Tag Archives: Derrick Rose

Time To Make The Sausage

There aren’t many certainties in today’s NBA, but beginning the month of May with MVP controversy is one thing you can always count on. There are no standardized qualifications for becoming the league’s official Most Valuable Player, and that creates a huge amount of inherent wiggle room, allowing voters to weigh different criteria in whatever way they see fit. That loose flexibility was shoved into the spotlight yesterday when Boston Globe columnist, Gary Washburn, revealed himself to be the lone voter who didn’t put LeBron James at the top of his ballot. Washburn went with Carmelo Anthony, and made his case public as part of yesterday’s announcement.

LeBron had an absolutely dominant season and it’s nigh impossible to find any reliable statistical metric by which he wasn’t the most productive player in the league this season. Washburn actually seemed to agree, and his argument was that although Anthony may not have been the better player, he was more important to his team. I’m not here to argue the merits of Washburn’s argument. But I would like to point out that this is an extreme example of separation between decision-making based on the power of statistics and the power of narrative. LeBron’s season presents some incredibly compelling storylines as well, but while there’s little space to argue against his statistical case, there’s plenty of room to argue about stories.

I don’t mean to imply that Washburn’s choice is somehow immature or incorrect because he gave more weight to the narrative elements of Anthony’s case. Stories are part of basketball; how we watch it, understand it, talk about it, and certainly how the media covers it. Stories are important and have always been a part of how the MVP award is decided. My own experiences as a basketball fan and amateur analyst are a constant balancing act between the narrative and the numeric. It’s an indelicate art and the line between the two moves constantly. One of the questions that the whole Washburn rigamarole raised for me was, exactly where that line falls for MVP voters in the aggregate. How much of MVP voting is based on statistics, literal or implied, and how much is based on a compelling story?

Narrative is an extremely complex idea to measure, but tracking the statistical case for MVP candidates is a little more straightforward. I began at Basketball-Reference’s Award Page, looking at the players who have received MVP votes over the last 10 seasons. Basketball-Reference is nice enough to include a limited statistical profile right alongside each player. The listed categories are age, games played, minutes per game, points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, Win Shares and win shares per 48 minutes. My intuition is that any MVP voter who does include statistics in their decision making probably doesn’t look much further than these categories, and so they seemed like a reasonable place to start.

The one category which is conspicuously absent from a voting perspective is team win percentage, which I added. The other changes I made were dropping total Win Shares, keeping just the per 48 minute version, and converting total games played to percentage of games played, adjusting for the lockout shortened season. I then regressed those categories onto the share of total possible points that each player received from the voters. The result was an R^2 value of 0.516, which means just over half the variation in MVP voting can be explained by players’ performance in those categories I mentioned above.

While that explains a significant block of variability, it still leaves nearly half of the story untold. That 0.484 is where the narrative comes in. The results of the regression analysis also include an equation by which you can project the share of possible MVP voting points a player should have received, based on those numbers. I did that for each of the top five vote-getters from those 10 seasons and put them in to this Tableau Visualization, along with the actual share of MVP vote they received.

[iframe]<iframe src=”http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/NBAsMostValuablePlayerResults/MVPVotingDashboard?:embed=y&:display_count=no” style=”border:0px #FFFFFF none;” name=”MVP Voting” scrolling=”no” frameborder=”1″ marginheight=”0px” marginwidth=”0px” height=”663px” width=”663px”></iframe>[/iframe]

You can play around and sort by year, looking at how each race shook out. The higher a player is on the vertical axis the more compelling their statistical case was. I’m making an assumption here, but the implication is that the difference between a player’s projected share and their actual share represents the power of their narrative. Player’s who fall low on the vertical axis, but far to the right on the horizontal axis would appear to be the ones with the most compelling narratives.

I put this visualization together for you to draw your own conclusions, but I’ll share I few seasons I found particularly interesting.

2013

2013 MVP

This was a year where the narrative component of the MVP voting went hand-in-hand with the statistical rationale. LeBron and Durant had big statistical edges and it was clearly reflected in the results. But those numbers also fell in with the storyline of two dominant stars elevating their games and leading their teams to a new level. I also thought it was interesting how much of a difference narrative made in the case of Carmelo Anthony. We already discussed how his story swayed Gary Washburn, but he apparently wasn’t the only one. Anthony finished third in this year’s voting despite a weaker statistical component to his case than either LeBron, Durant, Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul.

_____

2011

2011

This was one of the most memorable MVP votes for me and really exemplified the divide between analytic-minded decision makers, who advocated for Dwight Howard, and those drawn to the compelling one-against-the-world narrative of Derrick Rose’s season. In the end the award went to Rose, by a healthy margin. Amazingly, the regression equation seems to indicate that LeBron had a much stronger statistical case than either Rose or Howard, despite finishing third. This is a case where the negative narrative of the Heat’s ‘front-running’ and the ‘post-Decision’ backlash probably kept LeBron out of the top two spots.

_____

2008

2008

2008 was another fascinating year in terms of balancing narrative and production. There was a lot of push for Chris Paul who jumped several levels in production, leading the New Orleans Hornets’ to the second-best record in the Western Conference, along with building the most compelling statistical resume of the candidates. In the end he lost out to Kobe Bryant, who trumped Paul’s narrative with a career of dominance, that had at that point been unrecognized with an MVP award. Kevin Garnett finished third for his work in coalescing the Big Three in Boston and leading the Celtics to the best record in the league. LeBron James finished fourth, with the second-most compelling statistical resume but no enticing story to attach it to.

_____

2006

2006

This is another infamous award season. It was Nash’s second consecutive MVP, despite being the worst for the Nash-D’Antoni Suns, both in terms of wins and offensive efficiency. But it was a remarkable and, at the time, almost unbelievable duplication of what they had done in their first season together. This was especially true when you consider that Amare Stoudemire played just three games all season long. That the ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ philosophy was able to sustain into a second season and prove a viable offensive strategy that wouldn’t dissipate once it was “figured out” by NBA defenses was the narrative that drove Nash to this award. LeBron finished second in the voting, but he was one of three players, along with Dirk Nowitzki and Chauncey Billups who had a more compelling statistical case.

