and John Salmons? It's bunk. Ben Gordon, who I'm often very cross with, was this team's best player. If one person was "carrying" Chicago to the 24-30 record they had at the All-Star break, it was BG.
Again, think about what all this honesty means to me. Rose is my hometown team's absolute savior ... AND HE'S FROM MY HOME TOWN! His game is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, at times. I can tell, like Nash, that this guy truly loves playing the game. You know how? Among other things, his left-handed dribble. He brings the ball up with his left hand 80 percent of the time, up to 90 now that his right wrist is throbbing. That's the sign of someone who is having fun. Someone who is creating a little game within the game.
I noticed this in October, and I've been in love with his game ever since. My Dad has been in love with it since halfway through last year's college basketball season, and I haven't heard him gush about a player like this since ... well, I'll stop. And this was well before we knew he was to take the court in red and black. I walk away from the TV while watching Bulls games just speechless, sometimes. Shaking my head. At a loss for words. And my word count is pretty high. I haven't been able to do that -- for good reasons, mind you -- since Jordan retired. That's enough to tattoo his name on my cat.
But Lopez and Love played better this year. And it's not their faults that their teams aren't in the playoffs. Kevin Love didn't coach the Timberwolves, and he didn't tear Al Jefferson's ACL. Brook Lopez can't play center and power forward for the Nets. Team accomplishments, in an individual award, are impossibly silly, because individuals can't control the play of others. They can only handle their own. All three held their own this year, two tended to hold it a little better than Derrick.
But I can't give it to a guy who played 25 minutes a game. It wasn't his fault, I know, but maybe the Timberwolves should spend more time thinking about how Love should play the entire second quarter, rather than thinking up bad (well, maybe not "bad," but definitely "long") infomercial ideas.
And after that, I can't give it to a guy who played 30 minutes a game. Not his fault, but maybe he should pay for the bum moves of others.
Because Rose was (mostly) treated the right way, because he played 37 minutes a game, he's getting this award. He's also getting it because he was brilliant in 2008-09, averaging about 17 points and six assists with two and a half turnovers, but he's also getting it because he was awarded the minutes that he so obviously earned.
Funny how good things tend to happen when the right players get the right minutes. I think you may have heard me bring this up a time or two over the years.