A few thoughts on Chicago’s offense

The latest “Article of Outrage” about Derrick Rose’s presumed MVP award comes to us courtesy of Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald.

Thank the Basketball Gods!

We needed another scribe to save us from the creeping menace of Rose’s MVP candidacy.

Le Batard’s piece doesn’t break any new ground. It’s basically a zero calorie version of several similar articles I’ve already read and linked to on this site. In summary: Advanced metrics prove Rose isn’t the best player in the league, his numbers are essentially the same as Russell Westbrook’s, Chicago’s offense is mediocre, the real MVP is Chicago’s defense, yada yada yada.

Like I said, we’ve heard it all before.

Still, let’s take a closer look at this section:

“The Bulls aren’t exceeding expectations because Rose is a ‘leader’ or ‘knows how to win’ or is ‘clutch.’ They are exceeding expectations because no team in the league strangles the opponent better on defense. You want to give the Bulls coach of the year for that? Cool. Defensive player of the year? Fine. But MVP for the league’s 20th-ranked offense? The one scoring less than Indiana, Toronto, Philadelphia, the Clippers and Sacramento?”

I’m not sure how Le Batard — an apparent proponent of sabermetrics — has managed to quantify leadership or measure its impact on the Bulls’ success, but I sure wish he’d share his wizarding secrets with the rest of the free world. Based on post-game comments and quotes from Rose’s coaches and teammates, it’s pretty clear they all respect, admire and have the utmost faith in him. That has to have some impact on the outcome of games, right?

But whatever.

I’ll concede there’s no way to know whether the Bulls are winning due to Rose’s leadership qualities. Ditto for Rose’s knowledge about how to win at basketball.

The clutch thing, though? We actually have stats for that. According to 82games.com, Rose ranks seventh in clutch points (43.2), 10th in clutch assists (9.7) and, despite being a point guard, compares favorably in clutch rebounds (11.3) to Dirk Nowitzki (11.6), LeBron James (12.1) and Kevin Durant (12.9). And anybody who watched Chicago’s victories over the Grizzlies and Bucks last weekend will tell you that Rose’s clutch skills are worth wins.

But again, whatever.

Now we come to another commonly stated sticking point: “But MVP for the league’s 20th-ranked offense? The one scoring less than Indiana, Toronto, Philadelphia, the Clippers and Sacramento?”

Reminder: Le Batard repeatedly mentions the importance of advanced metrics in his article. In fact, he devotes an entire section (including a discussion of baseball) to it. If advanced metrics were a giant cartoon sledge hammer, LeBatard would be repeatedly hitting us in the head with it. But then, in crunch time, he uses Chicago’s raw PPG stat to bolster his argument.

Because, see, that allows him to use phrases like “20th-ranked offense” and make unfavorable comparisons to bad teams. That seems a little like prestidigitation in my book.

But, I say again, whatever.

Yes, the Bulls rank 20th in PPG at 98.5 points per contest. But here’s a point well worth noting: Now that they have a full roster of healthy bodies, the Bulls have jumped to 12th in Offensive Efficiency (105.2 points per 100 possessions). This after a season in which they’ve been hovering somewhere in the 15th to 20th range.

The Bulls are currently only one-eighth of a point out of the 10th spot in Offensive Efficiency (and a mere two-tenths out of the 11th spot). Based on their recent play — they’ve had Offensive Ratings of 110.4, 143.2, 135.4, 114.9 and 108.4 in their last five games (that last of which was achieved on the second night of back-to-backs on the road against the league’s fourth ranked defense based on Defensive Rating) – the Bulls could concievably finish in the top 10, thus rendering the whole “mediocre offense” more myth than reality.

And think about it:

Carlos Boozer, the team’s second-leading scorer and second-highest FGP shooter has missed 23 games this season. Without Boozington, the Bulls have no inside game to speak of. Even recently, Carlos has looked out of sync due to the lingering effects of a sprained ankle. That certainly hasn’t helped the offense.

Joakim Noah, the team’s fourth-leading scorer and highest FGP shooter, has missed 30 games this season. Without Noah, the Bulls didn’t rebound as well or run as much. That certainly hasn’t helped the offense.

To reiterate: Two key pieces of the team’s offensive system have combined to miss 53 games.