_____

People on both sides of the narrative-numerical divide often seem to get their hackles up around the MVP Award, depending on which side prevails in a given year. While middle ground we currently walk always leaves someone frustrated, it’s by far preferable to the alternative. There is a place for logic and reason in the NBA and no one would be satisfied by a world where postseason awards were handed willy-nilly with no verifiable, objective reasoning to support those decisions. At the same time, making decisions with a formula only denies our human instinct to create, tell and consume stories. It may be a bumpy ride, but you can enjoy the MVP award both for what it is and for what it is not.

We Were Robbed of a RoY

Photo of a race that never was from Flickr, Scott Ableman

It’s not really Keith Smart’s fault, but we were robbed, straight snookered out of a Rookie of the Year candidate without ever even knowing it. But when you have a Monta Ellis and a Stephen Curry in front of you in the rotation what’cha gonna do?

Jeremy Lin played in 29 NBA games last year, but for mere moments in each. He’s about to double his career minutes played in little more than a couple of handfuls of games. For all intents and purposes this is his real NBA debut. It’s a safe bet to assume that not more than about 72 people — the total number of Lin’s professional field goal attempts coming into this season — really believed he’d be doing what he is now.

And what, exactly, is he doing now?

In a recent 5-on-5 the question was posed, and I responded:

Who’s the top rookie of the first six weeks?

I would love to be able to say it’s the adorable Ricky Rubio, but I cannot ignore what Kyrie Irving has done for Cleveland thus far, being in the less-stacked Eastern Conference notwithstanding. Of the past four guards taken first overall in the NBA draft (Irving, John Wall, Derrick Rose and Allen Iverson), none shot more efficiently from the field or from the 3-point line than Irving in the rookie season, and normalized for minutes played, Irving is also the highest scorer.

ESPN 5-on-5 Debate: Six weeks later, better and best

The results were unanimous concerning Irving, but this was before he got hurt letting Rubio tighten the race. But what if Jeremy Lin was in the 66-game sprint? How would he stack up to the current leaders in the clubhouse had we not been robbed of his real debut?

Courtesy BasketballReference.com

Considering the market Lin’s been basing his phenomenal feats from, and the fact he took Rubio out out head-to-head to continue the New York Knicks’ ridiculous run while Irving sits in a suit in Cleveland, sidelined during the height of Linsanity,  does anyone doubt he would have overtaken the lead in this unfortunately fictional dash?

The league is ripe with an up-and-coming crop of point guards, and this batch refreshingly aren’t all combo-guard-clones, as many from the last harvest have been. But how does this current crop stack up to reigning MVP Derrick Rose’s season, last?

 

The future of the floor general in the NBA is in pretty good hands.

Lion Face/Lemon Face 12/25/11: The Return Of Lion Face/Lemon Face

It’s baaaaack… Fellow Paroxite James Herbert and I will be working on our facial expressions. And in the spirit of Christmas, which by the time you read this will be long gone, we’ll be determining who was naughty and who was nice. It’s what Santa would have wanted.  

Take it away, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck:

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rngjZ10yUyA&feature=player_embedded]

Lion Face: Carmelo Anthony

Okay, maybe not the most pristine performance as a point forward (some bad reads and passes), but it didn’t matter. This was one of Melo’s finest performances period. 37 points on 17 shots. He took and made almost as many free throws (13-15) as his number of attempted field goals. Open shots, step-through three-pointers, contested fadeaways. Again: 37 points on 17 shots, which should be totally sustainable. But seriously, it’s  great to see New York basketball back. And as one of the many Melo detractors on the interwebs, I really wouldn’t mind seeing more performances like this in the near future. – Danny Chau

Lemon Face: Toney Douglas

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVl2QfGR16k]

I’m starting to hate this meme. Because he doesn’t do good. He shoots everything and anything. He bricks threes. He vastly overrates the touch on his runners and floaters. What he doesn’t do (because he doesn’t really know how) is run a team. And you can’t expect someone to do something he doesn’t know how to do. Douglas led the Knicks in field goal attempts with 19. That’s two more than Melo, who scored 18 more points. The Knicks need a point guard in the worst way, but they officially do not have a single capable soul on the roster. Iman Shumpert, their pet project (whose problems are very much similar to Douglas’s) has gone down with a knee injury, and Mike Bibby is not capable of anything. So this means more of Douglas doing what he do. Have fun, New York. And hope to every deity in the universe and beyond that Melo figures out this “point forward” thing. -DC

Lion Face: Rajon Rondo

He made jump shots. Plural. Oh, and, 31 points (on 19 shots!), 13 assists, 5 boards, 5 steals, OH NO I’M BECOMING MR. BOXSCORE. Okay, Rondo was responsible for pretty much anything positive the Celtics’ did on offense. His shot looked smoother at the free throw line and on J’s. In the third quarter alone, he had 10 points and six assists. The Knicks in that quarter? One assist. I’m mad the Celtics dropped this and it’s not because I’m anti-Knick. I just hate that Boston wasted his performance. Also, I’m glad nobody heard the noise I made when this happened:

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOfqfyc5e3w]

I missed that so much.  -James Herbert

Lemon Face: Shump Shump Sprained Sprained His Knee Knee

Don’t act like you’re too cool to like Iman Shumpert. Yeah, some Knicks fans have ridiculously high expectations and yeah, dude shot 3-13 and a lot of them were easy shots. But hey, a lot of them were easy shots! Shump’s mistakes were endearing to me — he’d make a nice move, then he’d flub a layup and I’d be like, “Awww, Shump Shump! You’ll finish it next time.” After colliding with Chris Wilcox, next time won’t be for another 2-4 weeks. This might actually mean 2-4 weeks of Mike Bibby. I thought we were past that, NBA. -JH

Lion Face: Miami Heat Offense / DOUBLE ALLEY-OOP

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ul9iPU2pQVQ]

