FanPost

NBA MVP: Who's deserving

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As the NBA season winds down, the MVP award has become the biggest talking point for fans around the NBA. Those who have paid attention to public opinion should know by now that the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose is close to running away with his first MVP.

Rose's Bulls have built up a two game lead on the 2nd place Boston Celtics, and are now looking forward to home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. His personal resume boasts averages of nearly 25 points and 8 assists (24.9 and 7.9 to be exact) per game, making him his teams' clear top offensive weapon.

The Bulls have exceeded expectations this season by already winning 12 more games than they did all of last season. Most people picked the Bulls to finish somewhere between 3rd and 6th in the East, behind the Eastern Conference favorite Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. Many even picked them to finish 2nd in the Central Division to the Milwaukee Bucks, who are currently 9th in the East with a record of 29-43.



Rose's increase in production has been a big reason for the Bulls' improvement this season. The young guard has seen increases in nearly every statistical category, most notably in his free throw and 3-point percentages. On top of all that, he's missed just one game all season to help lead a team that has only had it's starting front court together for 24 of its 72 games (Carlos Boozer has missed 23 games and Joakim Noah has missed 31).

So, he's obviously a very strong candidate for the MVP. But is he the only deserving candidate? Is he even the most deserving?

As Rose's MVP candidacy has grown in strength, its biggest flaws have grown more apparent. It happens with every player that's thrust further into the spotlight, and it's no different for this years' MVP front-runner.

The most prominent criticisms he's received are those about his defense and field goal percentage. While good defense is not usually important for an MVP candidate, many see it as a larger negative for Rose because defense is the reason his team is so good.

Chicago is the NBA's top defensive unit in points allowed per possession, thanks to a new defensive system put into place by rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose is perhaps the weakest link on defense, meaning that he has little impact on what the Bulls' do best.

What he excels at is offense, where Chicago is ranked just 12th in points per possession. That's better than just one of the NBA's top eight teams, ahead of only the Celtics, who rank three spots lower at 15th. Of the remaining elite teams, only Orlando is outside the top six, at 10th. So unlike many of the other teams featuring MVP candidates, the Bulls rely much more heavily on their defense to win games.

Rose's detractors also point to his field goal percentage as evidence he's not the most valuable part of his team. He's shooting just 43.9 percent on the season, worst of anyone in the Chicago's starting lineup. It's also lower than any player on the Bulls' current roster other than backup point guard C.J. Watson.

Over the previous two seasons, Derrick Rose averaged a 48.3 percent field goal percentage, meaning he's seen a nearly 5 percent drop in 2010-11. Conventional wisdom would suggest Rose isn't playing better this season at all. It would actually suggest that while he's seen an increase in his offensive role, his play might be worse than it was last season.

However, field goal percentage isn't the whole story. Last season, Rose attempted less than one shot from beyond the arc per game. This year, the Chicago star has put up an average of almost 5. It's important to remember that 3-point shots go in a whole lot less often than 2-point shots. However, because they're worth 150 percent more points than the closer shot, shooting 33.3 percent from deep is equal to making 50 percent on classic field goals.

Rose has actually hit 33.2 percent of his 3-point shots, so while they're lowering his overall field goal percentage, he's still scoring almost a point per shot from beyond the arc. Effective field goal percentage is a measure that makes up for the difference in shots by counting 3-point shots for what they're actually worth. While Rose's field goal percentage has dropped dramatically this season, his effective field goal percentage has dropped just less than 2 percent (49.5 to 47.8).

When you factor in getting to the line more often and making a higher percentage of his free throws, Rose's scoring efficiency is actually higher than it was in either of his first two seasons. His 54.0 true shooting percentage, a number that evenly counts all forms of scoring, is more than 1.5 percent better than his average from 2008-09 and 2009-10

 

Still, both his effective and true shooting percentages are slightly below league average. This is of note because each of Rose’s biggest MVP competitors rank ahead of him in both categories

But Bulls' have still seen a big increase in their team's offensive efficiency, despite Rose’s average numbers. Chicago was in the bottom 3 of all NBA teams last season in points per possession. Their average of 100.8 points per 100 possessions (according to hoopdata.com) was worst of any playoff team. Chicago’s 105.2 scoring average this season is good for the biggest increase of any team this season.

