The Extraordinary Case of Derrick Rose Winning MVP

The Extraordinary Case of Derrick Rose Winning MVP

Personal opinions aside, there's a truth in the pattern of past MVP winners that doesn't bode well for Rose's chances.

Thumbnail image for rose for mvp.jpg

unrelated note: why do handwritten-sign-people happen?

Before the season, Derrick Rose asked, "Why can't I be MVP?"

The short answer: it'd be completely extraordinary because your team doesn't win enough, other players in the league are more productive, and you're too short.

Now for the long answer

Were I to have a vote for MVP right now at this point in the season, I'd cast a first place vote for LeBron James for reasons I'll discuss in another post. Who I think is or should be MVP is not related to the pattern of MVP winners discussed in this post.

There are variables outside of popularity and noise that create such a pattern for what type of player wins the MVP that you'd think it's a template for the voters.

My apologies in advance to Derrick Rose and the dreams of fans that may be crushed this season. Remember, I'm not making the case for or against whether Rose ought to be MVP; I'm relaying data which shows how incredibly unlikely it is that he wins the award.

Now that I've rolled out all of those disclaimers, I will announce in advance that I refuse to apologize and pander to the stupid. Just sayin'....

Win games... more than just about every other team

Throughout the entire history of the award, the average winning percentage of the winners' teams is 72.3%, Jared Wade wrote in a guest post last December at SI's "Point Forward" blog.

Earlier this week, Henry Abbott at the ESPN "TrueHoop" network decided to dig up the MVP history over the last 20 seasons and the pattern doesn't look good for Rose:

I just dug in and found out: the
star of a team that wins 75 percent of its games, and who very often
leads the league in scoring or some other kinds of production
here as player efficiency rating). That's the deal.


  • Every MVP came from a team that finished with a top-four record leaguewide.
  • Seventeen of 20 MVPs were from a team with one of the two best records in the NBA.
  • Nineteen of 20 MVPs (or all of them if you toss that outlier Steve
    Nash 2005-06 award from the analysis) came from a team with one of the
    NBA's three best records
  • MVPs' teams, on average, won 62 games (after adjusting for the
    lockout shortened 1998-99 season) a season, or about a 75 percent clip.


This is why Basketball-Reference's MVP predictor tool,
based on historical patterns showing that wins, points per game,
rebounds per game, assists per game and win shares per game are
paramount to voters, suggests that the top four candidates all play for the Heat and Spurs

The Bulls are out of this picture having won only 68.6% of their games this season. On one hand, only the Spurs are winning at a rate over 75% (84.6%) with the Heat and Celtics both as the only other teams over 70%, tied at 73.1%. On the other hand, even if Rose was the rare MVP without being on a team with one of the three best records, the Bulls have only the 6th-best record in the league right now. That said, they're only within a handful of games of the second-highest win rate, let alone top-four.

The difference between a top-two seed and a three-seed just got real huge if you're rooting for Rose to win the MVP.

Throwing in some individual stats

Rose's stats are definitely deserving of starting the All-Star Game and superstar hype. This should be uncontroversial, along with entering -- or beginning to enter -- the conversation of best point guard in the NBA with Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

It's becoming common to say Rose is having an "MVP-type" season. This is reasonable when his game and stats are viewed in a vacuum, but the fact of the matter is that the MVP is an award reflective of production relative to everyone else in the league. And the strangely uniform data doesn't support Rose's case.

Rose is currently 8th in PPG (24.7), 13th in PER (22.9), and 6th in team wins (35). These are superstar numbers, especially for a point guard, but 15 of the last 20 MVPs have led in one of these categories. Two of the other five were Steve Nash who led the league in assists both years. The other three -- Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994, Karl Malone in 1999, and Tim Duncan in 2002 -- finished in the top-three in at least one of the categories, which leads to the next point.

Too strong, too fast, too good, but unfortunately, too short

Nash isn't just the only point guard since Magic Johnson to win the MVP, but the only one at the position to win the award under 6-foot-9 since Bob Cousy in 1951. Oscar Robertson won the award in 1964, but he was more a combo guard, even playing the point forward nightly in small lineups. The only other player under 6-foot-5 besides Nash and Cousy to ever win the award was Allen Iverson in 2001, who led the league in scoring on a team with the 3rd-best record.

Rose is listed at 6-foot-3 while tied for only 9th in APG (8.2), grabbing only 4.4 RPG, and shooting only a .446 FG%. Those are great numbers for a scoring point guard. This is uncontroversial, but just not "MVP-type," according to the overwhelming pattern of actual winners.

There's a reason why throughout NBA history, the MVP winner averages 13.0 RPG, while only 5.3 APG, shooting a .503 FG%. Because only seven guards have won the award, Wade later added:

The high rebounding stats show us two things: 1) Just how many big men
have won the MVP award
, and 2) just how many more rebounds there used to
be in a typical NBA game. On the first point, only seven guards have
won an MVP
: Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Jordan, Nash, Bob Cousy, Magic
Johnson and Oscar Robertson. The rest have all gone to forwards and
centers, with legitimate big men (meaning not guys like Larry Bird,
LeBron and Julius Erving) taking home the hardware 35 times.

