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Derrick Rose
Chicago's Derrick Rose and Orlando's Dwight Howard are considered MVP front-runners.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

In a tight MVP race, voters look at more than just stats

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Apr 7 2011 1:37PM

When it comes to determining who wins the Kia Most Valuable Player award, statistics do not tell the whole story. There are intangible qualities that players bring to their teams that can't be measured.

So consider the following an NBA.com StatsCube exploration of the impact that players make on their teams, but not necessarily the final word or a definitive declaration of who is the 2010-11 MVP.

In fact, a few MVP candidates aren't even mentioned ...

We've seen a lot of debate about the MVP race over the last few weeks, and for the most part, the discussion has centered around Derrick Rose, whose candidacy gets a lot of support from those that are not statistical-minded and very little love from those (present company included) that lean on the numbers.

One of the reasons for so much debate is that no MVP candidate this season -- not Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James -- is nearly as strong a candidate as James was each of the last two years. He led the Cavs to 60-plus wins and top-seven rankings on both offense and defense each year, with a relatively weak supporting cast. His MVP candidacy was one that any unbiased NBA observer, whether or not they delved deeply into the numbers, could support.

This year, James is still putting up huge individual numbers, but his singular value to his team is lessened by his two All-Star teammates. Bryant's MVP argument is similarly hindered by the presence of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. The Spurs and Celtics each have multiple stars. Howard's team has the eighth-best record in the league.

Rose has had a great season and is clearly the best offensive player on the team with the league's second-best record. But the Bulls' success starts with their defense, which allows a league-low 97.4 points per 100 possessions. It's hard to argue that Rose makes much of an impact on that end of the floor.

Bulls' efficiency, Rose on and off the floor
Rose on/off floor Min. Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Diff.
On floor 2847 107.3 99.3 +8.0
Off floor 878 98.7 91.1 +7.6
Off. Eff. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Eff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The Bulls have been a terrific defensive team with Rose on the floor, but have been much better when their second unit enters the game. Rose is clearly the key to their offense, but overall, they've outscored their opponents by just 0.4 points more per 100 possessions with Rose on the floor than with him on the bench.

That doesn't mean that the Bulls would still be a 50-win team without Rose. But they'd still be a great defensive team. The on-off court differential of just +0.4 does speak to his value, and there are players that have had a much bigger impact on their team's numbers.

Team efficiency, player on or off court
Player Min. Off. ON Def. ON Off. OFF Def. OFF Off. DIFF Def. DIFF Total DIFF
Paul Pierce 2667 108.3 96.7 94.2 100.1 +14.1 -3.5 17.6
Kevin Garnett 2122 108.6 95.4 98.7 100.7 +10.0 -5.3 15.3
Dirk Nowitzki 2366 111.1 101.0 100.8 106.0 +10.3 -5.0 15.3
Chris Paul 2753 107.6 101.7 94.5 102.3 +13.1 -0.6 13.7
LaMarcus Aldridge 3096 107.0 103.2 98.9 108.5 +8.1 -5.3 13.4
Steve Nash 2405 111.2 106.4 99.4 107.8 +11.8 -1.5 13.3
Manu Ginobili 2395 112.1 100.6 104.4 106.0 +7.7 -5.4 13.1
Kyle Lowry 2559 109.6 104.6 105.0 111.2 +4.7 -6.6 11.3
Chris Bosh 2695 110.7 99.4 105.1 104.6 +5.5 -5.2 10.7
Mike Conley 2774 107.2 102.6 96.6 102.0 +10.6 +0.6 10.0
Minimum 1,000 minutes
Off. ON = Team's points scored per 100 possessions with player on floor
Def. ON = Team's points allowed per 100 possessions with player on floor
Off. OFF = Team's points scored per 100 possessions with player off floor
Def. OFF = Team's points allowed per 100 possessions with player off floor

The Celtics' four All-Stars all rank in the top 41 of the league in on-off court differential. So, while Pierce and Garnett have been their most important players, their numbers are boosted by the time they spend on the floor together and with Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, as well as the weakness of their bench all season.

