Before the season during a team press conference, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose was asked what he expected to do this season after winning the Rookie of the Year award two seasons and being elected to an all-star game last year. His answer: “Why can’t I be the MVP in the league? Why can’t I be the best player in the league? I don’t see why not.”
To some, this may seem like a cocky statement, but to those who have met Derrick, this is just another example of his youthful innocence. Rose did not say he should be the overwhelming favorite to win the MVP award, he simply asked why he couldn’t win it. And after watching him play 36 times so far this season, I find myself asking the same question: Why can’t Derrick Rose win the MVP award this season?
The answer, at least to me, is that he certainly can win the award, and here’s why.
Derrick Rose emerged last season as one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA. After a rookie season that saw him get the majority of his work done at the basket, Rose spent the off-season working on his inbetween game. Rose succeeded and he finished last season shooting 44% from 16-23 feet, which is above the league average for shots from that distance. This off-season, Rose focused on improving his long range jumpshot. During his time with Team USA this summer, Rose became a big fan of the international three and the transition to the NBA distance triple has not been very difficult. A slight change in shooting form and countless attempts in an empty gym have led to a lot of success this season for Rose. Right now, Rose is shooting 38% from deep. Now, that is not a number that ranks him among the NBA elites when it comes to three point shooting but when you consider that Rose shot just 22% from deep as a rookie and 27% last season the improvement is much more impactful.
Offensively, this has put Rose is an elite group of point guards in the NBA that can get their points from scoring, driving or from the mid-range game. Former all-stars and MVP’s Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Steve Nash are the only guys that have regular success in all three of those categories. Rose’s mid-range success has dropped a tad this season, going from 44% to 41%, but he is still shooting above the league average. The most obvious reason that Rose has taken a little stepback from that range is because he is taking about two less shots from 16-23 feet per game this season and is starting to take more three-pointers, which he is now converting at a decent rate as well.
Rose is having a career best season when in comes to true shooting percentage (54.3%) and a lot of that comes thanks to his improved accuracy from behind the arc. Four three’s a game may be a little much for a guy that had never taken more than .9 per contest before this season but you can’t argue with the results and when the game was on the line earlier this season against the Houston Rockets, Tom Thibodeau didn’t have to draw up a play to get Kyle Korver a look. Rose was comfortable taking the shot with less than five seconds remaining and he drilled it. This was just another example of Rose’s ever evolving game.
No matter how great your work ethic is, it is commonly believed amongst NBA minds that one thing a summer in a gym cannot improve is court vision. The ability to see the floor is critical for a point guard to amply lead his team. Guys like Aaron Brooks or D.J. Augustin are capable lead guards because they are both solid shooters but when think about point guards truly running a team, neither comes to mind. Rose was in the same category last season. His six assists per game was basically the same amount he averaged as a rookie, showing little improvement in that category and his mindset always seemed to be to attack the defense by scoring rather than attacking the defense to create for others. That’s not always a bad thing, especially for a scorer such as Rose, but getting your teammates involved is a critical part of a point guards job and it seemed like he wasn’t quite sure who to trust with the basketball last season other than Joakim Noah.
This season, everything seems to have changed. Rose is trusting his teammates a lot more this year and it has produced optimal results. Though his assist rate is below his rookie season’s, a side effect of a usage rate that has jumped to 30.3% this season, Rose is averaging a career high eight assists per contest. According to 82games.com, Rose has a passer rating of 11.4, which is a 2.6 point increase over last season. Rose is also averaging 4.3 assists per bad pass.
Rose is not and will likely never be in the category of guys like Nash and Rajon Rondo. Those two guys were born with a special and unique ability to distribute the basketball. That being said, Rose is sitting pretty at eight helpers per game and during a full season with both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah available and perhaps a better shooter to replace Keith Bogans, Rose may approach double digits in assists. And when you couple that with his scoring, you’re talking about one of the best all-around players in the game.
Defense is a hard thing to analyze using statistics. Nobody has been able to come up with a formula that truly evaluates somebody as a defender because defense is much more than simply stopping the man in front of you. The little things like helping on drives, bumping cutters and properly positioning yourself once shots go up cannot be characterized by stats. Thus, I will go with what I have seen from Rose on the defensive end this season to evaluate his performance.
Rose has clearly made the effort to improve on defense and his pairing with a defensive minded head coach like Thibs has helped. Rose is doing a better job closing out on shooters this season than last and he’s no longer giving up on plays in which he gets screened off or loses his man. Rose has been fighting to get back into plays all season long and getting through screens has been a point of emphasis from Thibs. Rose still takes some unnecessary gambles and occasionally makes some poor decisions on pick and rolls but there is no doubt that Rose has improved this season on the defensive end of the floor.
If you want some metrics to back up my words, Rose’s defensive rating of 103 is a career low (which is a good thing on defense). Defensive rating is the amount of points Rose has allowed on a 100 possession basis. Over his past 17 games, Rose’s defensive rating is a stout 98.5, which would easily be a top five mark in the league if he had that number over the course of a season. Rose is also averaging over a steal a game for this first time in his career and the Bulls’ two most used line-ups that feature Rose have defensive ratings below 100.
Rose’s ability to shoot the ball is purely a result of a ton of hard work put in by Rose in the off-season but his ability to put the ball in the basket seemingly at will is just a natural gift he was born with that sets him apart from the rest of the league. Rose is the league’s most creative finisher at the basket, which leaves no shortage of highlight reels, however, Rose’s superb creativity at the rim has often been pointed at as a detractor from his overall game as he tends to avoid contact every time he gets to the basket, limiting the amount of free throw attempts he gets per game.
Rose has seen his free throw attempts per game jump from 4.3 a game last season to 5.8 per contest this year, which is a good sign. Just recently, against Boston Celtics’ point guard Rajon Rondo, who is noted as one of the better defensive point guards in the NBA, Rose drew five fouls from Rondo and got to the line and insane 19 times. Again, that performance is an indicator that Rose is starting to get more comfortable with contact, even if he breaks out and incredible up and under inbetween two defenders every once in a while.
At 24.3 points per game, Rose ranks seventh in the league in scoring, just a few tenths of a point behind Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant.
The debate about what an MVP truly is will likely go on until the end of the world but to me, team success will always play a big part in how a player’s value is measured. The Bulls have climbed into a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference as of today as their 25-13 record is the same as Orlando’s. They are currently four games back of the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat for first place in the conference despite missing their second most important player for a good chunk of the season (However good Boozer is offensively, Noah is a solid offensive threat and is the defensive key for Chicago. Without him, Boozer has been worse and Thibs has been forced to play Kurt Thomas meaningful minutes).
Rose was right to ask why he couldn’t be the league MVP before the season and based on his performance thus far, you can make the argument, like I tried to do here, that he has been the most valuable player in the league this season. Other players like Kevin Durant and LeBron James are likely to finish with more votes at the end of the season than Rose but if you’ve been watching him as much as I have you’ve noticed that this kid is as good as it gets at the point guard position and definitely deserves more recognition around the league as one of the NBA’s best players.