Rose isn't the only reason for that increase, but his increased role at the point guard position clearly hasn't hindered the offense anywhere near as much as his critics might lead you to believe. Chicago added former Utah Jazz teammates Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer in the off-season, both of which were big offensive upgrades over their predecessors (current Bull backup power forward Taj Gibson and ex-Bull shooting guard Flip Murray). Starting small forward Luol Deng has increased his range and shooting touch, making more 3-point shots this season than he had in his first six.

Rose has definitely contributed a lot to the Bulls' success this season, and there isn't much argument to whether or not he's deserving of the award. But before the voters decide to hand over the hardware, an even more important question must be asked: Is he the player most deserving of the award?

His number of competitors has dwindled down to single just a few, but that doesn't mean their resumes are any less worthy. Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James are still receiving consideration with less than 10 games to play.

Foremost of the trio is Dwight Howard. His Orlando Magic trail the Bulls by 6.5 games in the standings after taking a step back from last season's 59 wins. But few players play such a large role for any team in the NBA, let alone one of the league's elite. No other player in the league has been as equally important on offense and defense as Howard.

Arguably the best defender in the NBA because of his ability to defend the paint, the Magic center is averaging 2.4 blocks and a career high 1.3 steals to go along with his 23.1 points and 14.2 rebounds. His 60.2 percent field goal shooting is second in the league and more than 7 percentage points better than the next best player averaging 20 points or more (Dirk Nowitzki at 52.9).

It's been a season of big changes for Orlando, but somehow Howard has found a way to play better despite how his team has floundered at times. The Magic shipped out their 2nd and 3rd leading scorers from last season (Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis) just 25 games into the season. They also gave up their backup center and best perimeter defender (Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus) in that blockbuster trade. In return, they re-acquired 2008-09 playoff hero Hedo Turkoglu, along with three-point shooting specialist Jason Richardson, struggling former All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas, and seldom used Earl Clark.

Orlando has faced struggles both before and after the trade. They were 16-9 at the time of the move, but had lost 5 of 6 games. Post trade, they lost their first 3 games to fall to 16-12. They've gone 31-14 since, but have still struggled at times, even losing 4 out of 6 games during a stretch in March.

Dwight Howard has been "Superman" for the Magic since the start of January. He's averaged 24.6 points and 15.1 rebounds on 63.0 percent shooting from the field in 2011. Howard has been the driving force behind the Magic all year long, and it's possible that no one in the NBA can claim as much credit for his teams wins as Howard. He's helped lead his team to top 10 ranks in both offensive (10th) and defensive (3rd) efficiency, and the Magic remain one of the league's elite teams.

It seems the only arguments against Howard are his team's record and his free throw shooting. Considering he gets to the line more than anyone else in the league, it's important that he make his free throws. But despite his poor percentage, his free throw shooting would still be good for the best offensive efficiency in the NBA (his 58.7 free throw percentage translates to a points per possession rating higher than the Nuggets league-leading mark).

More importantly, even though the Magic are 2nd in their division and 10 games back of the NBA-best San Antonio Spurs, they are still considered to be among the league's elite. They're also virtually a lock to eclipse the all-important 50-win mark before the end of the season, needing to win just 3 of their last 9 games.

All of this cultivates in a very strong MVP candidacy for the NBA's top "Superman." Nobody puts in the work on both sides of the ball like Howard, who is playing a career high in minutes per game despite missing just 3 games all season (2 to illness, 1 to suspension). He's unarguably been the top big man all season long.

Dwight Howard is considered the NBA's top big man, but Kobe Bryant is considered its best overall player. He's finished in the top 4 in MVP voting every year since 2004-2005, and his only win came in 2007-08.

Bryant's Lakers currently own the league's 3rd best record at 52-20, only a half-game back of the Bulls and 5 games back of the NBA-leading Spurs. They are however, 14-1 since the All-Star break.

