Rose’s historic season means no true MVP competition
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Derrick Rose is going to be the league's MVP, even if I don't vote for him. I am going to vote for him, but only because he's the only choice. Actually, I wish I didn't have to vote for him, because my work now is on the Bulls web site. So the assumption is it would be expected. Which is what I wrote in November when I said Rose was the league's MVP. Frankly, I didn't expect that to last because I believed once Carlos Boozer returned, Rose's scoring would go down substantially. But then Joakim Noah also went out, and then they both came back and nothing much changed.
Of course, I also believed before the season the Bulls would win 52 games and finish fourth in the East. Heck, I thought I was being optimistic given Boozer was going to be out a month and he was the offseason free agent jewel. My preseason MVP prediction was for LeBron James. I knew that 70-win stuff was nonsense, but I thought the Heat could win 60 games, though I had them for third in the East. I had Boston and Orlando one and two. Still, I felt LeBron would be dominant, Dwyane Wade would work to make that possible, which he has done, and the national media focus on LeBron would swallow up the opposition.
Now we know the Heat isn't getting the best record and James isn't the MVP. Yes, he's had a great statistical season, but he's playing with Wade, who is either a first or second team all-NBA player. Some feel Wade has had a more impactful season than James. So how are you MVP? And when Wade was out or limited, like early in the season or even last week at home against the Bucks, LeBron couldn't make a difference. Even the South Florida media is writing now James or Wade are not the MVP, guys like Ft. Lauderdale's Ira Winderman who watch them every day.
So the debate lately has been that it should be Dwight Howard because he's playing with such limited talent. When I wrote my column in late November saying Rose was the league's MVP at the time, I had Deron Williams second, then Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant.
The point was Howard was playing with limited talent before the big trade, which is why Orlando made it. Plus, really, how dumb can you be — he keeps getting warned not to invite technicals and keeps doing so — now suspended twice. You don't think that's letting down your team? That's the stuff of leadership? Or lack of? Meanwhile he is endlessly making excuses of being singled out by the league. Grow up, baby. But as for this debate about teammates, yes, the Magic would do better with Boozer and Noah, you'd assume, though they missed more than 50 games combined. But look at the defense. The Magic is playing with a much better defensive starting team. Jason Richardson is a better defender than Keith Bogans (or Ronnie Brewer), Brandon Bass is a better defender than Boozer (yes, ask anyone) and Howard is obviously as the likely Defensive Player of the Year a better defender than Noah. So how, really, has Howard done so much with a lesser cast given their defense should be better than the Bulls' based on personnel. The Magic this season will have its poorest record in three years. So how can you be MVP when your team is getting worse? It's ludicrous.
So who else?
Kobe? Terrific, but clearly not having his best season as his numbers are down in virtually every category and the Lakers have been up and down.
Kevin Durant? Yes, he's about to win his second straight scoring title, but his shooting has been down and he's playing with an All-Star and likely all-league player in Russell Westbrook who draws considerable defensive attention.
I think you can make better cases for Dirk Nowitzki given his supporting cast, though they've collapsed of late, and Manu Ginobili given the Spurs playing at an unexpectedly high level all season and Ginobili being their best player. But he's still got Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, and I rarely even see him mentioned among many top fives, which means the stat geeks have written him off because he's a basketball player and not a numbers accumulator.
I don't pay much attention to the saber metrics stuff as it mostly has been debunked for basketball. Those stats often diminish Rose because of shooting, etc. But someone recently sent me some cumulative stats to counter that showing with his 2,000 points, 300 rebounds, 600 assists he joins only Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James and John Havlicek, and with one more block becomes the only point guard ever with those stats and ranking with Robertson as the most productive seasons ever for a point guard. I know, Oscar never even heard of a triple-double, which he averaged. The numbers can be twisted various ways. But it does seem Rose is having a historic season and, really, has no true competition for MVP.
