Posted on: January 30, 2012 5:58 pm
Edited on: January 30, 2012 6:02 pm

Baseline Awards: 1.30.12: Jumping over dudes

Lebron James is very good at basketball, it turns out. (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore

The Baseline Awards hand out congratulations and criticism for performances in the last week and provide standings for the major awards. This week the Heat are flying again, Rubio's dishing, Kyrie Irving is ridiculous, and the Magic are a train wreck. 

Eastern Conference Player of the Week: Best Overall performance by Eastern Player

LeBron James

He jumped over a dude. Yes, the dude is short. No, it was not Vince Carter over Weiss. He still jumped over a dude on an oop. Oh, and he averaged 26.5 points (only drug down by a poor game vs. Cleveland), 6 assists, 7.5 rebounds, and one steal. So, yeah, that guy's pretty good at basketball.

Western Conference Player of the Week: Best Overall performance by Western Player

Ricky Rubio

Wins over the Spurs and Mavericks, averaging 12 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds. The wunderkind keeps impressing everyone from coast to coast. He's getting killed by Kyrie Irving in overall production and yet I'm betting a high number of people consider Rubio and Irving neck and neck in the rookie of the year race, that's how good Rubio has been.

Down on the Upside of the Week: Player with worst performance qualified for expectations

Raymond Felton

Felton's a better player than this. He really is. Felton is struggling from the field and finding teammates. He's not settled in, and seems unsure of his role. He hasn't established a chemistry with any of the Blazers' weapons. Andre Miller is flourishing in Denver, which only makes this worse.

DOMINATOR AWARD: Most dominant performance

Kyrie Irving

Irving's numbers are literally unheard of for a rookie. He's in rarefied air. Now, Tyreke Evans pulled this same trick and regressed, but after sinking the Celtics Sunday, Irving has put himself on the map. The kid is doing it all in every position. There's something special happening in Cleveland.

The "Titanic In 3-D: It's a disaster inside a disaster" award

Orlando Magic

This team was talked about as a sleep title contender (not by us, but "around") last week. This week they're a flaming pile of wreckage covered in sewage. Fifty-six points versus a struggling Celtics team, then a nice, comforting win over the Pacers... only to blow a 27-point lead at home to the Celtics on Thursday, followed by a shellacking by the Indiana Pacers. I would say this team is trying to force Dwight Howard to put them out of their misery, but that would be too easy on Howard who has also disappeared at key times. The Magic are taking on water right now in a season in which they have no margin of error.

The Puzzling Enigma Award: Strangest week from player or team

Memphis Grizzlies

Just when you think that team has it together, they get walloped by the Blazers on the third night of a back to back, and that was fine. But losing to Phoenix was an outright disaster. This team looked like it had found its footing, only to fall through the cracks. Three straight losses to end the week for the Grizzlies.

The Horde Award: Team you should fear

Milwaukee Bucks

We don't get it either. This team should, and probably will, fall apart without Andrew Bogut. But they miss Bogut with an injury and Stephen Jackson with a suspension, and go out and drop 100 points on the Lakers. Milwaukee's now won four of their last six and have scored 100 or more three times. Their offensive efficiency is up. No, we do not understand it, but we're starting to be concerned about the deer again.

Cub Scout Troop Award: Team you should not fear

Charlotte Bobcats. We thought they might not be so bad for a while there. Turns out, no, no, no, they are bad, bad, bad.

Searching For Bobby Fischer Award for Stratagem

Gregg Popovich for benching his starters and going solely to his bench unit vs. the Mavs. The young guns wound up scoring on 8 of 9 possessions in the fourth quarter and sparked a huge run that would have won them the game had it not been for Jason Terry's dramatics. There are only a handful of coaches that bold in this league, and Popovich is like, three of them.

Awkward Water Cooler Conversation Award for Coaching Struggle

Stan Van Gundy

We're not partial to the ridiculous superlatives or nicknames tossed out about SVG, who is truly one of the best coaches in the league. But it has not been a good week. His team has lacked discipline, composure, and effort. Things are unraveling in Orlando due to forces far beyond his control, but he's also unable to hold the reins this week.

Blog of the Week: 48 Minutes of Hell

This Spurs blog talks in nuanced terms about the silver and black, and features a video chat after each game. Interesting design as well.