There's some good news, homers

Every MVP since Michael Jordan in 1988 has been on a team in the top four in winning percentage. Just out of curiosity, I e-mailed Neil Paine at Basketball-Reference and asked if there was a lesser pattern in MVP winners' teams' mathematical rankings of margin of victory, adjusted for schedule. They call this the "Simple Rating System" and the Bulls' 5.12 rating is currently 5th.

Almost immediately after I sent the e-mail, I was delighted to find that Paine put the numbers together and found:

This seems slightly more encouraging for Rose, as a player from a
5th-ranked (or worse) SRS team crashed the MVP ceremony 3 times since
, as opposed to 1 instance of a player outside the top 5 in WPct
during that span.

Then again, doesn't this really just mean voters are usually blindly
paying attention to W-L without regard to team dominance? Further proof:
In the majority of cases, the MVP's team ranked as high or higher in
WPct than in SRS

When evaluating team strength, SRS generally tells you more than
WPct. But when it comes to the MVP, Henry [Abbott] was right: winning is

Sorry, that's the best news I got...

Let's use the history we have and try applying it to this season. Neither the Spurs, nor the Celtics have any name near the top of voters' MVP rankings, variables such as dislike or LeBron and Dwyane Wade taking votes from each other, and Kobe Bryant almost goes out of his way to piss people off. That puts Rose's name closer to "MVP-type," based on relativity.

Unfortunately for Bulls fans, it makes a Dirk Nowitzki prediction absolutely skyrocket in value. The Mavericks are tied with the Lakers for the 4th-best winning percentage (69.8%), but he's tied for 11th in PER and alone at 11th in PPG. Then, you have Rose.

The good news I have is that us fans can legitimately believe the Bulls can win two playoff rounds. The loud "M-V-P" chants, some wins that give the legitimate belief the team can beat anyone on any given night, a very legitimate Coach of Year candidate, and the expectation for home-court in the playoffs since the Jordan-Pippen-Jackson Era is awesome.

Don't get hyped into bitching and moaning about the MVP award or what you view as All-Star snubs. When this happens, fans go into a ridiculous homer-mode wherein they engage in such ridiculous hyperbole making their case, they look like idiots. Worse, fans act like complete idiots disparaging some of the best players in the game, instead of enjoying the game.

Advanced Stats via Basketball-Reference.

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  • 1.Toughest position to play in the NBA right now....PG position. Your are going against some of the best players in the league on a nightly basis. Westbrook,Rondo,Nash,Paul,Dwill,Jennings,Parker...list goes on, and Rose is arguable the best player out of them all.

    2. Rose has the Chicago Bulls in 3rd of the Eastern conference division with Keith Bogans and 38 year old Kurt Thomas starting for the Bulls on many nights. Arguable 2 of the worst starters in the league. PLUS Noah an Boozer have been injured throughout most of the season and WE ARE STILL WINNING GAMES.

    3. We have 1st year head coach. Ya hes been in the league for many years but one of the questions before we even hired him was he good enough for the job? Could he run the team on his own after being in the shadows for so long.

    4. Rose makes this team go. His points, his assist, his defense have all improved tremendously this year. 3 ball as well. Without the kid....the Bulls have a pretty good chance of being a lottery team.

    5. LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. BUT he is playing with another stud all star in Bosh and a legit MVP candidate in Wade. Looking at recent rankings...somehow LeBron is at the 1 or 2 position but Wade is at like #7? How does that happen? Is Wade really playing the much worse then LeBron, because to me, it seems like its a different guy every night. LeBron is just #1-2 now because he just recently exploded for 50pts an 40pts the last couple nights. Without LeBron, the heat are still a playoff team imo.

    6. Karl Malone won the MVP when MJ was still playing with the Bulls. In fact, MJ was scoring 28-29ppg and Malone still won it. So just because your the best player in the league doesnt neccessarily mean your the MVP.

    7. LeBron even said in the summer, he could take nights off now and let Bosh or Wade take over. And he also said he knew coming into the situation that he probably wouldnt be winning anymore personal awards because of joining the Heat.

  • In reply to Csharp:

    The Heat, Spurs, Celtics, and Lakers are legit title contenders. The Bulls aren't. That's the point in what's basically an axiom -- that the MVP comes from a top-four winning team. Besides a ridiculous win by Nash, you're actually talking about 19 MVPs being on top-three winningest teams.

    As the season goes on, we'll see what happens. But I don't see the logic that says there's anything more valuable than efficiency in high volume. LeBron's more efficient than Rose with a slightly higher volume on a legit title contender. No knock on Rose because my point is that LeBron the most valuable across the league because of this efficiency in high volume. He's *the* most efficient volume player in the league. Add in his defense and honestly, I don't see how anyone comes close to him being the MVP were the season to end today.