Wade in the post. LeBron in the post. Neither settled for wily, contested three-pointers because there was very little need to do so. If this is a preview of what’s to come, the league should be petrified. Sure, Dallas looked awfully out of sync, but the Heat are finally in their element thanks to Erik Spoelstra’s willingness to loosen the reins a bit. Oh, and about that alley-oop. This team has a knack for making the spectacular seem ordinary. LeBron turned a potentially bad situation (a blown dunk or a steal by Marion) into an easy two points with a play that was both loud and understated at the same time. The game is really easy for the Heat right now. It’s incredible/frightening. – DC

Lemon Face: Vince Carter and Lamar Odom

It’s almost unfair to single out one Maverick, so I picked two. While failing against Miami was a TEAM effort, these two recent acquisitions stood out. VC missed the Mavs’ first two shots of the game and finished 2-6 from the floor. He was benched at the start of the second half in favor of Delonte West. Odom went 1-6, got himself ejected halfway through the third, and kept showing up in reality show commercials all damn day. -JH

Lion Face: Andris Biedrins

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/BeckleyMason/statuses/151148294339444736"]

I love the version of Biedrins that enjoys basketball! I keep reminding myself it’s just one game, but he looked engaged and confident and this is exciting, dammit. Good Andris Biedrins protected the basket and had a weird knack for getting rebounds in traffic when people really should be outmuscling him. He also finished at an incredibly high rate. I’ve no idea where he went for two years, but Good Andris Biedrins showed up. Is it just that he’s finally healthy? Has Mark Jackson fixed him? Was it just a Christmas miracle? -JH

Lemon Face: Chauncey Billups

It’s one thing to be a fun-suck by making safe and ordinary decisions (which are probably for the best). It’s another to disrupt the flow of the game with ill-advised shots. Billups went 6-19 from the field, so yeah, even Toney Douglas shot better than him from the field. Most of his misses came from threes that he was just so confident he’d make. Open, contested, it didn’t matter — though this has been the case for years now. Problem is, he’s playing alongside the best point guard of this generation and the most promising young big man in the game. He shouldn’t be taking the most shots in the game, especially when he’s missing more than twice as many as he’s made. Billups, I get it. You didn’t want to get pushed around by teams. But you’re in a good opportunity right now. Stop trying to sabotage it.

Of course, the performance would’ve been a lot more worrisome if the Clippers lost. Winning is a spray-on band-aid. - DC

Lion Face: DeAndre Jordan

Eight blocks, and a thousand other altered shots while only committing two fouls. This is noteworthy, since DeAndre had three or more fouls in 72.5% of the games he played last season. DeAndre was impressive on defense last night to say the least. His effort on surely mask his woes at the free throw line. Speaking of which… - DC

Lemon Face: Mark Jackson’s Hack-A-DeAndre Tactic

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ah3eg8bBPaM&start=001&end=007] - DC

Lion Face: Ryan Anderson’s Fantasy Basketball Value 

Ryan Anderson is sitting by himself in a dining hall at an elongated dinner table feasting. The Magic, as currently constructed, don’t have a clear-cut second or third option, and all signs seem to point to Anderson to fill those spots on some nights. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to camp out behind the three point line as shown by his 6-12 shooting from three last night. It’ll be unreasonable to expect a double-double every night, but Anderson is a capable rebounder who should be able to get six or seven a night. If Anderson improves his rebounding numbers, he could be what Troy Murphy was for fantasy basketball a few years ago, except a much more prolific outside threat. Pick him up in the late rounds and shock your friends with your competence. – DC

Lemon Face: Metta World Peace

I’m not ready for MWP to be this bad. I felt like something terrible was about to happen every time he touched the ball and, most of the time, I was right. And when did he get so slow? -JH

Lion Face: Derrick Rose’s Threes

The story is his game-winner over Pau Gasol, but what I’m really excited about is his stroke. Rose made four of his six three point attempts. This one time I wrote about how working on his post game shouldn’t come at the expense of becoming a more consistent shooter. It’s just one game, but man, those shots looked effortless. -JH

Lemon Face: Derrick Rose’s Free Throws

There were none. He went 0-0. We’ve been saying it forever: this shouldn’t happen to the point guard version of LeBron. -JH

Lion Face: The Bulls’ Last Second Stop

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNvmLnvsIdw]

It took me a few replays to realize it was Deng who blocked it. How beautiful is that, everyone converging, no one coming close to fouling him? -JH

Lemon Face: Luol Deng’s Haircut

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J43xQ4dTAxY] – DC


#NBArank leads player discussion … which is a good thing

Photo by Blog Gallery from Flickr.

Over the past couple of months ESPN.com released its NBA player rankings, a process in which 91 basketball experts ranked 500 NBA players (including rookies and certain free agents) on a scale of 0 to 10 based off of the player’s current value.

To no surprise, many of the rankings started controversy on Twitter, Facebook and the ESPN comments section. However, a perturbing trend in the fan reaction to the rankings has been the overvaluing of offensive-minded players, an ode to these players’ apparent bond with fans.

Fans and writers alike can discuss and determine player rankings all they want, but for the most part there appears to be a clear-cut hierarchy in the NBA. There are superstars (LeBron James), stars (Amar’e Stoudemire), All-Stars (Kevin Love), sixth men (Lamar Odom), role players (Tyson Chandler), young players with potential (JaVale McGee), journeymen (Matt Barnes), benchwarmers (D.J. Mbenga) and … Mike Bibby.

Certain players don’t have palpable placements, though. Carmelo Anthony seems to border the superstar and star titles. Monta Ellis is a good scorer, but does that alone merit a top-30 rating (I mean, he doesn’t contribute much else)? Where do John Wall and Blake Griffin rank, based off of the fact that they’ve only played one season and still have ostensible flaws?

In the reaction to these player rankings, the public shows what they value most in a basketball player. Is it efficiency? Production? What about the good ole’ eye test? Locker room guys?

