Should Derrick Rose apologize if he wins the MVP award?

In case you haven’t heard, the MVP race is over.

Derrick Rose has won it.

Just ask Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy.

Of course, Van Grumpy harrumphed this conclusion as supposedly irrefutable fact even as he was stumping for his own player, Dwight Howard, which makes his claim a bit disingenuous. It’s probably more honest to say that Stan believes Rose is the front-runner but hopes making bold public proclamations will inspire the MVP voters to reconsider the ballot they haven’t actually cast yet.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of people who feel strongly against Rose for MVP.

Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference compares Rose’s presumed MVP award to the one Allen Iverson won in 2000-01 — in an unfavorable way — stating that snubbing LeBron is “borderline indefensible.”

Henry Abbott of TrueHoop writes “LeBron James is a better player, playing just as he did when he ran away with this award the past two seasons. Beyond bitterness, is there a reason to disqualify him so early?”

Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk says Rose will probably win but wants you to know there are better candidates (Helin is with Van Gundy in the Howard camp).

Tom Ziller of SBNation absolutely hates the idea of Rose winning the MVP: “If you’re handing your support to Rose without considering [Russell] Westbrook and the others strongly, know that you’re not awarding the Most Valuable Player trophy, you’re awarding a kindergarten gold star for a totally awesome story or the Man Booker prize or something. Awarding MVP trophies based on warm fuzzies should be reserved for youth soccer, not the highest levels of sport.”

Ziller goes on to write the following faux future letter from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: “Dear basketball fans. No, we don’t know why Steve Nash won two MVP awards as the 20th or so best player of his generation while monsters like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal only won one each, and Tim Duncan only won two, and Dwyane Wade never won one. Our forensic research suggests that voters became enamored with the entertaining and surprising Phoenix Suns and, worried that their pea-sized brains would forget all about Nash and the Seven Seconds Or Less offense, decided to memorialize the era with not one but two giant bronze trophies. We regret the voters’ lack of reason, and as penance present this oversized mural depicting a bayonet-wielding Shaq chasing Mitch Albom through the Fourth Circle of Hell.”

Wow. And people think I’m bitter and sarcastic at Basketbawful.

What seems to be rubbing Ziller and others the wrong way is that the MVP isn’t treated as some hallowed “Best Player Based on Advanced Metrics” award. And who knows? Maybe the NBA should create a BPBoAM award. Or maybe the NBA should provide a clearly defined set of criteria for MVP voting…

…only that’s never going to happen.

Why would the NBA do something as stupid as that? The MVP debate creates buzz and makes headlines. It gets people talking. It’s free publicity year after year after year. If the NBA instituted rigid criteria for the MVP award, much of that free publicity would be lost. And Skip Bayless wouldn’t have nearly as much to scream about.

If Rose does indeed win the MVP, it will likely be because the Bulls win the East (and finish second or third in the league in terms of wins), he’s the team’s best player, and he has a better storyline than anybody else.

As Kevin Arnovitz of the Heat Index put it: “The media and fans like novelty because it keeps the narrative interesting. That means that whenever there’s a legitimate candidate for MVP who hasn’t previously been in the conversation, we tend to gravitate toward him. And when that candidate’s team loses only three times in six weeks, the momentum builds. This is true in basketball or baseball.”

Here’s the question: Don’t you think the NBA wants it that way?

Think about it. The NBA is a business. Fun, positive, feel-good stories are great for any business. Human beings love novelty. NBA fans are no different. Most of the anti-Rose hand-wringing  is coming from the advanced stats community. But if stats are the only thing that matter, why don’t they just watch game simulations on NBA 2K11? Wouldn’t that be a dream world? Where every action and reaction was governed by hard data…where the only storylines were cranked out on a calculator or inside a computer…

Thanks. But no thanks.

This NBA fan enjoys the world as it is. And not because I’m blogging about a team whose best player may benefit from the “best storyline wins” concept.

And do me a favor: Let’s stop pretending the “storyline” thing is some gross miscarriage of justice. It’s not a new concept. Storyline has trumped statistical output repeatedly throughout NBA history. People like Ziller would have you believe it began with Nash’s MVPs in 2005 and 2006, or maybe, as Paine suggested, Iverson’s MVP in 2001.

It didn’t. Let’s hop into the WABAC machine, Sherman.

In 1961-62, Wilt Chamberlain led the league in scoring (an insane 50.4 PPG), rebounding (25.7), minutes per game (an absurd 48.5 thanks to overtime sessions), Player Efficiency Rating (31.8), Offensive Win Shares (17.1), Win Shares (23.1) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (0.286). Do you know who won the MVP award? Bill Russell. Because, see, Bill was a winner (the Celtics went 60-20 and captured yet another title) and Wilt was a loser (his Philadelphia Warriors went 49-31 and lost a tough seven game series to the Celtics in the Eastern Division Finals).

