Derrick Rose and defense

In yesterday’s post, I presented various arguments about whether or not Derrick Rose should be given (or should at least be considered) for the MVP award.

Mind you, this kind of discussion, while irresistible, is both futile and meaningless. The MVP is awarded in June, not January. We haven’t even reached the All-Star Break yet. And, last time I checked, the NBA has never handed out a midseason MVP trophy.

Gregg Easterbrook, ESPN’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback, writes about the “Christmas Creep” — the phenomenon in which Christmas celebrations (and marketing) begin earlier and earlier each year. Well, NBA community has been suffering “MVP Creep” for a while now.

It seems like it’s never too early to start arguing about the merits of Player X’s MVP candidacy. It actually begins with season previews and never really stops. SLAM online ran an artile titled “Deron Williams is the NBA’s MVP”…on November 10. Amar’e Stoudemire heard “M-V-P!” chants on the road as early as December 11. Kobe Bryant received “M-V-P!” chants from the home crowd when the Lakes faced the Heat on Christmas day.


It’s too early for this debate. But it happens. It happened here, yesterday, and as you can tell by the comments, it can get chippy. People have strong feelings. Even the people trying to (or, at least, claining to) analyze the game from a purely statistical standpoint get pretty emotional about their stance.

But I’m way off point here.

TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott linked to yesterday’s post and wrote the following (emphasis mine):

A treasure trove of opinions arguing that Derrick Rose is or is not the leading candidate for MVP. I think it’s an accomplishment for Rose to even get into conversations like this, no matter your criteria. He’s a pretty bad defender on the NBA’s seventh-best team, and he’s not even among the very best producers on offense, ranking 14th in PER. Dumb ol’ points per game can sometimes get someone a magic pass, but even there he’s seventh. I’m not saying any of those metrics are gospel. I’m saying the best player in the league ought to really stand out at something, and being the most exciting player and leading scorer on a good team in a big market is not enough.

I have been surprised a few times this season when presented with the “common knowledge” that Rose is a poor defender, even by someone as well-informed and well-connected as Mr. Abbott. It’s understandable. During his first two years in the league, Rose’s defense vascillated between “bad” and “terrible.” He couldn’t stay in front of a traffic code. He didn’t fight through picks. Sometimes his opponents’ shots were launched with nary a hand in the face, other times Derrick would jump at the shadow of a pump fake.

But if you’ve watched Rose this season — really watched him — you’ll know all that has changed. It’s changed by quite a lot, actually. The common knowledge about Rose’s “pretty bad” defense has become a myth, which is why the following article should be required reading for anybody who wants to discuss it.

Rob Mahoney of the New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog recently wrote a piece called “Rose Dwarfs Other Improvements With Defense.” It’s as complete and exhaustive as you could possible ask for. There’s in-depth analysis. There are advanced metrics. There are video breakdowns. Like I said, it’s a must-read for smart fans who want to know the full story behind Rose’s improved defense.

Here’s a sampling:

Joakim Noah, thought to be the single key to the Bulls’ defensive success, has played only 24 of 41 games this season, and yet Chicago is still best in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions. Rose doesn’t deserve all of the credit, but the perimeter trio of Rose, Ronnie Brewer, and Luol Deng has made things tough for opposing teams. It’s a matter of necessity; Chicago’s offense isn’t good enough to keep it afloat, and its defense provides the most consistent path toward victory. If Rose were still a defensive sieve, the Bulls would be struggling without Noah. If Rose were merely a moderately successful defender, the Bulls wouldn’t have the top defense and the third seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s taken every bit of Rose’s defensive improvement to keep the Bulls rolling despite significant injuries to both Noah and Carlos Boozer, but he’s quickly taken to Thibodeau’s famed defensive system and delivered in a big way.

More outstanding yet are Rose’s individual defensive numbers. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Rose has allowed just 0.77 points per possession overall on defense this season, an elite mark for any defender, regardless of position. Chris Paul (0.86 points per possession allowed), Rajon Rondo (0.83 PPP allowed), and Russell Westbrook (0.92 PPP allowed) — all excellent defenders — have been trumped statistically this year, and by no slim margin. Rose has each of those players handily beat, and boasts a shockingly comprehensive defensive profile. … Rose is particularly effective in defending isolation sequences, where he allows just 0.61 points per possession.

Like I said: Good stuff.

In his argument against Rose-as-MVP, Abbott said: “I’m saying the best player in the league ought to really stand out at something.” Based on Mahoney’s findings, maybe the thing Rose really stands out at is the very thing Mr. Abbott thinks Derrick is pretty bad at: Defense.


4 Responses to Derrick Rose and defense

    Tony C. January 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    I was surprised by Abbott’s statement as well, and agree that it is way off base. Having said that, I believe that Mahoney’s article was also over-the-top.

    There is no doubt that Rose has improved considerably this season, and he deserves lots of credit for it. However, Thibs’ excellent defensive system must be a significant contributor to Rose’s statistical improvement. In fact, is there a Bulls player who hasn’t improved based on D-stats going from a VDN-coached team to Thibs?

    I’ll answer my own question with the following list of improvements in Drtgs from last season, to this year’s (Thibs-coached) Bulls team:

    Brewer -8 (106 to 98)
    Rose -7 (109 to 102)
    Gibson -6 (103 to 97)
    Boozer -4 (102 to 98)
    Korver -4 (107 to 103)
    Deng -3 (106 to 103)
    Bogans -3 (106 to 103)

    While having admittedly used just one statistical measure, can anyone look at that list and maintain that the team’s defensive system hasn’t had a major impact on all of the Bulls players’ defensive stats? And using that measure, should we arrive at the conclusion that Ronnie Brewer – a player who has been in the league for a number of years – has improved his individual defense markedly?

    Again, I do believe that Rose has improved his individual defense to a meaningful degree. But I’d argue that his statistical improvement is greatly influenced by the Bulls’ superb team defense.

    Wes R January 27, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    Yup, I think MVP creep has been particularly bad this year, since the season overall has been GREAT! Lots of storylines, lots of relevant basketball returning to basketball hungry locales, lots of Blake Griffin. Good stuff. Great to know that there’s an advanced metric that captures his improvement on defense!

    Always lost in the shuffle, and never really emphasized by some that swear by advanced statistics and metrics, is that there are times that statistics aren’t capturing what’s happening on the court, given that we don’t capture every single “event” that happens on the court.

    Even though our eyes see the improvement on defense, and even the results, when the stats fail to capture it, we rely on the stats, rather than try to look a little bit further. Unfortunately, people that try to take that approach are sometimes believed to be “old school”, and afraid of stats.

    The defensive system overall has been superb to outstanding. The scariest part is that there is still a good amount of room for improvement when it comes to execution, and even for the coaching staff to fully learn what it can, and can’t get away with, using the players on this team.

    For all the non-ideal losses this year (Clippers, both Bobcat losses, Philly), I have to keep reminding myself that we’re scratching the surface of something that will be fun to watch for seasons to come!

  3. Trey January 27, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Just like it was with Ray Allen after he started working with Thubs and really improving, it’s going to take a year or two to lose the stigma of being a bad defender. Rose isn’t a first team all defense but his overall defense has improved almost as much as his three point spot this year. Granted, having Thibs improving the entire team defense is certainly going to help when Rose does get beat, but the isolation stat shows that he is no slouch on defense anymore, contrary to popular belief.

  4. TBF January 27, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    Although we can see with our eyes that Derrick’s defense has improved and can provide one stat that says it has, I’m sure the other side could provide such an one stat that says he hasn’t.

    As we all know, figures lie and liars figure.

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