And The MVP Goes To...

Last month I wrote a post about the Ascension of Derrick Rose. I make my case for Derrick Rose to be MVP based on improvement (mostly in win shares from the 2009-10 season to the 2010-11 season). An ascension like his hasn't been seen since the days of Jordan. But now that the season is over, who is the MVP?

The media has anointed Derrick Rose the MVP of the NBA.

Let's take a closer look at Win Shares to see if the media is right...

I love me some DRose just as much as the next Bulls fan but this doesn't look good for Chicago's basketball prodigy. Some of you basketball statisticians/followers might say "Why don't we use PER (player efficiency rating)". Ok, let's use PER...


Derrick Rose still ranks less than Dwight Howard and Lebron James.

The Narrative
The difficulty of this year's MVP race isn't the statistics, it's the narrative.

The Derrick Rose story is intriguing. Derrick is a humble, Chicago kid who may lead his hometown team to a championship. What's not to root for? Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer missed significant playing time this season and Derrick had to carry the team on his back. People don't hate on DRose. They hate on Lebron (and let's admit that his hate is pretty high right now). But Lebron DID contribute more wins to his team than DRose (Dwight Howard did as well but I have a hard time anointing an MVP who hurts his team with technical fouls (18) and suspensions).

Critics of this post will point to how Derrick "takes over games" and "wills" the team to a victory (especially in the fourth quarter). I’m not denying any of that. I’ve watched the games; I know what he can do. But “taking over” by way of scoring, defense, assisting, and rebounding is calculated in Win Shares. Any argument that includes injuries, learning a new system, having a new coach, et al, is narrative.

The Oddity
The strange thing about this analysis is we have a Bulls team with 62 wins with an MVP candidate with a win share of 13. Miami's record is 58-24 with the 2nd seed but who has an MVP candidate with win share of 15. Not a drastic difference. But in terms of wins and losses, two games can cost you. There's something else contributing to the Bulls performance this year.

The Reality
Did Derrick really carry the team on his back at different points during the season? I would say so. However, this argument can be made for any MVP candidate. We also have to consider Coach Tom Thibodeau’s system and the depth of the Bulls. Clint Feuerbach said it best...
The most obvious improvement that Coach Thibodeau has instilled in this young Bulls team is defensive intensity. The casual observer will quickly notice that this Bulls team consistently holds teams to under their season averages in points scored and field goal percentage.

Last night the Bulls held the Celtics to a putrid 29 percent shooting in the second half and allowed only 81 total points. It was the 28th time the Bulls have held their opponents to under 85 points this season.

Obviously the Bulls do a fantastic job in both points allowed and opponent field-goal percentage but what is lost on some is how they achieve this night in and night out. The Bulls achieve this stifling defense by being the most determined and fundamentally sound defensive team in the NBA.
The Bench Mob has stepped up all year. They buy into the defensive scheme and can score points. Depth and defense are the Bulls most important pieces. Yes, we need Derrick to score, but not as much as, say, Miami needs Dwyane Wade or LBJ to score (personally, I would put Coach Thibs system against the nameless coach in Miami any day). Miami wins their games on sheer athletic ability, NOT on a system.

The Verdict
Do I think if Derrick wins the MVP award that he doesn’t necessarily deserve it? Absolutely not. He had a helluva season. But I do think the voters for said award need to rely less on narrative and more on advanced statistics.

The best thing we have to measure a player is how many wins they contribute -- that’s how we measure the great ones. And Derrick is great. No doubt.

It just so happens that in terms of wins, this year, Lebron James was better.

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  1. Your first mistake is assuming that advanced basketball statistics have anywhere close to the integrity of advanced baseball statistics. Short answer: they don't.

    Stick to sabermetrics.

  2. I'll admit: Baseball is definitely my territory; I know little about baxetball.

    Will, you're on your own here.

  3. Hi Anonymous (if that is your real name),

    Thanks for reading the post.

    A couple of points I would like to make:

    1)I am NOT opposed to DRose winning the MVP, he had an MVP season but so did two other players. It's difficult for me to separate the narrative of this year + the improvement from last year from the statistics (Win Shares).

    2)I heard my argument has the "ball hog" Lebron James. I would like to dispute this by saying DRose beat Lebron by .7 (yes, .7) assists per game this year. AND for the past couple of years, Lebron beat Derrick Rose in this category. So Lebron being a ball hog isn't a worthy debate.

    3)If you read my "The Ascension of Derrick Rose" post I mention that every MVP candidate (sans DRose) regressed in Win Shares from last season to this season. Unfortunately, Lebron's regression still beats (although slightly) Derrick's win shares this season. Will the voting committee take this into consideration? I don't know. If I was voting for MVP (which I'm not) I would vote for DRose -- partly because he has improved so much over this past season and because of the narrative.

    4)There has to be an easier way to MVP than narrative. That's why I included win shares. It works. It's simple. It's clean.

    As far as staying with sabermetrics, couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, neither team on both sides of town spark my interest at the moment. Have you seen this baseball? It's awful.

    The lead, in the short term, is the Bulls playoff run, the collapse of a bullpen (White Sox), and the lack of baserunning (Cubs).