The intangibles that factor into player rankings are too difficult to quantify or explain; they’re different for everyone. But the one asset that always seems to factor into most fans’ voting – albeit, a flawed view – is offensive output, particularly scoring.

Look no further than the most controversial reactions to #NBArank. The rankings that caused the most quarrels (other than LeBron at #1) were Kobe Bryant (#7), Derrick Rose (#8), Carmelo Anthony (#11), and Monta Ellis (#41). To most fans – from their Twitter and Facebook reactions – Kobe and Rose should’ve been in the top-5, Anthony should be top-10, and Ellis should be top-30 at the worst.

The four players all ranked in the top eight in scoring and are unquestionably a few of the league’s most exciting players to watch. They warrant much of the opposing defenses’ attention, can create scoring opportunities from almost anywhere on the floor, and are capable of scoring 40 points on any given night. They must be all be underrated, right?

Wrong.

On the surface, these players should rank higher.

Rose was last season’s MVP, and led his team to the Eastern Conference Finals. He has engraved himself in the hearts of Bulls fans and is in the conversation for best point guard in the NBA.

Kobe is arguably a top-10 player of all-time. He’s the best player on the NBA’s most illustrious franchise (yes, even more so than the Heat or the Celtics), is the game’s “clutchest” player (perception-wise), and is arguably the game’s most popular player (along with LeBron).

Anthony is playing in one the league’s biggest markets (with one of its biggest and most loyal fan-bases), is widely considered to be one of — if not the most — complete scorers in the game, has a fan-friendly “thug” perception, and is clearly one of the game’s most popular players.

Ellis is the apple of most Warriors’ fans eyes (except Ethan Sherwood Strauss, and rightfully so), the offensive engine of one the league’s fast-pace, high scoring teams (eh, I’d say it’s more of Stephen Curry, but I’m going with perceptions here), and is an exciting and sometimes dominant scorer.

Honestly, what’s there to complain about?

Well, a lot. All four players have significant flaws that (theoretically) led to their drop in the rankings and coming up shorter than most expected.

Rose isn’t an efficient or effective offensive player, is an average outside shooter, and is an average defender. This was covered extensively during the MVP debates in March and April.

Bryant’s athletically ability and offensive dominance is quickly fading as time ticks away and his knees wear out. He’s still an elite player, but a shell of what he used to be.

Anthony doesn’t play much defense (and no, George Karl wasn’t the first to notice), and doesn’t create well for others (he’s basically above-average in only two categories – scoring and rebounding).

Ellis is one of the game’s least efficient offensive players, doesn’t play much defense, and is out of control (on- and off- the court).

But to fans, none of this matters. Most generic basketball fans only care about two things: winning and scoring.

Fans, naturally, love when their team wins. That’s the main goal in sports, isn’t it? [Insert cliché about how character and values matter.] If the team is winning, all is usually well. But fans also love offense. They love players that can score, especially in creative manners (no matter the inefficiency). They love seeing crossovers, 360 dunks, step-back jumpers and buzzer beaters. If a player can give them exciting, fast-paced, highlight-filled games, they will love him – no matter his weaknesses.

Regardless of what statistics, bar graphs or charts say or tell you, fans have loyalties to the players that excite them, take their breath away, and leave them wanting more. That is why they are so adamant in defending these offensive-minded players; by ranking them lower than where the general fans feels the player should be ranked, a fan takes it as a disrespect to something he or she likes. No one likes to be disrespected.

In this case, Bryant, Rose, Anthony and Ellis are those players. Is there a chance the more analytical, stat-based voters were a little too harsh on low-efficient scorers that sometimes hurt their team’s offense more than they help it?

Sure. There’s always room for error.

But either way, the fans can’t be swayed, as they’ve developed a bond and connection with the players they look up to and hope to emulate. Sometimes it seems most fans use too much emotion to judge players, while analysts stick by the numbers. Is one way better than the other?

At this point in time, it’s unclear. That’s a conversation for another day. I lean towards statistics in my arguments, but that’s just me. Both sides have their advantages. At least these rankings breed discussion, which sparks and maintains fan interest in the sport we all love.

In the time of a lockout, some basketball conversation is better than none.

Derrick Rose Is Working On His Post-Up Game

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkF3FMoY0Ag w=640 h=360]

If you spent your last New Year’s Eve watching the Nets and Bulls, then you saw Derrick Rose’s only post-up basket of the season. According to ESPN Chicago’s Jon Greenberg, he wants to do more of that.

Rose, the reigning Most Valuable Player, has a lot to lose, on and off the court, from the lockout. His ascent from All-Star to MVP was quicker than anyone anticipated, and now he’s become an international marketing star. He’s also a gym rat. The 6-foot-3 point guard has spent the summer developing a better post-up game.

Via Derrick Rose Frustrated By Lockout, 10/16/11

It’s not the first time this has come up – Rose mentioned that he was developing his post game in an interview with HoopsHype a couple of months ago. This surprised me – there aren’t a ton of point guards who post up these days and I figured Rose would make mention of defense and outside shooting before any other kind of improvement. It’s kind of a scary prospect, though, right? With his strength, size, and touch, Rose should have an advantage over almost any point guard on the block. He showed so much improvement last season that it’s not crazy to imagine him coming back with more weapons. The fact that he wants to learn how to operate on the block at age 23 is encouraging — LeBron James avoided post play for years and, despite being incredibly effective down there, still doesn’t do it enough at 26.

While it would undoubtedly help Chicago if Rose can go down low and draw more fouls, create good shots, and free up shooters, It’s fair to wonder whether this should be his focus – Henry Abbott suggested that in LeBron’s case it’s more important to improve away from the basket.

James has fairly consistently made about a third of his NBA 3-pointers. Somewhere around that percentage is the point where you’re bad enough that defenses want you to shoot 3s.

As you improve from 33 percent, however, every opportunity you get to take an open 3 is likely to improve your whole team’s offensive efficiency. Open 3s for 40 percent 3-point shooters win games, and defenses know that and go to great lengths to prevent shots like that. Making more 3s would give James a way to move defenders away from the rim — which has the potential to vastly improve the entire team’s offense.