The "Black Mamba" has played hurt all season, and his injuries have limited him to less than 34 minutes per game, his least minutes played since his sophomore season. Despite the struggles, he's managed to lead the NBA in points scored per minute, while still putting up 25.1 points per game.

Arguably the league's most well-rounded player, Kobe's averages of 5.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists rank him as one of just three players to average 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists.

One of the biggest factors giving Kobe the edge over Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose is leadership. Bryant has become the unquestioned leader of the Lakers over the past 7 years, and it's his fire and will that has the Lakers playing their best basketball of the season since the All-Star break.

During the Lakers' 15-1 stretch, fans have been treated to a lot more of Kobe's playoff "scowl," the facial expression most associate with Kobe being locked into a game. It's been clear to those watching that the extra fire that he's brought to the table recently is one of the biggest reasons behind the Lakes Show's better play.

Some argue that his numbers aren't as good this season, and it'd be hard to give the MVP to a player who plays with what many consider the best front court in the NBA. But something that a lot of people don't realize is that Kobe has the ability to give the Lakers whatever it is they lack.

For example, the Lakers are 10-2 (.833) in the second game of back-to-backs, giving them the best winning percentage of any team in the NBA. Typically these are the games even the best teams lose more often due to fatigue, but the Lakers have actually been better. In those games, Kobe averages 28.3 points (season average of 25.1) on 52.4 percent shooting (45.5), 42.1 percent 3-point shooting (32.4), to go with 6.1 rebounds (5.0) and 5.0 assists (4.8) all while playing exactly the same amount of minutes per game he has the entire season. Needless to say, that’s one of the most impressive improvements of any player in the league.

 

So while Kobe’s numbers may not be as great as they once were, he can still light it up when he’s needed. He’s showed that ability this past week with his clutch play against Portland Trailblazers, season high 42 points and 12 rebounds in a near triple double in a triple-overtime win over the Phoenix Suns, and 30 points games in wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Hornets.

 

So it wouldn’t be wise to count out Kobe for the MVP if the Lakers finish the season with only 1 or 2 losses after the All-Star break. Leadership is always an important factor in winning, and it’s clear that he has a decisive edge over Rose and Howard in those categories. Another important thing to note: He’s managed to play in every game this year.

 

These three candidates rank the highest, but there are still other cases to be made for MVP. LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland has quietly been having one of the most productive seasons in the NBA.

 

Forced to increase production because of a major knee injury to star guard Brandon Roy, Aldridge has put up career-high marks in every major statistical category, including scoring efficiency. Despite being left off the All-Star team, he’s continued to carry the injury-riddled Trailblazers to a respectable playoff record of 42-31.

 

Since Roy re-injured his knee in the middle of December and left Portland’s starting lineup for good, Aldridge has put up MVP-worthy numbers. Since December 15th, Aldridge has averaged 24.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, on 52.5 percent shooting.

 

However, he’s not the only player in Portland that’s stepped up in Roy’s absence. Sophomore guard Wesley Mathews has filled in for the All-Star shooting guard admirably. Even with the contributions of Aldridge and Mathews, the Trailblazers still find themselves the 6th seed in the West. Ultimately, that’s what keeps Aldridge from having a real chance to win the MVP.

 

Then there’s the issue of LeBron James. Having won the past two MVP awards with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he certainly has to be in contention. Not really, though.

For all his stats and impressive plays this season, King James essentially lost his only shot at MVP in November. The Heat were 9-8 and all chances of surpassing either of his teams’ win totals in Cleveland were out the window.

 

He’s now playing with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, one an All-Star the last 6 seasons, and the other a former Finals MVP. For him to win the MVP, his team would have had to win more games than the one he played for in Cleveland, which many feel were ultimately carried by his efforts alone.

 

Just like Kevin Garnett in Boston in 2008, and anyone on the Pistons the past decade, playing on a team where there is no certain best player or leader, or on one with another potential MVP candidate, makes winning the award very difficult.

