Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Real Reason Behind the Polarization of Derrick Rose

Kobe Bryant has some competition.  He has a rival in a Chicago Bulls uniform, a Bull who plays guard.  Kobe's flashy, young competitor played against him in the All-Star game for the Eastern Conference.  The youngin' headlines a team that Kobe's Lakers might see if they are fortunate enough to make it out of the West.  He's a flashy, athletic star who can dazzle fans like a young Kobe Bean Bryant.

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Michael Jordan is retired from playing professional basketball, Keith Bogans just missed making the all-star team (Juusstt missed...kind of like all of his shots), and I didn't sign with Chicago last summer because I hate cold weather.  The Bull I'm talking about is Derrick Rose- a player who is right on Kobe's heels as he elevates both his game and his status among the league's most polarizing figures.   

MPPs of the League

Rose is an amazing force for Chicago.  The Eastern Conference is more top-heavy than the skin drooping off Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi's face, yet Rose has the Bulls near the top of the standings in the Eastern Conference.  While Boston and Miami sent a combined seven all-stars to Los Angeles over a week ago, Chicago sent only Rose to represent Chi-town's teams.  Analysts, media members, and fans have taken notice of this, and combined with his third-year quantum leap in terms of stats and play, Rose is being touted as a legitimate MVP candidate.  However, there are hardcore basketball minds (examples here and here and here with Mr. Berri) who find it ridiculous that Rose should be an MVP candidate this season.  As the two extremes talk, one thing is clear:  the parties can't co-exist and they can't find a middle ground with Rose.  Because the two sides can't agree, a U.S. government lock-down seems imminent.  Well, I'm sure that's part of the reason why...

Rose is now one of the most polarizing players in the league.  My quick list of MPPs:

1.)  Kobe Bryant- Kobe gets the edge due to experience and the persistent all-time comparisons that he gets.
2.)  Derrick Rose- He has a website dedicated to him getting the MVP award.  Of course he's going to be polarizing.

3.)  Kevin Garnett-  Once of the league's most popular players, Garnett's antics since winning a title have left a sour taste in people's mouths.  Boston loves him.  Small, European guards hate him.

4.)  Kevin Durant-  People love that he is a hard-working, humble kid with all the talent in the world who plays on a small-market team.  People are skeptical that he is a hard-working, humble kid with all the talent in the world who plays on a small-market team.  Too good or too good to be true?

5.)  Steve Nash-  I thought by now people would understand how great the guy is and how valuable a player he is.  It's amazing what I read on forums about the guy though.

Lebron James just missed the cut.  He would have been high, but the city of Cleveland has so much hate for him that aliens would need to come down and serenade Lebron with hymns of praise just to even out the love/hate ratio of LBJ in the world.  When you need to introduce new beings to a planet in order to even out the amount of love and hate you get, you aren't really polarizing.


First, I want to see if he is a legitimate MVP candidate.  Then we can go on to why he is polarizing based on his candidacy.

I'm not going to advocate Rose being selected MVP of the league, simply because I haven't gone through all the candidates.  I'm going to merely see if he seems like a candidate.  I'm saying "candidate," or derivatives of the word, way too much for my own liking.   

Rose's adjusted plus/minus numbers look pretty damn good right now.  I'll refer you to this blog, since Doc makes better sense of APM numbers than I do.   APM has its problems, but like all stats, it indicates something.  Use it as an indicator, and you're fine.

Rose also produces raw stats.  24.6/8.2/4.4 is a gaudy stat-line for any player.  He's a top ten scorer in the league in terms of volume and is close to league-average for efficiency.  That's not remarkable, but it's pretty damn good for a point guard who is also ranked in the top ten in assists per game average.  The dude simply produces.

The stats mean nothing without context though.  What type of player is  Rose?  He's a slashing point guard with burgeoning 3-point shooting marksmanship and the ability to move into spaces in the mid-range to get a shot off.  He has improved his ability to get to the free throw line as well, mainly because instead of using his possibly league-best body control to contort around defenders to get shots off, he's more accepting of the contact.  He's not Chris Paul or Deron Williams when it comes to vision or passing, but he makes plays for others in a more sophisticated way than just some good scorer drawing attention and kicking it out to a shooter.  He can settle down an offense and be a real point guard.  He's an explosive athlete and one of the best ball-handlers in the league.  He's Steve Francis with a brain.   