Kyle Korver is the team’s only consistently high-percentage three-point shooter (42.8 percent on the year). Yet Korver doesn’t start and plays only 20.4 MPG. Keith Bogans has picked it up since January, but he averages 3.7 FGA in 17.7 MPG, and opponents don’t respect his shot. This hurts spacing, which holds down the offense.

A large percentage of the roster is filled out with rotation players who aren’t what you’d call scorers (Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas, Omer Asik, Taj Gibson). Even Noah is more of an opportunistic scorer and not really somebody a coach would call plays for.

Despite all these factors, the Bulls’ relative inefficiency on offense keeps getting pinned on Rose, as if there are no other contributing factors. Although, as I pointed out, with everybody back and healthy, the offense is trending upward. With games left against the Timberwolves, Pistons, Raptors, Suns, Cavaliers, Knicks and Nets…a top 10 finish in Offensive Efficiency doesn’t sound too absurd. And top 10 can’t be considered mediocre, can it?

Something to think about.

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19 Responses to A few thoughts on Chicago’s offense

  1. Tae March 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Hollinger is on a personal vendetta to prevent Rose from even sniffing the MVP votes, it seems. He linked to that article on the ESPN twitter and thinks the MVP award is “Best player in league.”

  2. hanseatico@gmail.com'
    Hanseatico March 28, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    Great piece Matt.
    Miami homers = Israel Gutierrez and Dan Le Batard have simply put out trash these last couple days.
    I mean, a guy like Hollinger i can understand standing up for his PER ranking. That is ok (although he just sent a tweet linking Batard moron article…)
    But MVP is not an award for the highest PER.
    It is for leadership, winning record, intangibles, and… stats. DRose is the only player both top 10 points/assists. AND he is just knocking on top10 PER…
    I think it is useless to point out that is basically lead this team alone all season long with injuries to Boozer/Noah.
    Fortunately there still are reporters that see through the fog, like Ric Bucher, Stein, Aschburner, et al…

  3. rwmouser@gmail.com'
    Robert M March 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    Great article Matt. I’m a Suns fan myself, but DRose is definitely the most deserving MVP candidate. Shouldn’t even really be an argument. No single player is that important to any of the teams playing around Chicago’s level. I feel like Chicago losing Rose would have the same effect as what happens to the Sun’s offense when Nash has to miss a game.

    Also, I feel like an elitist ass, but props for naturally using “prestidigitation” in a sports blog :D

  4. mati628@brandeis.edu'
    Mati March 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Yeah, I can’t believe Le Batard used PPG instead of Offensive EFF to drive his point home. I mean I think it’s a safe assumption that PPG is proportional to possessions per game, right? So an elite defensive team that allows fewer transition buckets and makes the opposition work deep into the shot clock for scores means that they themselves have fewer possessions. This is why I always understood why a lot of Bulls games were low scoring. So great, say the Kings, Raptors, and LAC score more points than the Bulls. If you just wait for your turn for the ball back it’s easy.

  5. choyle@bpu.com'
    Chuck March 28, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    I just have one question for all the “MVP is for the best player” people. Why didn’t Jordan win the MVP 10 straight times?
    To me the MVP has to meet a few criteria. 1) Has to be on a winning (I mean winning not just above .500) team. I can see no way around this because I can’t support Kevin Love for MVP because even though he was putting up insane numbers, the T-Wolves still stunk on ice. 2) The player has to be the undisputed leader of his team. How can you be MVP if you may not be the leader of your team? 3) You can’t miss a bunch of games. 4) You have to demonstrate the ability to win games for your team throughout the year and step up against the best teams in the league.
    To me there are three guys who meet all the criteria and I would not mind if they won. Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Rose. As much as I love Rose, I think Howard has done more with less this year than Rose has. Look at that Orlando roster and tell me that is a playoff team without Howard? You can’t and I think they would be far worse than the Bulls without Rose.

  6. jj.vaught@gmail.com'
    JJ March 28, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Treated! Great article. The critics are just stupid. You hit the nail on the head by showing that despite their focus on advanced metrics, the crux of their argument is based on the simple stat of offensive PPG. Minnesota is 10th in offensive PPG. Does that mean that Minnesota has a better offense than the bulls? Hell nah.

  7. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale March 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    “Hollinger is on a personal vendetta to prevent Rose from even sniffing the MVP votes, it seems.”

    Advanced metrics is his “thing.” I suppose he sort of has to, otherwise it contradicts his entire career.

    “But MVP is not an award for the highest PER.”