Chamberlain was — by leaps and bounds — the better player. Every statistic you could possibly ask for, advanced or otherwise, bears this out. But Russell had the better storyline. David versus Goliath. Champion versus Loser.

The 1962-63 season was more of the same. Wilt once again led the league in points (44.8), rebounding (24.3), PER (31.8), Win Shares (20.9), etc. Once again, Russell, the champion, was given the MVP award.

In 1972-73, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 30.2 PPG and 16.2 RPG. He led the league in Player Efficiency Rating (28.5), Offensive Win Shares (14.4), Win Shares (21.9) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (0.323). And his Milwaukee Bucks had a pretty decent season (60-22). However, Kareem wasn’t particularly well-liked and had won the award the previous season. Dave Cowens, on the other hand, was leading a revival in Boston, where the Celtics won a league-best 68 games.

A scrappy, white, undersized center going toe-to-toe with titans like Kareem and Wilt while helping the league’s most storied franchise return to its former glory? Now that, my friends, is a narrative worthy of the MVP.

In 1977-78, Bill Walton was unquestionably awesome — 18.9 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 5.0 APG, 24.8 PER — but he also played only 58 games while George Gervin led the league in scoring (27.2), Kareem led the league in PER (29.2) and David Thompson led the league in Win Shares (12.7).

Walton, however, had become a folk hero, and his Trail Blazers were the league’s best (58-24) and most-beloved team. I’m pretty sure that helped Big Bill win the MVP.

Flash forward to 1980-81 when Adrian Dantley led the league in PPG (30.7), Larry Bird’s Celtics led the league in won-loss record (62-20), and Kareem led the league in PER (25.5) and Win Shares (14.3). But the Philadelphia 76ers held the league’s best record for most of the year before losing a tiebreaker game to Boston on the final day of the regular season. And hey: Doctor J was excellent (24.6/8.0/4.4) and had never won an MVP award. It was his time. And he won it.

Better story than anybody else.

Consider the 1986-87 season. Larry Bird was still his usual amazing self — 28 PPG, 9 RPG, 7 APG, a PER of 26.4 — but he’d won the last three MVP awards. Michael Jordan led the league in PPG by a country mile (37.1) and also took top honors in Usage Percentage (an incredible 38.3), PER (29.8) and Win Shares (16.9). But the Bulls went 40-42. Meanwhile, in L.A., Kareem finally passed the torch to Magic Johnson, who set career high in scoring (23.9 PPG) and led the Lakers to the league’s best record (65-17).

And it’s best story.

Or how about 1989-90, when Jordan, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley finished first, second and third in PER (31.2, 27.2 and 27.1, respectively). Barkley led the league in True Shooting Percentage (66.1) and Offensive Rating (an unreal 127.9), while MJ was the top dog in Win Shares (19.0) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (0.285). Sir Charles ended up with the most first place votes…but lost the MVP award to Magic Johnson, who had once again led the Lakers to the league’s best record (63-19) in the first year of Kareem’s retirement.

Best story wins out.

Let’s not forget about 1992-93, when Jordan again led the league in scoring (32.6), Usage Percentage (34.7), PER (29.7), Win Shares (17.2) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (0.270). But Barkley had been traded to the Phoenix Suns, had himself a career year (25.6/12.2/5.1) and led the Suns to the league’s best record (62-20).

Chuck was the MVP. Better story.

Now, 1996-97 is an interesting case. Many people feel that The Mailman “stole” the MVP award from MJ. Yet Malone’s Jazz won 64 games while Karl led the league in PER (28.9 to Jordan’s 27.8) and finished second (to Mike) in both Win Shares and Win Shares Per 48 minutes. Not really the heist some people have made it out to be.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Malone won the award, in large part, out of sympathy for a long career of (relatively) unrewarded brilliance.

Let’s not leave out Kobe Bryant’s MVP award in 2008. Bryant didn’t lead the league in any major statistical category. He finished fourth in Win Shares (13.8), fifth in Offensive Win Shares (9.5) eighth in PER (behind even Manu Ginobili), 8th in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (0.208), 14th in Defensive Win Shares (4.3), and he wasn’t even in the top 20 in either Offensive or Defensive Rating. Statistically speaking, there was nothing whatsoever to suggest that Kobe was the best or most valuable player in the league. LeBron led the league in PER (29.1) while Chris Paul was first in Win Shares (17.8) and a close second in PER (28.3).

But the Lakers (barely) won the West and Kobe was given a Lifetime Achievement Award MVP because the Lakers had returned to prominence post-Shaq under his watch.

I could go on. But you get my point.

Derrick shouldn’t have to apologize if he wins the MVP. And I’m not going to apologize for him. Nor will I feel sorry for poor LeBron James, who has an MVP-caliber teammate (D-Wade is third in the league in PER) and another All-Star (in Chris Bosh) as sidekicks but whose team is currently sixth-best in the league in terms of wins and losses. That’s most important stat…right?