What does that skill-set and production do for Chicago?  That's the issue.  Well, it does a lot.  Rose needs to handle the ball an enormous amount of the time, initiating the offense, creating for himself, and setting up his teammates.  Chicago has good passers in their line-up, but they have virtually zero play-making or ball-handling outside of Rose.  Keith Bogans was used as a prop in my opening stanza in this post.  Luol Deng's handles are made more for slashing and attacking the basketball, not probing a defense or bringing the ball up the floor.  Kyle Korver is an off-ball shooter.  C.J. Watson is Chicago's solid back-up point guard and is tenth in minutes played per game for the team, as Rose plays over three-fourths of every game he appears in.  That puts more pressure on Rose to produce something magical than Dr. Dre must feel as he finishes producing his decade-of-hype-album Detox.

Rose needs to break traps, get the ball to his scorers in certain positions (Deng on the wing, Korver off screens, Boozer on the pick-n-roll or in the mid-post, etc.), probe defenses, make post-entry passes, and make plays.  His team is as flawed as the mid-'90's Orlando Magic teams were where Penny Hardaway was misused.  Whenever I watched Penny, he looked like a shooting guard with really good passing ability.  He was thrust into being point guard for ORL because of the hype of being the new Magic Johnson and because of team necessity.  Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson were elementary ball-handlers, and there was no depth on the team.  Penny had to do so much heavy-lifting for that team.  Rose is at an advantage because he is an actual point guard and he can defend his natural position on the other side of the floor, something Penny didn't get to do in most matchups.  Penny's main advantage in the half-court was being able to dump the ball to Shaq, an all-time great offensive anchor himself.  Chicago doesn't have anything close to O'Neal.

Rose has so much responsibility for Chicago because the team is actually flawed offensively.  Deeply flawed.  With only one guy being able to effectively handle the ball while passing, play-making, driving, and shooting, an offense can only manipulate a defense so much.  Scoring is taxing on that player since he doesn't get to play off-ball.  Thus, Chicago is average offensively despite having a home-run hitter on their team.  Somebody like Berri says that Rose should give up some field goal attempts because players like Boozer are more efficient, but that philosophy ignores the physics of basketball.  How do Deng and Boozer and Korver and Noah get those extra shots?  How does Rose simply "give" shots to other players when he's the one that needs to manipulate the offense.  Nobody manipulates the offense for his benefit.

Then we get to health.  Chicago hasn't even had their full line-up in for much time, dealing with injuries to big men Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah.

While Chicago's defense has been stellar and given the most credit for Chicago's record by Rose's detractors, Rose is a part of that defense.  That way of thinking also ignores the fact that Rose doing all the heavy-lifting on offense means more energy for the other players for defense.  A team needs both offense and defense, and Rose leading a defensive-oriented team with his offensive prowess makes what he does even more valuable.  Isn't that what the MVP is all about?  Value to a team?

Yeah, I think Rose is an MVP candidate.

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue....

I'm going to posit that the detractors of Rose are skeptical of Rose's MVP argument for two reasons.  One is that they don't understand the difference between how good a player and how valuable he is to a team (also, they probably don't think Rose is that good as a player).  That is self-explanatory.  The other, even more ignorant reason, is because they don't want to give the MVP to a player who hasn't paid his dues, who hasn't struggled or missed out on the MVP or has legendary moments that need to be immortalized with something tangible.  Despite being a hyped number one pick, Rose was not destined to be an MVP.  Not this early at least.   

Lebron was destined.  Kobe's three titles and 81 points and struggles on the Lakers despite being arguably the best player in the league had to be rewarded.  Dirk's time had come after giving a half-decade worth of consistency as a unique type of player in NBA history as well as being one of the greatest foreign players ever.  Nash had paid his dues in the league, had struggled to find a niche; Phoenix's different style of play relative to the competition of the year may have been ground-breaking, and its catalyst may have needed to be recognized.  Garnett, Duncan, Malone, and O'Neal had paid their dues.  Iverson was controversial enough that a feel-good story about a story-book season in an era that ushered in a street-ball attitude got a street-baller like Iverson an MVP trophy (plus, umm, he was good).  Jordan is Jordan is Jordan is Jordan is Jordan.  Barkley, Olajuwon, and Robinson paid their dues as well.  As did Magic, Bird, Moses, and Dr. J.  In the modern era, an MVP has never had the same background as Derrick Rose, has never had the same lack of struggle or lack of the need to be immortalized.

People think Rose doesn't need to be immortalized yet.

I'm not saying Rose should be MVP.  But to deny him because of that is ignorant.  Whether you think Rose is going to go down as a top-20 player all-time or top-5 point guard all-time should have no bearing on what you think of Rose's value to the 2011 Chicago Bulls in the regular season.  If he deserves the award, he deserves the award.

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