    Exactly. Look, I’m a fan of advanced metrics. I use ‘em. But the advanced stats community are acting like the MVP rules say that the best statistical player has a birthright, and that birthright is the MVP. Which would be fine if the NBA legislated the idea. But it’s never been that way…it’s only the opinion of this community that it SHOULD BE that way. Personally, I think these people should band together and hand out their own alternate award of they feel so strongly about it. Whow knows? Maybe it would pick up steam?

    “Also, I feel like an elitist ass, but props for naturally using “prestidigitation” in a sports blog.”

    I’m glad you appreciated that. I almost backed out…but I know you guys are smart enough fer da big words.

    “Yeah, I can’t believe Le Batard used PPG instead of Offensive EFF to drive his point home.”

    Honestly, that was what ticked me off and compelled me to write this post. Le Batard was all ADVANCEDMETRICSADVANCEDMETRICSADVANCEDMETRICS until he wanted to make a strong point…then he backed up and used raw PPG instead of Offensive Efficiency. Because saying 20th-ranked makes his “mediocre offense” claim stronger than 12th-ranked (which, last I checked, is above average in a league of 30 teams).

    “I just have one question for all the ‘MVP is for the best player’ people. Why didn’t Jordan win the MVP 10 straight times?”

    I talked about this last week. From its inception, the MVP has often gone to players who fulfilled a certain narritive, or had a breakout year during which their team blossomed, etc. Which invites discussion and debate. It’s actually worked out pretty well for the league, for the fans (unless their guy didn’t win) and the writers (who get to cover the whole thing ad infinitum).

  8. reggiemcglory@yahoo.com'
    chitown4life March 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    Yet as simple as it sounds here it is , These guys hate the bulls maybe not rose but they hate the bulls they don’t want to look stupid , by saying they made a bad choice and did not pick rose to be the MVP nor the bulls to win the east.
    Something stinks about this oh so bad stan bundy talking skip payless talking and this ireal Gubuthead, all of them . Make Rose out to be underserving of this award. Why can’t i be the MVP this kid said at the atart of the season some laughed at him some thought it was a joke, but who is laughing now no one the joke is on them if they were.
    The hatred for this kid has to stop get over it to the haters this kid is pure and humble does not fire back at the comments made about his legit candicy for the MVP yet he could he lets his game speak for him and those who know him also speak up. This MVP is going to I mean has brought a greatness to this game with all the other cry babies or big mouths, too bad more players cannot be like him his personality these guys get paid a kings ransom and most at like we owe it to them which we don’t they should be greatful for playing a game they love and getting paid a lot of money to do it.
    Now last but not least Derrick rose is the MVP argue trash talk all you want but pound for pound there is no better player in the NBA and this year he is the MVP. Peace

  9. mudfud@hotmail.com'
    c4 March 28, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    Really flawed analysis by LeBatard.

    1)First, you can be the best player on your team (and league) even if your strength (offense) is not your team’s strength (defense). This is a fundamental insight that these folks fail to grasp. The question really is, where will the team be without Rose? He is responsible for around 46% (scores or assists) of the Bulls offense, and without him the Bulls would be at or near the bottom in offense. Look at Milwaukee, great defense, but the team is terrible. And for heavens sake, he plays with Keith Bogans in the backcourt.

    2) Second, Rose is known as an offensive player, but he does play nearly 40 mins a game, and surely deserves credit for the Bulls excellence on defense. Also, as pointed out by Rob Mahoney, Rose has become a very good (maybe, even elite) defensive player this year.

    http://offthedribble.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/19/rose-dwarfs-other-improvements-with-defense/

  10. Tae March 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    According to Wilbon, Le Batard is a baseball guy and we all know baseball guys and statistics…doesn’t exactly work the same in basketball.

  11. mark.samelson@gmail.com'
    Mark S. March 28, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    One point that LeBatard and other columnists have recently use in Rose “not-an-MVP” type columns is his defense, or “lack-thereof”. LeBatard notes that, “The Bulls’ defense is best in the league; Rose might be that defense’s least important piece.”

    Essentially, we’re seeing arguments that when Rose leaves the floor, the Bulls defense improves. But the writers just leave it at that. They don’t care to note that when Rose leaves the floor and the second unit enters, the second unit is also playing against a second unit. We have a great defensive scheme that can shut down #1 offenses, OF COURSE they are going to be able to shut down #2′s.

