Bill Simmons has an article today where he talks about his MVP pick, his All-NBA team, and some other things (of course). Not to give it away, but he picks Rose as his MVP. I covered the statistical argument a little while ago, but that isn’t the sole factor in everyone’s decision (Simmons explicitly rejects it). So let’s see why Bill picks Rose and decide if it makes any sense.
First Bill says that there are a couple of holes in the argument for Rose. One is that the Bulls are great because of their defense, and Rose isn’t the cause of that. Bill then refutes it by saying that the Bulls play such great defense because Rose is going balls-out all the time and his teammates pick up on that. I suppose as far as unprovable statements go that’s a good one. The Bulls do have the best defense in the league according to efficiency, but they’re barely ahead of the Celtics. So as far as this goes, Paul Pierce should be an MVP candidate because he tries pretty hard too (and he was stabbed a lot one time, remember?). It also seems like kind of a slap in the face to Noah, who I think is pretty much known for giving 110% in the ‘try-to’ department.
The second hole is that Rose doesn’t have the numbers. My post mentioned that; he’s pretty much dominated by Wade. Bill counters by saying that stats would have had you pick Malone over Jordan in the late 90s. An excellent argument; you know you’re wrong if you’re picking against Jordan in anything. I once told a friend that stats showed Wayne Gretzky to be the best hockey player ever, but I realized I was wrong because Jordan had never put the skates on. At any rate, Bill is willing to admit that the stats weaken Rose’s case. Which is good, because at the end of the day you have to account for the numbers. I’ll listen to Rose as an MVP choice if there are reasons why he overcomes being 10th in Win Shares per 48, much lower in Wins Produced per 48 (only 3rd on his own team), 26th in 1-year APM (and only average in 2-year), 7th in PER, etc. Of course, Bill has reasons.
One reason is that Rose runs so much of his team’s offense. He is apparently the only reason the Bulls ever get the ball over mid-court. Of course, that’s entirely up to Rose; he’s the point guard. If his assist and usage rates are so high, it’s because he wants it that way. Looking only at the numbers, you could make the same argument for Russell Westbrook (slightly lower usage, slightly higher assist percentage) except he has a more famous teammate in Durant; you could make the same argument to a lesser degree for Monta Ellis. And then there are, of course, the other great passing point guards: Nash, Rondo, Williams, and Paul (Westbrook and Baron Davis also have higher assist percentages than Rose, but I think they’re a bit outside of the top group in most people’s eyes). All four are more efficient shooters with the exception of Rondo, who is just as efficient if you ignore free throws. All get more assists. Paul and Rondo get more rebounds (by percent); Nash and Williams aren’t far behind. Each get more steals except for Nash. Rose does get more blocks, and has a lower turnover rate. It’s a tough sell to me that Rose is more involved in his offense than any of these guys are in theirs; Rose just shoots the most out of all of them, and he doesn’t do it as well. We could have the higher usage = lower efficiency argument, but a) I don’t believe it and b) all four of these guys have had higher usage rates in the past and higher true shooting efficiencies, so they could shoot more and stay efficient if they wanted to. As a matter of fact, so have Deng, Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, Korver, and Kurt Thomas (out of the people I checked, only Noah and Bogans seem to be having their most efficient year along with a lower usage rate). So it seems like some of the other Bulls could be handling more of the offensive load if Rose let them.
Bill also says that the Bulls have done well even when Boozer and Noah missed time. Let’s see: Rose and Boozer start without Noah, 23-7 (76.7 win %). Rose and Noah without Boozer, 12-6 (66.7%). Rose alone, 3-1 (75%). All three, 21-5 (80.8%). So the team does best when all three start (not surprising), didn’t lose too much when Noah missed time, and barely had any games where Rose had to carry the load by himself (the 3-1 record is against Washington, Charlotte, Memphis and Dallas; not a murderers’ row). I think it’s just as easy to argue that the Bulls need a big man to win; Rose has only missed one game so it’s really hard to say how much he contributes all by himself. The team has done worst when Boozer was out; why isn’t he the critical cog to the Bulls machine?
And that’s it. Apparently Rose makes up for his statistical shortcomings by being the main offensive player on a really good defensive team that has missed a fair number of games from important big men. I think there are at least 5 guys you have to consider ahead of him according to the stats: Dwight, LeBron, Wade, Chris Paul, and Nowitzki. All five are ahead on Win Shares per 48 and three are ahead in total Win Shares; Nowitzki is the only one behind in either Wins Produced or WP/48; all of them are far and away better in both 1 and 2 year APM (except for Wade, who is slightly behind on 1-year). Only Dirk is behind in PER and whatever Hollinger’s ‘estimated wins added’ is.
So the question is, is Rose so valuable to his team that he catches those other guys? I think it’s hard to argue that he adds more than Dirk does to Dallas, which Bill basically says himself in his article (and he makes the same point for Dwight, but says he still doesn’t try enough). You can put another good-to-great point guard on the Bulls and they would do just fine. I’m not as sure that you can replace Dirk on Dallas and keep them moving along. If either Wade or LeBron misses a game, the Heat are 3-3; they lost both games that LeBron didn’t start. And I don’t think you can even fathom the Hornets without Chris Paul; they went 1-1 without him this year, but last year they were 14-23 without him. The Magic are 1-2 without Dwight this year and he didn’t miss a game last year. Dallas is 2-7 without Dirk. All of these guys are key cogs to their team.
One final point that was mentioned is Rose’s clutch ability, at which point I almost vomited. But, if you care to look, 82games.com will tell you that Rose is the second-best player in the league in terms of points per 48 minutes of clutch time. That is, of course, again due to his usage; he’s also second-worst in terms of turnovers. LeBron and Nowitzki shoot more efficiently, Wade and Paul about the same, and Dwight obviously shoots better but doesn’t take threes and is a liability at the line. In terms of clutch +/- per 48 (wait, actually vomiting this time), Rose is behind Dirk and two of his own teammates.
So hopefully we can agree: Rose is not the best player according to the numbers. He is not obviously the best according to ‘intangibles’ either. I think the only reason we haven’t named LeBron the MVP is because people are angry at him. Dwight won’t be chosen because the Magic aren’t “good enough”, and the same is true for Chris Paul with the Hornets (and probably Dirk with the Mavs; they’re a first-round upset waiting to happen). Wade won’t be chosen because he has LeBron. So everyone will ignore that there are better options and pick Rose when he is potentially not the best player on his team (if you believe WP, 2-year APM, a close call in WS/48, or the team’s record without Boozer). No one is even looking at someone from the Spurs, the team with the best record in the league (although I don’t think they’re the best team). This is why I dislike the MVP discussion; even aside from the lack of stats used in a reasonable manner, the reasons used to pick someone hardly ever make sense. Is consistency too much to ask for?