The primary argument for proponents of Derrick Rose as the 2010-11 NBA MVP always resorts to underrating the way the Bulls are coached and generally managed. For lack of better words, it's largely a trite "the Bulls would suck without Rose" argument.
The argument isn't without validity or value when applied across the league. But when that logic is actually applied -- even based on casual intangibles -- to every player on every team across the league, the cases for Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, and arguably Chris Paul soar above or become equal to that for Rose.
But we don't need to completely rely on voodoo intangibles, familiarity, and passion. Neil Paine at Basketball-Reference decided to apply "the Pythagorean Formula and BasketballValue.com's efficiency data when a player is off the court":
This idea of "where would Team X be without Star Y?"
comes up so frequently in these discussions, and its advocates usually
want you to treat it as an evidence-free thought experiment. I suppose
you had no choice but to take those arguments on faith in the
pre-internet era, but now that there is on/off-court data being tracked
for public consumption, we can actually look at how a team performs when
Star Y is not in the game -- in essence, we can gather evidence about roughly how good his team would be in his absence.
Here's what Paine found:
These numbers aren't a sole proof to any theorem, but contribute to -- what Paine refers to as -- the "idea of 'where would Team X be without Star Y?' " discourse:
Obviously, this is a bit of an oversimplification; the performance of a team when a player is off the court is not exactly equivalent to the team's hypothetical performance if he went down with an injury. For instance, substitution patterns often call for not only the player to leave the floor, but also for his fellow starters to depart, causing this metric to capture backups-vs-backups and other unintended matchups.
Having said that, it is still a pretty useful sanity check when you hear the ubiquitous "where would they be without him?" debates. For instance, the evidence above shows us that the Bulls might still be the #3 seed in the East without Rose, which sort of deflates the pro-Rose arguments Haberstroh references in his article. And it also shows us that Chris Paul and Dirk Nowitzki are very clearly the top candidates if you want to take the "hypothetical team record without him" tack: West #5 seed New Orleans is Sacramento-level terrible when Paul rides the pine, while Dallas goes from being the #2 seed in the conference to the equivalent of the New Jersey Nets when Nowitzki isn't in the game.
An important factor to note is that the Bulls probably are the Central Division champions with an average NBA point guard in the place of Rose. This isn't a knock on Rose's value, so much as it's a knock on the division. The Bulls are competing for the top spot in the East largely because the Bulls have so greatly benefited from the Central being so abysmal. There's a reason why no team in NBA history has finished the season undefeated and why the Bulls can -- already at 12-0 in divisional matchups with four remaining. That reason: it's one of the worst divisions in the history of the NBA.
When LeBron James left the Central Division after the Pistons got too old and bad to be competitive, the division's kind of a dunk contest on a NERF hoop against preschoolers. At the same time, Howard and Paul are competing for top-four spots in their conferences with not many less wins with tougher schedules. Nowitzki's team is winning more games with a tougher schedule and Durant's team -- though winning less -- are leading an also much tougher division in a tougher conference.
All of that said, I struggle to see the Bulls as .684 team without Rose. My point is that the 'take him off his team' argument negates itself because only one person wins the MVP and the argument sets no one significantly apart from the pack.
Again, I'm not saying any these players are definitely who I would pick as the MVP. I don't completely think the 'his team would suck without him' argument is invalid; in practice, it's just so trite that I struggle with its utility, therefore also the utility of this data.
There's nothing more valuable than production and nothing's more productive than high efficiency in high volume. And no high-volume player has been more efficient than LeBron James so far this season.