Your Own Private White House

The Derrick Rose post.

In a nutshell: There are things that go beyond the realm of box score production. You do need your eyes to see them, only because plays exist within context, and if we accept that winning has value in our experience of basketball, and we do (let’s not get into why, I beg you, this thing’s jacked up enough as it is), then we have to acknowledge that the result of your play does have an impact on how we consider it. In this case, if you watch the games, you’ll observe Rose taking over games in a way Dwight Howard can not, LeBron James has not, a flurry of steals, rebounds, assists, and scores in key situations that make you walk away saying “Derrick Rose won that game.” It doesn’t mean Dwight Howard didn’t help his team win, or was the primary reason for Magic wins, he was. But Rose’s ability to do so should be valued, and in turn should match Howard’s statistical superiority. That said, to ignore stats, to reject empirical data from the argument is to say “We don’t care how you actually did, we care about how we think you did.” And that speaks of an arrogance we should aspire to escape from. Even shorter: Derrick Rose is just as much a worthy MVP as Dwight Howard, and Dwight Howard is every bit the MVP Rose is. The end.

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In an aircraft carrier:

I don’t hate Derrick Rose. By saying that, I’m giving ground. Immediately, if you have to define yourself as not something, people are led to believe there’s a reason you’re associated with what you’ve denied being. But in this case, it’s true. I like Derrick Rose’s game. I’m a fan of Calipari’s toy solider point guards that become full-blown mechanized weaponry at the league level. Rose represents the idea that young, explosive, and raw can become elite. It’s progress. That’s what this site was built around. Well, that and jokes about Dikembe Mutumbo in a bar and Vince Carter sucking in general. Rose detonates to the rim, has vision, plays defense, leads without pomp, circumstance, or theatrics. He just delivers.

But because I like evidence, actual evidence beyond my own opinion, I’m lumped in with “statheads.” That’s the gentler term that’s been used the past few weeks. Geeks, nerds, dorks, the usual high-school immature claptrap gets trotted around like calling names on Twitter suddenly makes you tougher or more of a man. We know more about the games, are able to see more about the games, are able to study and explore more about the game than we ever have been able to. And we want to shut out a viewpoint because… what? It’s different? It dares challenge the notion that you may have missed Rose’s man defense when you were getting a soda, talking to your spouse, playing with your kids, or using the can? That maybe we need to look at as much as we can if we really want to be informed in our opinions about a game that features constant motion, constant actions, and constant elements interacting with one another?

That’s what we want to be?

That problem stems from a growing tendency among us as human animals to want to regard everything in some sort of binary opposition. Either McDonald’s or Burger King is the best burger joint. Kobe Bryant is clutch or he isn’t. You can like Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner, but not both.

As it applies to the focus of this article, there are statheads and there are, well, anti-statheads. These folks, in my experience, distrust any data that refute conclusions they drew with their own eyes.

The truth is more complicated than that. Basketball, like nearly everything else in life, is too complex for us to understand if we apply only one doctrine, so to speak, to our evaluation of it. If we rely too heavily on statistics, no matter how advanced or refined, we are bound to miss something; we run the same risk if we rely too heavily on what we observe.

Call me naive, but I think we can all coexist as hoops fans, without calling names or inventing straw men, if we merely blend the statistical with empirical observation.

via An Olive Branch From An Admitted NBA Stathead – SBNation.com.

I’ve been as much a friend to the statistical community as an average guy. I’m a stats moderate, I suppose. I buy into PER as a descriptive, not evaluative, measure, think Win Shares is poorly constructed, value the Four Factors and think Synergy is a Godsend which enables me to confirm what I see and believe. When I notice a player is defending well in the post, I go to Synergy. If it shows that he surrenders a 59% field goal percentage in the post, sure, maybe his fundamentals are sound but for whatever reason, he’s not getting the job done. If I see that a player is really effective off the cut and see that he scores a high percentage of the time, it confirms what I’ve seen. Others use plus-minus. The easy answer is “look at the win-loss record, that’s all you need.” But there have been, there are plenty of terrible players on championship teams. It simply doesn’t show enough. That’s why I’m friendly with the stats community and try and push things like offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage in writings at CBS and NBC. Efficiency is scoring with pace removed. That’s pretty simple. Effective field goal percentage factors in the impact of perimeter shooting. It’s not a complex formula. It just puts shooting in context of points produced per shot.