Via The Post Is Not The Priority, 6/15/11

Rose made 33.3% of his three pointers last season. Yes, this was a huge jump from previous years and it means he was no longer a self-check behind the arc, but opponents would still much rather he settled for a three instead of getting into the lane. Just ask Luc Richard Mbah a Moute:

Letting him go to the basket is a mistake. He’s going to score no matter who is on him. But if you make him take a jump shot, over a bigger player, you have a higher chance of him missing those shots.

Me personally, I’ll play off of Rose because I know I’m long enough to contest his jump shot so I’ll give him a lot of space. He’s so quick that you can’t be tight on him, he’s going to get past you. You have to give him space and make sure you contest his jump shot.

Via Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s Scouting Report, 5/17/11

Part of Abbott’s point about James is that things would be different if the Heat were full of consistent three-point shooters. For Chicago, the same applies – Luol Deng improved last season and Keith Bogans’s percentage looks fine, but neither of them are fantastic floor spacers. Kyle Korver is money, but only plays 20 minutes per game. While it’s generally a bad idea to make it easy for opponents to double James and get the ball out of his hands, it’s an awful idea for the presently-constructed Bulls to have anyone other than Derrick Rose try to create. Putting him in the post could create some easy scoring opportunities, but against good defenses it might also put his teammates in uncomfortable positions.

For the Bulls to improve their offense, the obvious solution is finding Rose some help at the two-guard spot. With few quality wing creators available, however, it may be up to Rose to top his MVP season. I’m positively giddy picturing Derrick Rose with, say, Dwayne Wade’s post game, but perhaps his team would benefit more in the short run if he could duplicate his lights-out December for an entire season. Here’s hoping he’s still working on those threes.

Stinkface Chronicles: Kiss My Tail Lights

Taj Gibson and Kirk Gibson are, as far as I can tell, of no relation. Gibson (Taj) is a black 6-foot-9 power forward who plays for the Bulls while Gibson (Kirk) is a white 6-3 former major league baseball player who now manages an MLB team in Arizona that plays in a park with a pool in it.

The only connections the two share are their last name and, either through choice or genetics or a combination of the two, both men are bald.

But after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the two Gibsons have become connected in another way. Each man proved that people leave games early at their peril. You may miss something spectacular.

Something as spectacular as Gibson’s (Taj) one-handed putback slam.

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOOeMg7eqYM&feature=relmfu w=640 h=390]

Now, wasn’t that a thing of athletic beauty? Gibson (Taj) grabs the ball as it is about six inches below the rim and about four feet from the hoop. I’m no sports scientist, but the physics involved with this thunderous slam are exceptional. So is the reaction of the TNT crew of Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller. From Albert’s simple, “TAJ … GIB-SON!” to Kerr’s “Ohhhhhh!” to Miller laughing, there wasn’t much to say in real time.

(Of course Miller couldn’t resist going over the top with his “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” “analysis” during the replay. I can’t give NBA.com credit for much, but thankfully they excised that from the above highlight.)

Beside the dunk itself and that LeBron James, on the Heat bench, had to stop biting his nails so that his jaw could drop, what’s most interesting to me in the highlight is the gentleman in the gray along the baseline behind the photographers. In real time, he’s walking away just as Gibson (Taj) hammers it home. He turns his head around as soon as Gibson and Bulls fans blow the roof off the barn.

He just missed the most electrifying dunk of the game. (Some, including Dwyane Wade’s own son, would disagree with that assessment.)

You can also feel for the two team attendants who were folding towels next to the Heat bench. They missed it too, but at least they were doing their job, unlike the man in the gray.

Upon further viewing, you can see the man in the gray was more than likely supposed to be watching. He’s a photographer who leaves his position just as C.J. Watson launches the three that Gibson slams home. Instead of capturing Gibson in mid-flight, he’s been caught in mid-flight. Now, he may have been finished for the night or had a specific assignment that didn’t require him to stay put for the whole 48. Let’s just hope that was the case and that his editor didn’t ask the following: “Did you get Gibson’s putback slam? It symbolizes everything the Bulls did in the second half: offensive rebounds, distinct advantage in the paint, exceptional effort for the whole game. I’d like to use that on A1. You got that, right?”

That’d be tough to explain.

Gibson’s (Taj) putback slam and the photog’s early escape reminded me of another “wish I had been there for that Gibson moment” moment. That would be Kirk Gibson’s game-winning homer off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Most fans remember a gimpy Gibby, Vin Scully’s excellent description (“Talk about a roll of the dice.”) and the drama that followed.

Someone, however, missed that drama. L.A. fans — unlike fans in Chicago — have the reputation of arriving late and leaving early, as if the game is just another stop on their busy SoCal social schedule. To their credit, most fans remained at Dodger Stadium to see if their club could erase a one-run deficit against the game’s best closer.

At 3:53 in this highlight (sorry, MLBAM’s ridiculous restrictions on video continue), you can see a pair of tail lights under the pavilion roof as right fielder Jose Canseco stops between the 370 and 360 signs in right field. Those lights belong to the sucker or suckers who immediately rued the decision to beat traffic and listen to the rest of the game on the radio.

“Hey, you went to the game last night. That was the best. Where were you sitting?”

“In my car. I wanted to beat the traffic out of the stadium”

“They had a man on and Gibson (Kirk) at the plate.”

“But traffic…”

“Idiot.”

Using Gibson’s homer as inspiration, a Dodgers team that didn’t have much offense or talent as the A’s, used pitching, defense, hustle and grit to take the series in five. If you squint, you could substitute NBA MVP Derrick Rose for the whole Dodgers pitching staff — in the fact that like a pitcher, Rose has the ball in his hands and he controls the tempo of the game — the Bulls have plenty of defense, hustle and grit.