If we're truly measuring how valuable a player is to his team, we'd have to make Chris Paul the MVP, because the Hornets would be just awful without him. And they have been awful when he's stepped off the floor, getting outscored by 7.8 points per 100 possessions. But carrying your team to the 10th best record in the league doesn't get you the MVP. Neither does failing to make the playoffs, so Steve Nash -- who's right there with Paul when it comes to the singular impact he has on his team -- isn't going to get much consideration, either.

Where does Dwight Howard stand on this list? He's 33rd with an on-off court differential of +6.4.

Magic's efficiency, Howard on and off the floor
Howard on/off floor Min. Off. Eff. Def. Eff. Diff.
On floor 2874 107.0 99.1 8.0
Off floor 947 101.9 100.3 1.6

The Magic are both a better offensive and defensive team with Howard on the floor. The defensive impact of the two-time defensive player of the year is obvious, but Howard's presence in the paint is also the key to Orlando's offense, and more this year than it ever was. Howard's usage rate (the percentage of possessions he uses while he's on the floor) is a career-high 30.1 percent this season, up from 26.6 percent last year.

Thanks to two big mid-season trades, Howard has been making an impact with two different supporting casts, neither of which has performed up to expectations. In terms of raw plus-minus, Howard is ninth in the league at plus-457, which is 146 points higher than the next player on the Magic (Hedo Turkoglu).

Only two players that lead their team in raw plus-minus can claim a bigger difference between them and their next highest teammate.

Biggest difference, raw plus-minus
Player Team +/- Next highest Diff.
Steve Nash PHX 287 Frye 181
Dirk Nowitzki DAL 457 Terry 149
Dwight Howard ORL 461 Turkoglu 146
Chris Paul NOH 281 Okafor 103
Manu Ginobili SAS 535 Duncan 91

Raw plus-minus has its detractors and must be taken in context (like who the other players on the floor are at any given time), especially when it comes to single-game numbers. But it does reflect the most important statistic in basketball, which is whether or not your team outscores its opponent. And over the course of a full season, it obviously has a lot more meaning than it does in a single game.

When we look at the raw plus-minus list, we should be nodding our head at each of the top four names on the list. When it comes to a single player's importance to his team, aren't Nash, Nowitzki, Howard and Paul the most valuable?

The clutch question

Another popular argument for Rose is that he's won many games for his team in the clutch. And if you've watched enough of the Bulls this season, you've seen Rose hit several big buckets down the stretch of tight games. Heck, you've seen several in the last couple of weeks.

But Rose has made fewer than 40 percent of his shots in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score margin of five points or less (either way). And even when you account for getting to the free-throw line, he hasn't been particularly efficient.

But when the stakes have been a little bit higher, Rose has been better.

Rose in clutch situations
Situation Off. Eff. Def. Eff. eFG% TS% Usg% Rank
Overall 107.3 99.3 48.0% 54.4% 36.3% 2
5/5 114.0 94.8 40.7% 51.9% 52.9% 1
3/3 120.8 81.6 44.5% 53.8% 58.4% 1
5/5 = Last five minutes of fourth quarter or OT, score differential of five points or less
3/3 = Last three minutes of fourth quarter or OT, score differential of three points or less
eFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM))/ FGA
TS% = Points/ (2 *(FGA + (0.44*FTA)))
Usg% = Percentage of possessions used
Rank = League rank in Usg%. Bryant ranks 1st overall, but 2nd in 5/5 and 3/3 situations.

In terms of True Shooting Percentage (how efficiently you're scoring), Rose ranks just 15th (just ahead of Bryant) among those who have taken at least 30 shots from the field in the 3/3 situation. But the fact is that he has the ball more than anyone else in late-game situations, and the Bulls are incredibly efficient. Only Dallas, Golden State and the Lakers have been more efficient in those 3/3 situations.

In one way, two points in the second quarter are worth the same as two points in the fourth. But clearly, being able to put the ball in Rose's hands at the end of games has been critical for the Bulls, who are 15-9 in games decided by five points or less or in overtime.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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