What’s an MVP?

Stan Van Gundy was absolutely right last week, although at this point, his whining holds no weight and just fades into white noise — the media has already anointed Derrick Rose as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, and barring a complete collapse by the Bulls, nothing is going to be able to change that.

It all depends on your definition of “value,” and this season, it seems like value has deteriorated into a competition of which star’s supporting cast is the crappiest, or been hurt the most.  Early in the season, when Dirk Nowitzki missed time with a knee injury, Dallas’ 2-7 record in his absence led many to anoint the big German as the MVP favorite. As the calendar changed, and the Bulls began to get healthy and round into conference-leading form, the bandwagon for Rose has careened down the tracks, and is wholly unstoppable at this point.

I will allow that the most valuable asset to a team (at least by the abstract definition of changing a bad team’s fortunes with his presence) does call Chicago home, but it’s first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, not Rose.  Rose is a terrific player, but the Bulls are not winning because of the things he does well, they are winning due to Thibs’ influence. Derrick is an offensive beast, but even with his production, Chicago remains a middling offensive team in both raw and pace-neutral efficiency.  The Bulls have risen to the top of the East by virtue of their defense and rebounding, leading the league in points against and rebound rate.

The story line as Rose’s candidacy grew was that he had worked tirelessly over the summer on his three-point shot accuracy, and turned it into a deadly weapon added to his arsenal. Shooting 35.5% from downtown, he attempted more triples through the all-star break than he had in his first two seasons combined.  Since then, as the season has entered the home stretch, he’s taking even more three’s (over 6 a game!), and making less than 29% of them.  Consequently, his two-point attempts, where he is one of the best-finishing guards of his generation, have gone down to compensate, as have his assists.

Much of the case for Rose lies in the absence of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer for a combined 54 games, but overall, Chicago has been incredibly healthy — aside from Noah and Boozer, the rest of their 10-deep rotation has missed a combined three games.  He’s as dangerous a player as there is in this league with the ball in his hands, and if I were an opposing coach, I’d be terrified trying to gameplan against him late in a close game. However, that’s not what the MVP is to me.  The Most valuable Player is the player who contributes the most to helping a team win through all 48 minutes of a game, all season long, no matter how good, famous or hyped his teammates are — both LeBron and Dwyane Wade make my hypothetical top-5 ballot, in spite of each other.

All of this is a nice buildup to the big reveal, who my MVP is at this point in the 2010-2011 season.  Subject to change, I have Dwight Howard, followed by James, Rose, Kobe Bryant, and Wade, in that order.  While Howard’s Orlando team is 6.5 games back of the Bulls in the standings [as of March 28], the contributions he has made to winning basketball games slightly surpass those of James and Rose.  The Magic and Bulls have very similar team profiles actually, as Orlando is a mediocre offensive team relying on defense and a league-leading defensive rebound rate.  Howard’s strengths line up perfectly with what is winning basketball games for his Magic, and he’s sustaining that production against a more difficult schedule than Rose — although admittedly out of his control, playing in the Central Division has given Chicago the easiest schedule in the league.

Finally, just for those who do think that bad sidekicks are what constitutes an MVP — take a minute and look through Chicago’s roster, then Orlando’s.  Get back to me and let me know who you really think has a better supporting cast.

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