All this isn’t to say I totally agree with some of those pushing metrics in this debate.

For one, it’s become too personal. They’ve let the close-minded “count the non-existent rings while I talk about how LeBron is a loser!” crowd push them into an emotional response, which is to say that Rose isn’t worthy because of the metrics. Luol Deng’s a top-five plus-minus player this season. Love is fourth in PER. Deng’s also fourth in defensive win shares, Love fourth in offensive. Those aren’t MVP candidates. (Awesome players, and I’m even willing to have the talk about how team success shouldn’t impact the vote, so Love should be considered. It’s worth talking about.) I understand the element that says Rose isn’t just weak in one area, he’s weak in all the metrics. But he’s not weak. He’s just not elite. He’s moved to eighth in PER, 8th in Win Shares, 8th in Defensive Win Shares. He’s there, he’s just not at the top. So if he’s in the discussion, we have to lean on something to differentiate between the Dengs and Loves  and the LeBrons and Howards (and Roses). So we do what brought us to take such an interest: we watch. And we walk away from Derrick Rose’s performances saying nothing but “Wow.”

Saying individual anecdotal evidence shouldn’t be included is just as close-minded and shortsighted as throwing out pocket protector jokes. Just because so many who sling out those comments are idiots doesn’t mean we toss the baby out with the “WINS MATTER” bathwater. And it hurts the case for Howard. Which is considerable.

I don’t hate Derrick Rose. I just think it’s okay to criticize him and really analyze him if we’re considering him for the most prestigious award in basketball. I’m not talking about complex theories, formulas, extrapolations, or vague references that have as much statistical noise as anything in this world like plus-minus. I’m talking pretty simple, understandable, relatable things.

OK, so the evidence from the Four Factors wasn’t in D-Rose’s favor. But the Bulls have been on a hellacious 15-2 run to take over the top seed in the East since dropping the first game after the break to Toronto. I figured it would be fair to Rose to check on his stats during this stretch, to examine how he’s driven Chicago to the top. It’s here that I was fairly stunned. Here are Rose’s pre- and post-All Star break splits:

FG FG% 3P 3P% FT FT% PTS REB AST

Pre 9.1-20.2 .450 1.5-4.3 .355 5.2-6.2 .838 24.9 4.4 8.2

Post 8.2-20.2 .404 1.7-6.1 .284 7.0-7.9 .887 25.1 3.7 7.1

Wait, what? That’s your MVP push? 40% field-goal percentage? Baron Davis-quality gunning from behind the arc?

I do credit Rose for continuing to get to the line more often, as it had previously been a key deficiency, but his true shooting percentage (TS%) has still been below league average (.529) since the break (Rose is at the league average of .540 for the whole season).

via The Painted Area: Rose v. Howard: Why Do Chicago and Orlando Win?.

That’s field-goal percentage. It’s gone up since Rose went on a late season tear, and that certainly ups his merit in the race. But at the time all this brutal and at once over-simplified and overly-complicated arguments began to emerge, this was the reality. And saying that it doesn’t matter that the player down the stretch when games started to “matter” (whatever the hell that means) shot 40% from the field is akin to saying it doesn’t matter that he led comebacks for his team or took over in close games or made the most outstanding plays. You can make all the calculator jokes you want. Field-goal percentage ain’t rocket science. It’s makes out of attempts. If you’re not succeeding at a comparable rate to your peers in makes out of attempts, how can you be most valuable?

It’s a question that does have answers. But the question deserves to be asked. As does this one.

If Dwight Howard is elite, how come so many people with no rooting interest don’t think so?

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If Howard is Orlando’s best player, and he’s holding something back every night how can you say that doesn’t affect the Magic? He’s their best guy! Your best guy leads! Your best guy sets the tone for everyone else! When Howard cruises through quarters, picks up dumb fouls, earns even dumber technicals and disappears in crunch-time (he doesn’t even rank in the top 125 for crunch-time field goal attempts this season), you don’t think that has anything to do with Orlando’s uneven season? Doesn’t it bother you that Serge Ibaka plays harder than Howard every night? Doesn’t it bother you that Celtics fans watch Orlando and think, “That team is soft … I hope we can play them in the playoffs?” Doesn’t it bother you that Howard still defers to Jameer Nelson down the stretch?