Henry Abbott noted that winning seems to be the most important factor in MVP voting. Well, the Bulls have the league’s second-best record and currently lead John Hollinger’s Power Rankings by more than two points over the…Denver Nuggets. LeBron’s Heat are fourth in Hollinger’s rankings. Critics will say that this success is due to coaching or defense. Others will say Rose is just the lucky beneficiary of an irresistable story.


The great and terrible thing about the MVP is that there are no true constants…just trends and generalities. This allows fans, experts and MVP voters to decide what’s most important to them. People get way too caught up in what they believe the MVP award should be. Should it be advanced stats? Or stories? Or wins?

Maybe it should be all three. Maybe it always has been.

17 Responses to Should Derrick Rose apologize if he wins the MVP award?

    inkybreath March 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    Thank you for breaking this down. It was getting to be a bit much.

    BFD March 25, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Next time you’re on True Hoop (maybe tonight?) link back to this. Good stuff.

    Bex March 25, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    Matt–Thank you for the “Van Grumpy” nickname. Don’t know if you came up with it, but it is very appropriate of late.
    As for the debate–I personally love the naysaying. Rose feeds on that stuff. A playoff series versus Orlando will now be that much better.

    Peter March 25, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    A little disingenuous to say that anti-Rose guys are just looking at advanced stats. Those writers you mention watch a lot of basketball, too. My impression was that they watch the games and form an opinion, and then refer to stats when writing.

    But you’re right, its not a big deal either way, and no one loses sleep over this stuff. Well, maybe Stan van Gundy.

    Matt McHale March 25, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    “A little disingenuous to say that anti-Rose guys are just looking at advanced stats. Those writers you mention watch a lot of basketball, too. My impression was that they watch the games and form an opinion, and then refer to stats when writing.”

    Actually, what I keep reading from (and, at times, discussing with) these writer are variations of the following theme: “I know Rose LOOKS spectacular when you watch him, but what you’re seeing is deceptive. The numbers show that he’s not actually as amazing as he looks…”

    And I’m not really arguing with their premise. There are more efficient, statistically significant players. But my point is that storyline has been a big part of MVP voting since way back when. Only now, for some reason, we’re supposed to believe that’s “wrong” or “bad” or “unfair.” Which would be fine if there were set criteria, or if MVP was supposed to be a “Best Player” award. However, it’s not, and, as I stated in my post, I believe the NBA wants it that way…open to interpretation, discussion, debate, etc.

    Savage March 25, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    Rose will win the MVP because he deserves it PERIOD. His team is #1 on the east has no other All-stars on it this year. He is a young man that often carried the team when two keys were out for extended periods in Boozer and Noah. He works tirelessly on his game. He is modest and an old school type of player. He is great for the NBA and should be MVP no questions asked. LBJ has 2 other superstar players and they still are not first in the East and just as with MJ you can’t win the award every year no matter how good you are. All those in the media crying about it just want attention.

  7. Inception March 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    give the MVP to someone else besides Rose and COY to Pop….that team would play with a huge chip on their shoulders then….and you know what happens from there…

    Matt March 25, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    Good article.

    To all the haters out there. I don’t give a rats ass what any ones stats are or their PERs or wins above replacement bullshit. Watch a game and see the load that Drose carries every single night. See how relentless he is and the will he imposes.

    Lebron James is playing with a top 5 player in the league and a perennial all star. Thats the way he wanted it. If he wants to win MVP he either A. Needs to win 72 plus games or B. needs to average 30 10 and 10.

    Kobe Bryant is on the two time defending champs. He plays with two talented 7 footers and a sixth man of the year candidate, and a HOF coach.

    Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard should be the only two players in the conversation for most VALUABLE player. Its not most outstanding player or best player. Its most VALUABLE. There is no one in the league that is more VALUABLE to their teams then Rose and Howard.

    Eddy Rivera March 25, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    “But my point is that storyline has been a big part of MVP voting since way back when. Only now, for some reason, we’re supposed to believe that’s ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ or “unfair.’ ”

    It’s like that because we have copious amount of data, observation, and technology to make the right and informed decision. That’s why there’s a hubbub now.