    Rose isn’t making an All-NBA Defensive team anytime soon, but he also isn’t Kyle Korver on D. The best counter to arguments that Rose is a poor defender are his games against opposing elite PG’s and how often he blocks/alters shots.

    Lastly, if you’re leading your team offensively and constantly pushing the ball, the chances that you’re going to be an All-NBA Defender are pretty minimal.

    How many times has a player been Top-10 in PPG/APG and made the All-NBA Defensive team? Anyone know?

  12. hanseatico@gmail.com'
    Hanseatico March 28, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    @c4 – we picked one of the best DRose MVP arguments – would be nice to have the updated numbers for Rose’s PPP allowed.
    @Matt McHale – maybe you can get those stats – and throw it on haters face…

  13. contrerasadvocates@yahoo.com'
    Savage March 28, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    It all makes me smile because I think Rose will win the MVP easily this year as he should. That will be the factor that proves most in the media and elsewhere pay little attention to these analysts’ baseless criticisms of a true NBA superstar. Sure give all the team success to the other All-stars on the team, oh wait there are none this year at least. Credit someone else for carrying the team while Boozer and Noah were out, oh wait it was clear Rose was the best performer on the team during those periods. D Rose better clear off his mantel he has an MVP award that is going to take up some space!

  14. dmalato2@gmail.com'
    Dan March 28, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

    Interesting that nobody points out that LeBron is number 2 on that list of scoring in the clutch and is significantly ahead of Rose in most other categories but assists.But that’s not the point.

    LeBatard’s article and his reasoning was atrocious, yes, but that doesn’t mean he’s not correct about some things. It seems from the tone of the points made here (and while I’m a Bulls fan, I’m not a regular reader of this site so forgive me) that everyone thinks that Rose is the MVP and the onus is on others to prove otherwise. That’s not how it works. If your criteria is that the best player on the best team should win the award, that’s fine. Then Rose is absolutely your guy. But when you say that things like leadership and knowing how to win are important attributes for an MVP, then look at the Bulls record and Rose as their best player, then just assume that “Rose + leadership/knowing how to win = Bulls with best record”, that’s a flawed argument.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, how do we know it’s Rose’s leadership or intangibles are what is making the Bulls team win? How do you quantify that? How do we know it’s not the coaching or the scheme? So filling in any gaps in the “tangibles” with those things sounds like a matter of convenience. Or even like Matt McHale said, just part of a narrative.

  15. inkybreath@gmail.com'
    inkybreath March 28, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    I also want to keep throwing in the fact that Rose had to orchestrate with a whole new team of players, on top of the injuries. This also works in Thibs favor for coach of the year, big time.

  16. inkybreath@gmail.com'
    inkybreath March 28, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    And, for the LeBronnners out there. Rose is like an ace pitcher, aka stopper, in that THE BULLS HAVE NOT LOST THREE GAMES IN A ROW ALL YEAR! The Heat had two four game losing streaks and a three game losing streak. Now, this is certainly a bit of selective statistification, but still, I think it has some merit.

  17. contrerasadvocates@yahoo.com'
    Savage March 29, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    @Dan the teams record always comes into consideration for the MVP award. Come on man, I hate to be too critical but that is pretty rudimentary stuff.

  18. oneredstone@gmail.com'
    RT March 31, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    Here’s my problem with these stats guys saying, “You’re wrong! You’re all voting the wrong way.” The MVP award has no clearly defined parameters. It’s like a “Sexiest Person of the Year” award – there is no criteria for how you define “sexy” so it would be stupid for one group of people to say, “You’re defining ‘sexy’ the wrong way, and therefore you’re voting for the wrong person.” Idiots.

    “Most Valuable” has no absolute meaning – it means different things to different people. Today Hollinger is calling Rose-for-MVP “a mistake” and “bad voting” – essentially he is saying that his definition of “Most Valuable” is the only right definition. (The guy probably has a stat for “sexy” too.)

    There can be no genuine debate about who should be MVP without a common definition of “Most Valuable.” For that reason, I wish the media and bloggers would just acknowledge and accept the subjectivity of the award – because it’s unlikely that the NBA will ever establish a definition.

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  1. The Point Forward » Posts Court Vision: The latest around the league « - March 28, 2011

    [...] At By the Horns, Matt McHale correctly points out that the Bulls’ offense isn’t quite so dismal these days — a point in [...]

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