The rest of my MVP ballot: Manu Ginobili, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, LeBron James
As for the other individual awards and in the interest of full disclosure, before the season I had Jerry Sloan for Coach of the Year, Blake Griffin for Rookie of the Year, Roy Hibbert for Most Improved, James Harden for Sixth Man and Howard for Defensive Player.
-- Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Bulls. 2. Doug Collins, 76ers. 3. Monty Williams, New Orleans.
Thibodeau has done a remarkable job, especially for a rookie coach everyone was afraid to hire for the last decade because the skinny was he couldn't relate to players. No team plays harder regularly than the Bulls, who are headed for a 20-some game turnaround and 50 percent improvement. Doug Collins made the 76ers relevant when no one thought they'd sniff the playoffs, and without any true star as the top five scorers are separated by two points. Third, I go with Williams for holding the team together despite a season of turmoil and developing a defensive identity with Chris Paul seemingly playing hurt all season. There were several good candidates with difficult seasons, like Nate McMillan, Lionel Hollins and George Karl, but they are veterans who have been through it while who knew what Williams could even do? Also, Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson would deserve mention for bringing veteran teams through despite the playoffs only mattering to those guys.
-- Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, Clippers. 2. Landry Fields, Knicks. 3. Gary Neal, Spurs.
This was an easy winner's pick with Griffin, who is going to be a major NBA star and already made the All-Star team in the coaches' vote. I think John Wall has been the biggest disappointment. He was the pick of most, and some said Griffin should be discounted because he was injured last season and around. Wall had good numbers, averaging about 16 points, but made virtually no impact. The Wizards were worse with him. And that was after the Gilbert Arenas gun season. Wall has a chance to be good, but has been going down the wrong path in Washington following the wrong examples. DeMarcus Cousins also put up numbers, but with clashes with coaches and teammates and routinely erratic behavior he has been more distraction. Fields was much better before the Carmelo Anthony trade and was an excellent contributor to a playoff team. Neal is 26 and played overseas, but I go for him given playing with the Spurs he's in big games being counted upon and has produced. Plus, the NBA considers him a rookie, so I will, too.
-- Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic. 2. Grant Hill, Suns. 3. Luol Deng, Bulls.
I personally don't like to vote for big guys for this, but prefer perimeter defenders given it requires so much more skill and actual defense. I think the best of those this season has been Hill, who guards the toughest player every game and has held everyone from Monta Ellis to Amar'e Stoudemire below his average or forced him to get more shots to reach his average. Steals is not defense, sorry. That's what guys like Wade and LeBron and Kobe do, playing the lanes and compromising their team defense for highlights. Kevin Garnett has been the anchor of the Celtics defense, but he has slowed badly this season and barely can get over in help situations anymore. He's a shadow of what he was. Ron Artest will give you trouble, but has slowed as well and now mostly fouls you. I like guys like Thabo Sefolosha and Luc Mbah a Moute, but Deng really has emerged as the best perimeter defender on the best defensive team in the league. Good enough for me.
-- Sixth Man: Lamar Odom, Lakers. 2. Lou Williams, 76ers. 3. James Harden, Thunder.
I left out Jason Terry, who has won this award and generally is considered the prototypical sixth man for this era. I could go with him, though not over Odom, but feel he's had a declining season. Williams will be offset by his teammate Thaddeus Young as coach Collins is one of the best ever in putting players in their best position, and Williams was a scoring and transition catalyst for the 76ers' revival, though he's out with a hamstring injury now. Harden has come to play a bigger role with the trade of Jeff Green and will become a top candidate for the award in future seasons.
-- Most Improved Player: Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers. 2. Kris Humphries, Nets. 3. Dorell Wright, Warriors.