  • In reply to Csharp:

    Rose's stats would have be Jordanesque - circa 1988 - to win the MVP if the Bulls don't finish the season with one of the top 3 records in the league. Even if they do finish with one of the top 3 records, if Rose's stats stay where they are, the only way he wins MVP is if the 2 teams ahead the Bulls are Boston and San Antonio because no one on either team would have the individual stats that usually help a player win the MVP. If some combination of Orlando, LA, or Miami finish ahead of Chicago in the top 3, Rose would get squeezed out by the likes of Howard, Kobe, LeBron or Wade. If by some fantastic occurrence the Bulls manage to finish with the best record in the league, Rose would be a shoe-in for MVP...but I can't see that happening.

  • In reply to magestew:

    Yeah, the division is crap while Miami, Atlanta, and Orlando beat up on each other a little bit, so getting into the #2 spot isn't impossible. And then, Rose probably has a better shot.

  • In reply to Csharp:

    Ya Alex Sonty, im not attacking you or anything im just making the case for Rose. Its gonna be interesting to see how the season ends...if Rose continues his play an the Bulls are top 3 in the East. Id say Rose has a legit shot at the MVP. I just dont see how you can give the MVP to Bron but not Wade. Both of those guys have been putting up monster numbers this year. IMO it would be hard to say either one of them means more then the other. Espn for some reason has LeBron #1 and Wade #7 or is that right? Wade was dominating earlier this season an it wasnt until lately that LeBron dropped those 2 big games on Orlando (Legit team) and the Pacers (who they almost lost too). The heat almost beat us without LeBron. If the Bulls played the Heat without Rose...we would be killed.

    And yea, LeBron is efficient but if your a defense...what are you going to do? Leave 6-7time All Star D Wade wide open or leave 4-5time All Star Chris Bosh wide open? You cant do that. LeBron teammates are definetly helping him out. LeBron is facing 1 on 1 matchups which he will dominate all day long. If LeBron had Kurt Thomas an Keith Bogans in his starting lineup, i bet he wouldnt be as efficient.

  • In reply to Csharp:

    LeBron's defense separates him from the pack of guys with otherwise comparable MVP case. I don't like the "take my MVP pick off their team and look how much they suck" game because there are about 3-6 other guys for whom you can make the same case -- Dirk, CP3, Dwight, hell that was the Amar'e argument. I get it, but it doesn't separate anyone from the pack.

    Case and point: the difference with the Bulls is that they're going to run away with their division. That argument sounds great until you look at the division and realize it's the worst in the league. Then, you realize what the difference between this year and last year is in that division: no LeBron, more talent and an actual coach on the Bulls, no LeBron, the Bucks just sucking for odd reasons, and no LeBron. Every way to craft it just falls apart when it's followed up, I constantly find with the NBA.

  • In reply to Csharp:

    Alex you say Fans, and generalize that they sound/act like 'idiots.' You might wanna think about how so many columnists leak unsubstantiated stories/hype about trades/acquisitions that they know are not true. There's plenty of stupidty to go around.

    Many hardcore Bulls fans realize that Derrick will probably not win an MVP award. But the MVP tag sported by much of the National Media, not 'idiot fans' is more symbolic of the fact that what he's doing with no Jo and/or Booz winning wise is amazing really. Maybe he's riding Thibs coattails some for the defense team wise which has helped win many of these games. But as a second year player scoring 27ppg(26.9) in the playoffs. Come on, let fans indulge a litle would. Dude is becoming a f'ing stud at 22 yrs old.

  • In reply to MarkNorman:

    I said fans look like idiots when they get over-protective of players on their favorite team in a way where overrating or exaggerating 'their guy' means disparaging an elite player or a better player or someone playing better. It's especially futile when there's so much actually worth looking forward to. And that includes consuming other players on other teams and enjoying their elite games for what they are, as well. Generally, Bulls fans are much better at this than others because we've seen how stupid Laker fans get when making Kobe over Jordan arguments. That said, it's easy for false narratives to easily spread and distract fans with awkward bitterness.

    And hey, I'm a fan. too. I made the argument for Boozer in the All-Star Game. It was a stretch, I admitted it, made the argument anyway, knowing I couldn't refute the valid counterpoint. And trust me, maybe my tone is dispassionate because I don't alter my view of reality based on my wishes, but I'm a screaming-at-the-TV boob just like anyone else during a game.

  • In reply to LittleAlex:

    And looking at the history of the MVP award, I'd love it if Rose won the MVP. It'd likely mean the Bulls wrestled home-court for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs by finishing the season going an obscene 26-5 or something like that.

  • In reply to Csharp:

    Just a couple other quick notes....No one knew the Bulls were going to be this good, especailly since Noah and Boozer have miss big chunks of the season. For a guy thats 6'2 200lbs to get us to where we are i think says a lot about D Rose's season this year. We all knew Miami was going to be dominate if not better then what they are. I have a hard time saying who means more to the Miami Heat....Wade or Bron. Wade has carried that team a lot throughout this season, but like I said, LeBron explodes these last couple games and everyone jumps on the bandwagon. I actually think LeBron had better individual seasons with Cleveland then he has this year. I think hes been more of a distributor this year more then ever.

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