    Kristyn March 25, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    1st I would like to say great article. here’s the issue I have with stats (which is why I will only reference poll results and common sense) stats don’t tell the whole story. I will say I’m a derrick Rose/ Chicago bulls fan which I’m sure Will come across but Derrick Rose is the MVP. If u look at ESPN polls on who should be MVP D.Rose runs away with the award somewhere around 65% of the votes. You know who votes in those polls…ppl who actually WATCH games..not ppl nerds who are obsessed with advanced stats and things of the nature. The MVP award is not about the BEST player in the league or Kobe would have more than one. MVP is also not called the most outstanding or the Best Stat line award or Dwight would have won or at least been mentioned last year along with Dirk and KD. I also take issue with ppl saying D.Rose isn’t efficient. is that a joke? Efficient would translate to wins right? well D.Rose and his Bulls hold the best record against all the other nominees mentioned. And why is it wrong that ppl r “already” considering him MVP um….70 games have been played. I don’t care what so and so did after the all star break.. Derrick has done it since OCTOBER! Carlos Boozer and Jo Noah missed 54. Yes 54! And Derrick has led his team to victores. Yes Thibs has been great preaching defense and yes the bench is great defensively but Derrick shouldered much of the work. Yes Lu has been great recently but let’s not forget how inconsistent he was in the beginning I guess my point is ppl makes thing so difficult when its really common sense yes it may appear simplistic but most things in life are. Derrick has done the most with least (w/ 2 of his most important teammates missing 50+ games) yet he has his team 1st in the East. He worked hard all off season to get better then brought into a new coachs defensive system. That’s not a good story that’s the FACTS.

    Matt McHale March 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    “It’s like that because we have copious amount of data, observation, and technology to make the right and informed decision. That’s why there’s a hubbub now.”

    Eddy! Whattup?

    I have a question: What is “right” in an award selection process that has never had any rules? That’s sort of my point, right? This always happens with MVP, no matter which side you’re arguing on: People are trying to project their particular protocol onto a decision-making process that has never had any rules.

    And that just bugs the hell out of people. It’s so…vague and uncontrolled. It can’t be explained or predicted. And it it could be, how interesting would it be? If year after year the PER leader, say, would be given MVP. Where’s the interest? The excitement? The anticipation?

    inkybreath March 25, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    The NBA needs their “Silver Slugger Award” – I don’t think it would detract from the MVP and hell, the same person could win both.

    It’s true that every year we hear the harping of the abstract nature of this process.

    And, just to more logs to the fire – Mr. Rose had to become the leader of a COMPLETELY brand new team. He had to manage his own growth process, learn how to listen to a new coach and his intense defensive system, integrate with all the new personalities on and off the court, step up and let his team know that they would be okay without Boozer… and so on!

    Grrrr…. I love how easy it is to fight for Rose. He makes it an effortless enterprise.

    Shannon Mayfield March 26, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    Just thought I’d note that in the first 4 examples used, the MVP was selected by player vote only.

  14. spacetime March 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    The irony of course is that one stat has always been looked at for determining MVP: team wins. It’s the most important stat, but now that we have all these advanced stats, people forget about it and prefer PER or whatever.

    LeBron and Howard’s teams aren’t as successful as Rose’s. And Rose is more important than LeBron for his team’s success. It’s not that difficult to understand. I could see the case for Howard, he’s a beast and his team really depends on him, and his team is doing significantly worse than Rose’s (and you can’t say that the bulls are much more talented than Orlando – we just play a lot better as a team and are a bit more balanced, but talent wise I don’t think there’s a big difference). But for all the stat nerds to say it should be LeBron is a joke.

    inkybreath March 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    The only thing about Orlando is they do have playmakers. JRich, Turkalu, Nelson…

    The Bulls don’t have players that can break down defenses.

    Howard’s post-game has gotten better and there is a lot of that improvement that I haven’t seen for myself, but I think it still rings true….

    A'aliyah April 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    As far as im concerned d.rose deserves the mvp award. Lebron James is an impressive player i will give him tha but he never shares the ball with his other teammates like rose. Rose is the leader on the team and shares his outstanding success with the rest of his teammates like kover who knocks down sick 3 point shoots and omere asik who can dunk everytime he gets the chance. Rose can fly past anyone he wants and can get anyone he wants open. Unlike lebron, rose motivates the rest of his team to shoot while d.wade and lebron score threwout the entire game with no help from their bench. Rose has carried his team with boozer and noah out for numerous of games. Lebron is not a team player and doesnt understand the meaning of team. If James was a so called “MVP” his team would be the number one seed in the NBA but a you can see that didnt happen. He also would have beat the bulls but unfortantly lost all three times playingg. Rose is so humble and while people say numbers count they do but when you look at how the entire team has grown thats shows the true results. So my vote is ROSE FOR MVP.!!


  1. Why Derrick Rose Will (Not Should) Win MVP Over Lebron James « Hard hat. Lunch pail. - March 30, 2011

    […] As the regular season slowly comes to an end, the MVP talk has been even more rampant. With most signs pointing to Derrick Rose as the likely recipient of the award, there is little doubt that he won’t win it. Sure there have been tons of detractors like Dan Le Batard who will try and convince you that he shouldn’t win it. Heck, Bulls by the Horns has a whole list of them in his recent post here. […]

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