This is always the toughest award with the most players getting votes because of the varying definitions. If it's strictly most improved, you can make a case for Rose. But he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He's supposed to be good. Same with Kevin Love, who is probably going to get it as the popular favorite. But he's a stat chaser to me as he doesn't seem to impact winning at all. Yes, he's done well, but he was a career double/double guy coming into the season and Kurt Rambis finally discovered he had no one else to play. Heck, I'd go for LaMarcus Aldridge before I'd go for Love for becoming the go to guy and Portland not taking a step back. I like guys who really improved, effectively came from nowhere, were either ignored or considered busts and suddenly are making major contributions. Humphries was a zero and now averages a double-double. Same with Wright, who set Golden State shooting records, and we know they shoot there. But Matthews wasn't even drafted, signed a big contract, got even better and stepped in for an All-Star and has played a major role for a strong playoff team.
-- All-NBA First Team: Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard.
Second Team: Dwyane Wade, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Durant, Amar'e Stoudemire, Pau Gasol.
Third Team: Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Pierce, Al Horford.
The ballot for All-NBA asks for two guards, two forwards and a center. The problem is there are hardly any centers left. Sure, Howard. But after him? Joakim Noah probably would have made it if he wasn't hurt. Maybe Andrew Bynum as well. Perhaps Andrew Bogut. The way the NBA has gone, there really aren't centers but post players. I've made the case for years Tim Duncan was a center because he was the post player and the offense went through him. The NBA said he was a forward, though they finally put him on the All-Star team as a center. Stoudemire clearly was the center with the Suns, and who else is with the Knicks? Sure, the Trailblazers have Marcus Camby, at least when healthy, but Aldridge is their go to post guy. Though I can see why no one would want to say they are a center in Portland. All-NBA should be about the best. Not putting in Tyson Chandler, though he's had a good season, because he's a center. There are always guys you can't fit in, like Zach Randolph, though there was too much turmoil with Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams to support them. Chris Paul hasn't been the same and Monta Ellis just loses a bit too much. Winning should be at least a tiebreaker.
-- Executive of the Year: Gar Forman/John Paxson? Media don't vote for this award, which has generally been ceded all season to Pat Riley given his offseason coup of landing LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the pair everyone else was seeking. But with the Bulls winning the Eastern Conference and recovering from missing out on those two plus Dwyane Wade and then even J.J. Redick, there's been some talk of late the Bulls should get the award for team building over star grazing.
"I think what Pax (John Paxson) and Thibs and that group did with the role players, I mean, they went out and got perfect guys in (Kyle) Korver and Ronnie Brewer," said Doc Rivers. "Kurt Thomas has been a godsend for them. To me, their biggest secret is (Luol) Deng is healthy all year and all the role players have been perfect for them. They've had a great regular season, and that's no accident. I think Thibs has done an amazing job, I think Derrick Rose is the MVP. I think their front office had probably a front office of the year summer."
And before Sunday's game, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who also has a regular feud going with Riley, said the Bulls deserve the executive award.
"There's this perception that Miami made all of these changes and we made changes at midseason and Chicago is doing it with the same group," said Van Gundy. They're not doing it with the same group. They made a lot of changes and I said the other day that John Paxson and Gar Forman should (Executive of the Year). But they won't. Pat Riley will get Executive of the Year because they made the big splash. But in reality those guys should win it. They made a lot of changes and they were below Miami in the standings. Now they are above Miami in the standings, so how could you not go with those guys?"