 

So even if LeBron’s stats and back-to-back MVPs do warrant a look, it’s easy to see he traded that possibility in when he took his talents to Miami.

 

The same idea eliminates Wade from contention, even though he plays for the same team he did last season.

 

The other top teams don’t really have a true candidate for MVP. Dirk Nowitzki has missed 9 games for the Dallas Mavericks, and voters have learned not to give him the benefit of the doubt since he won the award in 2007.

 

The Celtics have no single best player this year. Rajon Rondo is averaging a double-double in points and rebounds, Paul Pierce is their leading scorer, and Garnett is still one of the best defensive players this year. They’re also closing the season on a very average note the same way they did last season, losing the Eastern Conference lead to the Bulls.

 

Tim Duncan has long been considered the Spurs’ best player, but he was putting up career lows in points and rebounds even before suffering the ankle injury expected to keep him limited until the playoffs. Parker and Ginobili are having solid seasons, but neither is worthy of an MVP.

 

So which player is most deserving? It’s got to be Dwight Howard. His numbers speak for themselves. He’s by far the biggest reason for the Magic still being a 50-win team. Kevin Garnett put up similar numbers in 2003-04 and ran away with the MVP that year. Granted, his team was the best in the West, but it was by only 1 game, and the second place team had the reigning back-to-back MVP (Tim Duncan).

 

Dwight’s team hasn’t been the best in the East, but let’s go back to the last time a big man has been so dominant offensively and defensively. Hakeem Olajuwon won the award in 1993-94, when he posted totals of 27 points, 11 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, and 1.6 steals. His team did not have the best record in the NBA, but the numbers were impossible to argue with.

 

Consider that the pace of play that season was higher than it is in the NBA now, and that Olajuwon played 41 minutes per game. Big men were also allowed much more leeway defensively. Dwight’s numbers certainly are worthy of comparison to the Hakeem.

 

Nobody has impacted both sides of the ball the way Olajuwon did when he played. He was often both the best offensive player and defensive player on the court. You can say the same about Dwight this year. So if all the numbers and tape were not enough to convince you of Dwight being the most deserving MVP candidate, then that should be.

 

But the NBA MVP is not based on who truly deserves it, and it doesn’t always go to the most deserving player. Since the 1988-89, the MVP has gone to a top-2 NBA team 20 times. The one exception is Steve Nash in 2005-2006. The Suns did actually receive the 2nd seed in the West for winning the Pacific division, but he essentially won that award for being MVP the previous season.

 

Additionally, the MVP has been a conference champion all but 3 times in the last 21 years. With that in mind, the MVP has become Derrick Rose’s to lose. His team currently holds the second best record in the NBA, and the best record in the East. He is the Bulls’ best player, and therefore the favorite for MVP.

 

The only way he could lose his hold on the award is to allow the Bulls to drop out of 1st place in the East. If either Boston or Miami finish ahead of Chicago in the standings, we could see the MVP go to someone else.

 

The most likely second candidate is Kobe Bryant. Both he and the Lakers are finishing the season strong, and closing in on the 1st place Spurs. Should they catch or pass San Antonio, and the Bulls fall out of 1st in the East, Kobe would become the likely MVP. It’s important to note that the Lakers having the best record in the NBA wouldn’t be enough reason to switch their vote to Kobe if Chicago maintains their home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

 

In a final scenario, Dwight Howard might have the slimmest of chances to win the award. If neither the Lakers or Bulls finish 1st in their conference, it would most likely come down to Howard and the Bulls’ point guard. The question is how many games would the Magic have to gain on Chicago for Dwight to win over voters. However deserving, voters have always found it difficult to vote for players on teams lower in the standings.

 

No matter who wins, the league will still end up with a deserving MVP. The voters may have gotten it wrong in the public’s eye once again, but that’s something that’s become typical of the MVP. Maybe they'll get it right next year.

This FanPost is a submission from a member of the mighty Golden State of Mind community. While we're all here to throw up that W, these words do not necessarily reflect the views of the GSoM Crew. Still, chances are the preceding post is Unstoppable Baby!

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