Look, I’m a basketball fan — I want Dwight Howard to get there. I want to watch as many great players as possible. But he’s not there yet. I have NBA season tickets and didn’t care if I saw Dwight Howard in person this season. That’s your MVP? Please.

via Bill Simmons: The contenders rule Part 2 of the NBA Power Poll – ESPN.

He’s got me. Right up until the end. Up until the last two sentences, he had me.

Thing is, I agree with Simmons 100% on the subject of Dwight Howard. I’ve been trying to figure out what it was about Howard’s game that has caused me in the past two years to go from being a huge advocate to a moderate critic. And it’s the fact that I do feel like he’s holding back. He does have a higher ceiling. He doesn’t hit it. And he definitely takes the attitude he doesn’t have to. He balked at all the talk about his work with Olajuwon, even told me that the league was a lot different back in Hakeem’s day so not everything would translate this summer at a Nike event.

It’s not whether that statement’s accurate (it probably is), it’s that it reflects Howard’s attitude. I didn’t need to improve that much, and he didn’t help that much.

You don’t trust Dwight’s hook. If you do, you bleed blue and white. It’s a legit hook. It’s as good as Glen Davis’ midrange J. He hits it. But you don’t trust it. That takes context to pick up. And that bugs the hell out of me. It bugs the hell out of me that he’s going to leave so many points every night off the floor because he can’t hit free throws. Just because Shaq sucked at free throws doesn’t excuse Howard. You know why? Shaq was better.

But then, there’s that ending. A dismissal. The same kind of attitude taken on the other side. “This guy can’t possibly be your MVP.”

No, if someone said Monte Ellis was the MVP. That’s pretty absurd. Andre Iguodala. Blake Griffin. Amar’e Stoudemire. Those are all great players. They’re not MVPs by any measure. But Howard deserves to be in the picture. And that data helps us to see that. It helps us to see what you would see if your eyes worked differently. Defense isn’t something you watch, unless you force yourself. And guess what. Every scribe that loves watching Derrick Rose drop 30-10? Most of them aren’t tuning into Wizards-Magic on a regular basis and focusing on what Howard does defensively. Get yourself a Synergy account and see what he does. Watch a game and see how teams completely avert going at Howard, changing the entire texture of the offense. Take a look at how he gets to those rebounds, those points, the work in the pick and roll which helps him get to that high PER. Those numbers don’t create themselves. They’re based on basketball. And they show Howard is as good an MVP candidate you’re going to find. You want to argue a guy who screws with his team by surrendering techs in key situations isn’t worthy? Okay. You want to argue that the MVP has to be someone you can give the ball to inside two minutes? Sure, we can have that discussion (and talk about how bigs almost never get the ball late, but I’ll agree it’s especially true with Howard). But don’t act like Howard hasn’t done what it takes to be in the conversation and to give Rose as strong a challenge as anyone. Giving credit where credit is due doesn’t tear down the award. It raises it.

Of course, that’s if we ignore the ridiculous fallacy behind what the award really is anyway.

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LeBron James isn’t talked about for this award because everyone hates him.

Yeah, you can trot out the quality of his teammates, but when you go down that road you start comparing Carlos Boozer to Brandon Bass. You can talk about late game performances, but then you start looking at Rose’s free throws inside a minute in several games this season (calm down, we all know he’s going to sink them in May, but it doesn’t erase the misses, which were admittedly few, but you’d only know that if you looked at the data and down the rabbit hole we go). You can talk about whatever you want but in the end, LeBron James isn’t in this discussion because everyone hates him.

The numbers match or succeed Howard’s. The individual impact on the game factoring rebounds, assists, and defense is greater than Rose’s if you watch the game. This isn’t saying Derrick Rose isn’t a good defender (remember, I don’t hate him!), but that James is a great one. You can talk about wins and losses, but then  you’re going to have to say Kobe doesn’t belong in the conversation. I’ll let you tell him that.