Gibson’s (Taj) putback slam will never have the historical impact of Gibson’s (Kirk’s) homer. Some could see it as just another blow to the already dead high horse the Heat rode in on. But Gibson’s (Taj) dunk punctuated the message the Bulls were trying to send to the Heat in Game 1, and to NBA fans who didn’t give them much of a chance: “We’ll be here ’til the end. Don’t go anywhere. You may miss something good.”

Coping With Powerful Distractions

Photo Courtesy of Nuzz on Flickr

*                      *                    *

Clutch performance has been a touchy subject this season. There are the typical statistical arguments, eye-test arguments, and those based on everything imaginable in between. But it is really worth debating the best pressure performers?

The recent end-of-game shots by a pair of the league’s star players have foregrounded this question. Derrick Rose shot 4-of-18 from the field in Game 3 against the Pacers, but he hit a game-winning layup. LeBron James scored 31 points on 55 percent shooting in Game 4 vs. the Sixers but missed a key floater late in an eventual Heat loss.

It’s natural, then, to call Rose the success and LeBron the failure in these cases, as the Bulls won and the Heat did not, consistent with those final shots. Fundamentally, that’s fair. But the full-game execution of these players seems to suggest that the boundary between triumph and futility is maybe not so lucid.

The final minutes of games draw the most attention as they often noticeably influence results, and that is why top players’ execution down the stretch is so frequently subject to scrutiny. With that said, the appeal of these late-game scenarios distracts most viewers from the truth of clutch production: it’s totally overemphasized.

An oft-ignored basic principle of basketball is that the value of shots does not vary with respect to the progress of the game. Two points is two points, whether they come five seconds after the tipoff or find the net with just seconds left to play. The perceived significance of missed shots in the early going is usually negligible, as those flubs are often forgotten by the time of the game at which it is possible to process their negative impact — especially if the consequences of those misses are neutralized by late-game makes. But in many cases, if a player had passed up an ill-advised shot that did not fall in favor of a high-percentage look during a low-pressure moment, the make-up basket in the clutch would not have been necessary.

In other words, if the goal of basketball is to win games, maximizing output and efficiency at the end of games should not be the goal, for in an ideal situation the preceding portion of the game should preclude the necessity of “big” shots. When a particular team plays well in the first 46 minutes of its games, its only task in the final two minutes is to protect a lead rather than to escape a deficit with heroics.

Here’s a rudimentary illustration to demonstrate this.

(Owing to the divisive nature of this topic, bringing up specific names here would only be counterproductive — as loyalty-driven commentary would do nothing more than muddy the dialectic — so it’s wise to deal only in generalities.)

Take two players, X and Y, in two separate games with entirely equivalent final box scores, who each notch 30 points. Player X scores all 30 of his points before the one-minute mark of the fourth quarter, at which point his team is up three points. Player Y, however, only scores 24 of his 30 points before that one-minute mark, at which point his team is down three points. Player X doesn’t shoot in the final minute, but his team still wins by three. Player Y hits two three-pointers, including a tiebreaking buzzer beater, and his team also wins by three.

Player Y is the one you’re going to see in the highlights, the one whose crunch-time accomplishments will be the talk of the NBA community at large for the next day. But Player Y didn’t put his team in the best position to win. It was Player X who hit his shots early, avoiding a predicament that required an “exciting” shot; the situation merely required holding a lead. Maybe Player X is the better winner, then, however counterintuitive that realization is. After all, his performance increased the likelihood of a win for this team compared to Player Y’s, as it’s certainly easier to hold a lead than to recover from trailing.

With all that said, it’s easy to make a claim that is entirely dependent on inference and conjecture. Bolstering the case further, though, is the argument’s practical traction.

Consider the following teams: the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs, the Boston Celtics, and the Orlando Magic. Arguably the six best teams in the NBA this season, right? They were also the top six teams in the league in scoring differential after three quarters (Thanks to @snghoops for pointing this out) at the end of the regular campaign. Meanwhile, those same squads were 12th, 15th, 17th, 5th, 28th, and 14th, respectively, in fourth-quarter output. Put simply, the NBA’s elite teams do their work early on in games such that they can put scoring on the back burner: all they are tasked with late is protecting a lead. Indisputably, taking care of business early in contests has more than just a theoretical association with success.

Of course, any team, irrespective of its performance, will invariably find itself down by a slim margin late in some games. In those cases, someone to hit key shots would, in fact, be valuable given short-term considerations. (In the playoffs, this excellence might take on extra importance in accordance with the greater gravity of each contest.)

But nothing in basketball is free of exception. It’s about swaying the odds as far as possible in one’s favor. No team is going to hold its opponents to 0 percent shooting, but it would much rather have them shooting 40 percent than 50 percent. Similarly, no team will completely avoid scenarios in which it needs a final shot to win, but minimizing that reliance is optimal. The team that performed the best during standard, “non-clutch time” would have a leg up in that regard and simply let clutch situations take care of themselves.

It would be challenging, probably impossible, to find a coach in the NBA that would prefer to win every game on a last-second shot than to win comfortably, especially in the long term — assuming, again, the coach’s principal goal is to win.

So the apparent discrepancy that allows the clutch movement to gain momentum is this: the interest of fans is not always compatible with the most efficient, reliable way to win a basketball game.

Sports ethicist Edwin DeLattre is one that believes there is an inherent need for excitement in successful competition. He writes:

“Whether amidst the soft lights and the sparkling balls against the blaize of a billiard table, on the rolling terrain of a lush fairway or in the violent and crashing pit where linemen struggle, it is the moments when no let-up is possible, when there is virtually no tolerance for error, which make the game. The best and most satisfying contests maximize these moments and minimize respite from pressure. When competition achieves this intensity it frequently renders the outcome of the contest anticlimactic, and it inevitably reduces victory celebration to pallor by contrast … Exclusive emphasis on winning has particularly tended to obscure the importance of the quality of the opposition and the thrill of competition itself” (From William Morgan’s Ethics in Sport, Second Edition).

