In the name of the Rose

DISCLAIMER: This column was originally published in 2011.

The NBA will soon announce its 2011 Most Valuable Player, and if there’s any justice in this world the league will recognize the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose.

As it stands now, this is a two-man race between Rose and the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and technically, the body of work for each player is over; it ended on April 13 with the end of the regular season. Make no mistakes, the MVP award is a regular season award.

Now comes the fun part, the analysis and debate over who should be crowned the new regular season king, dethroning King LeBron James who won the past two awards. Basketball is a compelling sport, because it is both objective and subjective; because you sure can compare teams and players with statistics, but statistics don’t tell the whole story. Until you have attended a few NBA games, you don’t understand that there’s more to the game than a 20-point-per-game average.

Simply put, Rose should win. Never mind that the Magic finished second of its division and that the NBA has very rarely given its MVP to a player of a team that hadn’t won its division (only four times in the last 30 years, including twice where the team tied for first); that nobody has won the award without winning his division since Michael Jordan in the ’88 season. I’m willing to let that pass and still acknowledge Howard’s candidacy. .

Yet, this blogger still gives the nod to Rose. His team, the Bulls, finished the regular season with the best record of the NBA despite injuries to their two most important post players, Joakim Noah and Carlos Buzzer, who missed a combined 60 games; despite that Rose was the only player capable of creating his own shot and that it entered the season with a rookie head coach in Tom Thibodeau. This blogger will concede that hiring Thibodeau turned out to be a savvy move, but there’s no denying that he hadn’t been a head coach before this season. In this sense, it can’t be undervalued how key was Role’s decision to fully embrace the new coaching staff’s teachings; had Chicago’s leader doubted the new coach, the whole team likely would have.

On the flip side, Howard might have more complete and impressive numbers, but his team remains stuck in fourth place in the Eastern conference. You could wonder how valuable Howard truly is if his team is no better than eight out of a field of 30. Then, there’s the matter of the April 10 contest between the two teams, whichChicago won 102-99 over a Howard-less Magic team. While this will help Orlando’s confidence in the postseason should it reach a second round matchup against this same Bulls team, it might have hindered Howard’s bid for the MVP; it proved that his teammates were no slouches like many thought. Finally, you can’t forget that Howard has been suspended twice for his league-leading 18 technicals; this shows poor judgement, pettiness and compulsivity. Rose’s total? 2.

Then, there’s the matter of preseason expectations. After winning 59 games last year, the Magic retained most of its players and was on the shortlist of the league’s top contenders for the 2010-2011 Larry O’Brien Trophy; meanwhile, last season the Bulls finished eighth in the Eastern Conference with a .500 record. Chicago then added many new players and was seen as a second-tier team; anything between 47 and 54 wins wouldn’t have surprised. If many things can go right and wrong after experts give their prognosis, expectations are still a function of past results. Therefore if the Magic was expected to have a better team than the Bulls before the season, but finished behind Chicago in the standings, it must mean that the Bulls overachieved. Rose is the main reason.

Howard’s advantage in the advanced metrics is notable, but you should cut Rose some slack. His numbers are remarkable considering he is his team’s point guard, leader, lone shot creator (for himself and his teammates) and crunch-time performer.

For all of that, my vote that I don’t have for the 2011 NBA regular season MVP goes to Derrick Rose. If this isn’t enough, maybe this will do the trick.

The one good thing this post proves is that for the first time in a little while, the NBA has an MVP race worthy of the name. Now, if Chicago fans read this post and aren’t aware of it, please note that the last MVP winner to win the NBA title in the same season was Tim Duncan in 2003. Please don’t shoot the messenger.