James isn’t in it because everyone hates him. And that’s fine. That’s how the award is. But let’s not hide or come up with disingenuous explanations for why James isn’t on the list. Let’s not try and make the award more of an honest honor than it is. It is what it is, and it holds that reverence in basketball culture, but it’s a popularity contest. So maybe we shouldn’t take it so seriously.

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The story angle is a popular one.  Rose is boosted by playing in Chicago. He is boosted by being the star of an up and coming team that’s come out of nowhere. (This is where Magic fans in 2009 and Hornets fans in 2008 would like to start throwing things, and I’d give them their shot, but the revenue-sharing hole of doom will have to wait for another day.) He is boosted by coming off as humble (hint: he’s just quiet), honest (again, quiet), and genuine (so much with the quietness- he’s a professional athlete. Come on.). It’s absolutely true that a voter trying to determine the best player in the NBA should not, under any circumstances, buy into this crap. It hearkens back to the same crap that created the evolution of sports blogs in the first place. Shoddy, cliche, over-simplified nonsense that you can spout off in a thirty second TV bit. We’re better than that.

Except we’re not. And the story is totally fine to vote on.

You know why?

The award doesn’t belong to us writers.

The MVP award isn’t about determining what’s valuable. It doesn’t belong to the winner of the award outside of the physical trophy and a one-year designation. The award is treated as, but should not serve as an objective determination of who the best player in basketball was. That’s why writers are so defensive of their viewpoints, so acerbic with their approach, because they want what they think to be the voice of reason or righteousness, depending on their viewpoint. But the voters real responsibility?

Their responsibility is to give the people their champion. That’s who the award is for. Fans. It’s for fans to argue for, lobby for, scream and kick and celebrate and be proud of. It’s to create barstool arguments that lead to spilled drinks, Facebook messages, jersey sales, ticket revenue, basketball cards filling binders, and descriptions filling fluff pieces and historical books. It’s for the fans.

And Rose is that. He’s the plucky kid from Chicago who wound up in his hometown, playing in the House that Jordan Owns, bringing a team in a huge city with a massive fanbase back to prominence. Dwight Howard not winning the award because Rose is a good story isn’t a tragedy. He’s not hurt by it. He’s not having money taken off his contract. He’s missing out on a car he won’t drive and the ability to tout his award as another reason he bailed on the Magic in 2012. It’s okay for Derrick Rose to win the award because it makes for the best story for the fans, because that’s who the award is for. For us to act like we’re determining some sort of objective endpoint on what’s important in basketball, even if we did have votes, which we don’t, is the kind of arrogance that makes people hate the media in the first place.

For God’s sake, it’s just an award. Its taking more precedence in the framing of the sport culturally speaks more to the FreeDarko concepts of personality than it does to the actual value of the award. It’s not more important because it’s more important. It’s more important because of the context of the sport. But even that importance is contextual, and at the end of the day, it’s a little trophy and a Kia.

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Which isn’t to say that the discussion shouldn’t be had. We’re supposed to try and raise the debate. And we have. Tried. I don’t think we’ve succeeded because people have randomly started making abacus jokes about me before I weighed in and I’m pretty sure Eddy Rivera is going to wind up an anti-Derrick Rose super-villain. But we tried. And that’s valuable.

Howard deserves to be considered. He’s had a phenomenal season, makes an impact on both sides of the floor like no one else, is an all-world NBA player and has pushed a very mediocre Magic team to the fourth seed in the East. He’s a worthy MVP.

Rose deserves to be considered. He’s turned the Bulls into a contender, and yes, he was the biggest reason. The Bucks play awesome defense and are sitting home. You’re not going to find a bigger Thibodeau ass-kisser than me outside of Illinois, but Rose is why that average offense isn’t bottom of the barrel. Carlos Boozers is their secondary option for crying out loud (THERE IT IS. YOU KNEW THE BOOZER SLANDER WAS COMING.). He can take over a game more powerfully than anyone this season, including Kobe, LeBron, Wade, and Howard, and has the leadership and versatile skillset to blow you away. He’s a worthy MVP.

So who gets the award?

LOG ON TO CBSSPORTS.COM WEDNESDAY WEDNESDAY WEDNESDAY TO READ MY SPECIAL MVP COLUMN.

NEW TIRED, INDIGNANT TONE, SAME DESPERATE, EXACERBATED DRIVE TO SHILL!

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.