At their most basic, professional sports are meant to entertain fans, to inspire awe with spectacular athletic feats. For DeLattre, the power and frequency of the entertainment is enough to belittle the end result of the game. As it happens, the plays in close games tend to amplify the greatness of players’ actions, as fans identify with the struggle of their teams. Clutch shots provide a feeling of release that enhances the sports-viewing experience for most. Accordingly, many people find it necessary to dissect particular players’ success in these situations. After all, who wouldn’t want to watch the most dramatic actors in the league?

Just remember this: these clutch performances are great for the league and the viewer, but that’s about it. Tense late-game scenarios certainly aren’t sought out with winning in mind. Before anointing your player of choice the King of Clutch, it might be worth it to revisit how meaningful that title really is and what your view of success in sport really reduces to.

The MVP, LeBron, and Media Oppression

The MVP race is all but sewn up. Derrick Rose is the apparent beneficiary of the media’s consensus, overcoming concerns he doesn’t merit the award. Without question, Rose is putting together an impressive season by any standards, but there’s a case to be made for players like Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James.

That said, despite his league-leading PER, his highest career field-goal percentage, and the stature of the Miami Heat at the top of the league, James can’t seem to get within sniffing distance of the crown. It’s not worth debating to whom the award should go at the end of the season, but the point here is that James is getting jobbed of due consideration.

Doubters will point to a couple of main reasons for writing off James: (1) The Heat would be fine without him (even though, as of a week ago, the Heat were about 10.5 points per 100 possessions worse without James and the Bulls just 1.5 points per 100 possessions worse without Rose); and (2) He doesn’t deserve a threepeat in MVP voting (this is just an irrational appeal to tradition in the sport).

It’s clear, however, that the reason that James isn’t getting any credit in the voting process — driven by journalists — is that the media hates him. James garnered plenty of hatred this summer with The Decision, and to be fair to LeBron, that disdain isn’t warranted.

When LeBron James came into this league (in fact, even a year before he came into the NBA), the community at large (hereafter referred to as “we”) had very egotistical representations of him. We constructed a narrative in which he became the “Chosen One.” He was supposed to come into the league and be the absolute savior for whatever franchise drafted him. After the Cavaliers selected him, no one cared about that team. Everyone cared only about LeBron.

And he was very selfish about it, solidifying his role as an icon and not merely a basketball player. We were all completely okay with it back then. This summer, LeBron exercised a right that Curt Flood and others mercilessly fought for in the 1970s to separate athletes from effective indentured servants. He went to Miami. Suddenly we had a problem with LeBron.

But most people will claim that the move itself was not what they had an issue with — it was the circumstances of the move that irked them. They viewed The Decision as an overblown, self-interested way to announce a change of team.

Even ignoring the charitable consequences of The Decision, how was LeBron’s egoism this past summer at all different from the rest of his career? We loved him for being an individualist when he came into the league, and we loathed him for not being a collectivist when he went to Miami. Isn’t that a double standard?

For now, however, assume instead that the contempt that NBA observers have held for LeBron is rational and justifiable. Why should that rule him out of the MVP race? The award is about achievement and excellence on the basketball court, not about selflessness and altruism. Isn’t it a problem that members of the media, who are supposed to be fierce protectors of objectivity and fairness, are playing favorites and taking sides?

To hope for pure objectivity in sports media is a useless exercise. That is, the sports world will never see a day in which every team and player benefits from the same amount of unbiased coverage. The logistics of markets and the nature of fan bases demand more coverage for the bigger teams.

Nevertheless, it’s quite reasonable to not only hope but also expect that the media approach any and all coverage with an open mind unpolluted by preconceived notions and uninhibited by personal grudges. The media bears the burden of honoring the trust that the public places in it. When influential figures start to lead the masses astray based on extraneous factors legitimized by subjective attitudes, that’s a notable issue.

LeBron took a divisive course of action last summer, but it is important for viewers and fans to decide on their own how they want to view him as a result. Instead, the media is peddling a dominating narrative that more or less makes the choice for the masses. Anyone interested in someone else for MVP either is a devout supporter of a particular player regardless of the race or has done the research to find the rare commentary that challenges the Rose testimony.

Rose might very well be the right selection for the MVP this season, however one really defines the award. It’s no crime against LeBron should he fall short of the award, but everyone deserves a fair shake regardless of his history. There’s no reason The Decision should be James’ scarlet letter.

The media gets to decide the MVP. If they’re going to have that kind of responsibility in determining a winner based on basketball achievements, they should at least try to be objective about it. Failing that, there are serious questions about the integrity of sports journalism.

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.

*******************************************************************************************************

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?

**************************************************************************

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.

*****************************************************************************************

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.

******************************************************************************************

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.

******************************************************************************

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!

Menacingly Vengeful Pasta

Photo via Carlos Porto on Flickr

The MVP race. Yup, that ole bit.

It’s been a while since the MVP debate has been an enjoyable conversational topic for NBA enthusiasts. For the past two years, Lebron James has rendered the entire affair meaningless, what with his 31+ PER here, and his 29-7-8 per game numbers there, and the 60 wins, and the Cleveland, and the what not.

This year, however, Lebron finally gave us enough of a reason to completely discredit his candidacy – be it by playing at only 95% of his previous world-best capacity while adjusting to new a completely new set of teammates (how dare he!), or choosing where he’d like to continue his career (no, seriously, how dare he!). Sadly, the ensuing blabbering has turned into such a wild mess of Derrick Rose hating and Dwight Howard knocking and advanced stats this and watch the games that it has been grating at best, sickening at worst, and generally about as fun as an NCAA title game.

Of course, if this isn’t the first NBA piece you’ve ever read then, you know this. If it is, I’d like to introduce myself: I am Noam Schiller, 15 time NBA MVP winner, and have won 20 titles with the best team to ever play in the NBA, the Noamsville Noams.

For the sake of this piece, though, I will be working under the assumption that you recognize me as no more than a punk who just happens to have a keyboard. Given this assumption, nothing that I might happen to write here can change your opinion on this monstrosity of an award show. Whether you’re pro-Rose, pro-Howard, still think that being the best player in basketball should be rewarded even if Lebron happened to piss some dudes off this summer, are part of a Kobe Bryant campaign that is suddenly gaining momentum which I can’t for the life of me explain, like Kevin Durant’s beautiful face too much to give it to anybody else, or are behind some mysterious candidate X (Pooh Jeter Pooh Jeter Pooh Jeter), you’re staying in your camp after reading this.