NBA news and notes
-- Great story from Pat Williams, who is on a "mission for remission" with his cancer. Williams, the one-time Bulls executive who effectively built the original Magic, was at the Bulls/Magic game Sunday with the 70th book he has written, "Coach Wooden: The 7 Principles that Shaped his Life and Will Change Yours." Williams continues his motivational speaking tour among various endeavors and was saying how good the young core of stars is on and off the court. He said when his cancer was revealed, he received a message of support and prayer from Kevin Durant even though he said he'd never met Durant, that Durant said it was important to support everyone in the NBA family... The Knicks pulled out another squeaker Sunday night win a Carmelo Anthony winner over the Pacers. The Bulls see the Knicks Tuesday and although coach Mike D'Antoni hasn't been thrilled with personnel like Anthony who are at odds with his open court, passing and movement system, he told New York writers, "The franchise is better for the long run, with two of the best players in the game. You don't have opportunities to get that. If you have to take a little step back to do it, you do it in a heartbeat. We did take a step backwards. The franchise is richer for it. It's now our job to make it work out." The Knicks are hanging in ahead of the 76ers in sixth, currently lined up against Boston. The Knicks generally feel they have a better chance in the first round against the smaller Heat, so we'll see if Stoudemire decides to play Tuesday. I'd guess not... the talk is the 76ers Lou Williams' groin injury could keep him out until after the playoffs begin, which would be a huge blow for the 76ers... Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Grizzlies playoff run has been free agent Tony Allen, thought a free agent mistake earlier in the season. He is averaging more than 14 points the last two months with an energy that infuses the team at home... Pacers president Larry Bird told the Indianapolis Star he'd probably have left if the team didn't make the playoffs, but the man with three NBA championships said he's thrilled to see his team just get into the playoffs: "We don't get a trophy, and I never thought I'd be happy as hell to get an eighth seed in the playoffs. But I am, especially for these young players. Our young guys have no clue what they're getting themselves into, and we're playing one of the hottest teams (the Bulls) out there. But what an experience. I never thought it was like that. In 1980, I couldn't believe the atmosphere, the intensity of the playoffs, every possession. I went home that summer and said, 'You've got to get better.'"
-- Josh Smith didn't play, but it was the Wizards, and the Hawks lost their fourth game this season by at least 30. Said embattled first year coach Larry Drew: "I am not very confident at all. I have been in this situation before having been in the league a long time. You can't just flip the switch. It just doesn't work like that. You want to carry momentum as you finish the regular season, as you move into the playoffs." I thought I saw Jameer Nelson Sunday mouth to Rose, "See you in the second round." Wonder why... Here's one problem the Hawks have. Joe Johnson began to isolate during a game last week and his teammates began to just clear out. Except Kirk Hinrich, who is new. He began to cut and Johnson yelled to get out of the way. Hinrich raised his arms upset, but then saw what was going on. Nice offense, eh? Johnson then drove and scored... Gerald Henderson came on strong for Charlotte, averaging about 14 points the last six weeks while Tyrus Thomas bailed out of eight of the last nine games with a rib injury as the Bobcats fell out of the playoffs. That's $16 million next season for he and Boris Diaw. Ouch... Doc Rivers went through his same "it's no message thing" in Miami Sunday as the Celtics lost again in a game they looked bad doing. Don't miss Kendrick Perkins? Joel Anthony outplayed the Celtics front line as Boston has 10 first half rebounds. The mind may want to, but the body isn't anymore.
-- Getting unhinged again in Dallas with a playoff upset seemingly looming, coach Rick Carlisle blistered Shawn Marion for not hustling and Jason Terry almost got into a fight with J.J. Berea on the bench. And Dirk wanted to go back to that?... The Spurs Gregg Popovich on the importance of the No. 1 seed: "Nobody would turn it down."... It's looking like a wild finish in the West with the Lakers stumbling home and the Thunder even in position to get as high as No. 2 after winning convincingly in L.A. Sunday. The Nuggets at No. 5 seemed locked into the Thunder, who beat them twice last week, and coach George Karl was openly dreading it, leading to speculation the Nuggets would try to lose and fall to face Dallas. But now it's hard to figure where the Lakers, Mavs and Thunder will finish along with Portland, New Orleans and Memphis, separated by a game for sixth through eighth... Portland suddenly is energized winning 10 of 14 since Gerald Wallace moved in as a starter. Brandon Roy is averaging a quiet eight off the bench since coming back from surgery... Bulletin board stuff didn't work for the Lakers Sunday against the Suns after they were asked about Perkins' comments that, "I don't like Pau Gasol or Phil Jackson. Phil is arrogant. Pau is soft. Kobe Bryant tries to bring out his toughness, but he's still soft." Jackson said the Lakers players just don't feel like playing hard now. Maybe he should get them that rocking chair Kareem carried around during that retirement tour.