Now, unlike most of the internet these days, I’m cool with that. I’m all for pluralism. It has enhanced the way we consume basketball and live our everyday lives in unmeasurable ways. Whenever something remotely interesting happens, we have millions of marvelous minds working towards instantly providing us with analysis and perspective and sometimes just plain humorous snark through a handful of mediums. And while the occasional flash of idiotism may rear its ugly head more often once we provide more voices with the necessary microphones, this is a small price to pay for what can only be described as a blossoming fountain of knowledge.

That knowledge, however, is key. That sharing of mindsets through which we strengthen each other, even when the other side doesn’t agree with us. When that knowledge is absent – or even worse, present yet ignored – pluralism crosses the line from a melting pot of opinions and intellectual tools to a random assortment of statements, each more dogmatic than the other. And unless you’re Kevin Smith’s career, Dogma never gets you anywhere.

And yet, when this dogmatism is contested, those who dare stand up to it are called haters. Those who provide statistical analysis suddenly don’t watch the games – this despite the fact that NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND would spend the time glossing over sheets of numbers without actually being interested in whatever it is that the numbers represent. And the saddest thing is, you don’t even have to contest an opinion to be caught in the crossfire. All one has to do is ask “why?”, even if it’s just out of curiosity, before he is buried in a flurry of capitalized letters and exclamation points.

Well, I’ll ask it anyway. Why?

How can we excuse not using data when it’s staring us in the faces? Because we didn’t like math in high school? Because we’re too manly to sit down in front of a sheet, put on the reading glasses that we don’t want people to know we have, and let our minds out for a jog? Because we want to feel closer to the people who did it in the old days? Let me tell you a secret – the old days were awful. We’re much better than them. This isn’t “hating” – it’s evolution.

Take your “advanced stats”. Bill Simmons recently wrotethat Rose is “The guy whose MVP candidacy got crapped on by the entire blogosphere because his plus/minus and true shooting percentage weren’t quite good enough”. Well, aren’t those valid concerns? It’s not like basketballvalue.com draws random numbers and inserts them into their plus/minus tables – this is data that describes things that are happening on the court, in games. Ditto for TS%, or rebound rate, or Synergy numbers, or even pretentious tell-all numbers like PER or Win Shares. I agree that one always must use caveats, always use context, never take these numbers for their face value without checking and double checking, but to ignore them completely? To discredit their value while putting one’s entire weight on ambiguous statements like “value to the team” or “where would they be without him”?

This writing may (will) be seen as a specific indictment towards those on the Rose side of this MVP debate. Though I will not deny that I am opposed to the Rose movement, I promise you, besmirching it is not my intention. All other MVP candidates have major flaws to their campaigns, all of them well documented basically everywhere, and Rose has had a mind-boggling season for a thrilling team.

But it just so happens that Rose’s specific flaws, like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson before him, are the flaws of a player whose statistical pedigree lacks in respect to the success of his team, his ability to pass the eye test, and his ridiculously passionate fan base. And while the latter two are not bad things – the eye test is ultimately the reason we watch sports, and passionate fan bases are to be encouraged – ignoring statistics when they are right there just because they don’t support my premise is just that: ignorant.

If you do decide that those flaws Rose represents aren’t as condemning as Dwight Howard’s inability to provide a go-to option on offense down the stretch or Lebron James’ failure to lead a team to the amount of wins they were supposed to win on paper because our paper got it wrong – then that’s fine. But you need to back it up. And yes, I expect there to be some statistical data there. And no, “this is what my eyes tell me” doesn’t cut it. Because all I need to do is send you to the nearest M.C. Escher painting to show you how easily eyes can be deceived. And even if your eyes are absolutely, positively, completely perfect in every single way (otherwise known as being Paul George) – could it possibly hurt to use your other senses too? To gain the ability to use another useful tool? To check and double check, if for no other reason, just to set an example for those damn “stat guys”?

This stands not only for those defending their arguments, but for those attacking others. Valid points may be concocted in places other than your own mind, because there are millions of fantastic minds out there. Including yours. Respect those other minds by reading what they say, contemplating their points, carefully building your counter. If I tweet about Derrick Rose’s defense, and you immediately respond by talking about his carrying the offense in crunch time, then you have failed. You arrived at a boxing match with a baseball bat. Sure, that bat may help you in bludgeoning me to death, but that’s not what we’re here for.

A final, hypothetical argument.

Lets say that you support Derrick Rose for MVP. Since it seems like the majority of the NBA community does at this point, you probably do. Now, say that I come up to you and say “you know what? Rose has been great this year, but looking at how great Blake Griffin has been playing, and how he’s been a beacon of hope for a moribund franchise going nowhere I think he’s the most valuable player. Because that’s how I define VALUE.”

You, being the rational and intelligent reader that you are, start laughing. Perhaps you call me a funny name, or toss a beverage at me. But I’m a persistent little bugger. I show you ratings and attendance numbers for the Clippers, providing indisputable proof that Blake has single-handedly made the team relevant again. I hand you a 70 foot billboard covered in a fantastically crafted collage of tweets going insane about the former Oklahoma star. I point out how Baron Davis – BARON DAVIS – bothered to get into shape (albeit two months late) for the guy. I call Clipper Darrell, ask him what he thinks about Blake Griffin, record the ensuing rant, and play it to you in it’s entirety with unicorns frolicking around us and bubble gum raining from the sky. I can’t convince you – not when my premise is so foolish – but you can’t convince me either. MVP is subjective, that’s how I define it, and you have to live with that.

Or, instead, we can live in a society where foolishness is unacceptable and opinions, even if they are just opinions, lead to people being held accountable. I like that better. But hey, what do I know – I think Dwight Howard is the MVP.