MVP Rankings:

1. LeBron James: Again, he jumped over a dude.
2. Derrick Rose: Injuries are slowing him down and he's still doing this.
3. Dwight Howard: He's also LVP for sabotaging his team's season.
4. Kobe Bryant: By hook or by crook, Mamba will score 30.
5. Kevin Durant: Durant's a jumpshooter and he's shooting 51 percent. Think about that.
6. Chris Bosh: We know. We're stunned, too. But Bosh has honestly been the most consistent Heat player.
7. Russell Westbrook: On most any other team we're talking about how badly he deserves help.
8. Kyrie Irving: Oh, you think this is crazy You tell us how Cleveland's in the playoff picture.
9. Chris Paul: You get the feeling that if Paul wasn't saving himself for the playoffs he coul be right at the top with the Clippers.
10. LaMarcus Aldridge: Aldridge does everything for the Blazers and deserves a nod here.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Love

ROY Rankings:

1. Kyrie Irving: There has literally never been a rookie putting up the numbers Irving has, at least in the modern era of tracking stats. The fact that a horrid Cleveland team is competitive and Irving is taking over down the stretch should make traditional fans happy.
2. Ricky Rubio: You have never seen a player like this.
3. MarShon Brook: Brilliant scorer who scores.
4. Iman Shumpert: He is what he is.
5. Jon Leuer: Leuer has fallen off quite a bit and may not be listed next week.

6th Man of the Year Rankings:

1. James Harden: Just start him, Scott Brooks. You're ruining the curve.
2. Louis Williams: Louis' on fiyah.
3. Al Harrington: Still doing it all while Denver racks up wins, but a bad game against L.A. Sunday.
4. Jason Terry: Needs to go down as one of the best sixth men, ever.
5. Gary Neal: One of the most productive scorers off the bench in the league, who no one had heard of until last year.
Posted on: April 13, 2011 1:25 pm
Edited on: April 13, 2011 1:42 pm

2011 NBA MVP: A share of greatness

Derrick Rose is likely to win the 2011 NBA MVP. But considering all the evidence, Matt Moore has an out-of-the-box solution to the Rose-Howard debate. Plus, a reminder to the NBA and NBPA of what's most valuable. 
Posted by Matt Moore

Derrick Rose deserves the MVP

That statement is not the result of a complex re-examination or twisting of the considerable statistical evidence that suggests there are more worthy candidates. It does not dismiss the validity of empirical consideration in regards to player evaluation, and it does not seek to suggest that the dramatic elements that surround Rose this season are irrelevant in the discussion. It's just an opinion, an estimation, a conclusion reached after watching a great deal of basketball in 2010-2011, and weighing all the evidence, be it plays watched, columns read, data examined, or context inherent in the seasons of Rose and his contemporaries. 

Why is Rose worthy of the Most Valuable Player award? Because in a single season he's taken the remnants of a first-round also-ran Bulls team, integrated new components which don't make a complete, dominant squad, and led them to the best record in the East. Tom Thibodeau's defense was the biggest reason for the Bulls' climb to contention, but Chicago still would have been nothing more than a tough first-round out without Rose. Rose is the offense for the Bulls. And while that offense is nowhere near the top of the league in efficiency, it's been more than enough to get the Bulls where they want to go. 

An MVP is a great player that addresses his weaknesses to the degree it's difficult to establish any way to stop him. The first half of the year, there were questions about Rose's ability to create and finish after contact. His free throws made and attempted improved as he began initiating and then finishing off in traffic. Speaking of finishing, Rose has a downright supernatural ability to close the deal once at the point of attack. He's able to adjust to any angle, counter any defensive presence, explode past any defensive set. Defenses will bring three players primed to Rose on the pick and roll, and still be helpless to stop Rose hitting the extra gear to get to the rack. He improved his three-point shooting, giving him range to punish teams that played off him. Even after we outlined how Rose's shooting had dipped as the year had gone on, Rose recovered in March and especially in April, closing the season strongly from the perimeter. Rose is a willing defender, a fierce leader, and does all of these things with an incredible array of excitement around him. 

One of the most often used metrics to attack Rose's candidacy (one of the few to look poorly on him; the majority simply don't reflect as highly upon him as other candidates) is his on/off court numbers. In short, the Bulls give up more points with Rose on the floor than off. But to focus in on this pattern is to ignore first the amount of time Rose spends on the floor, who he spends it with, and the makeup of the Bulls' reserve unit. Tom Thibodeau favors sending in entire lineups, like in hockey, and as a result, Rose primarily plays with the starting unit, which features Carlos Boozer. Boozer is a fine offensive weapon, but defensively, he's kind of a mess. That he's a part of the best defense in the league is a testament to the technique and awareness of the Bulls' help defenders. The Bulls' second unit, by contrast, is made up of defensive players like Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, and Taj Gibson, playing against other teams' second unit. Again, once context is given, some, though not all, of the numbers that question Rose's candidacy aren't as lethal.

But the biggest reason to push Rose over the top is this. Rose has taken games over the way no other player has this season. Kobe Bryant has found age taking the slightest bit of venom off his stinger. LeBron James has looked apoplectic in Miami next to Wade and Bosh late. Dwight Howard is a liability offensively due to his free-throw shooting and the traditional role of the big man in late-game situations (though it's fair to argue that shouldn't be held against him). But Rose? It's not just on the offensive end. If the Bulls need that key steal, Rose creates it. If the Bulls need to close the gap in a flurry, Rose takes off like a rocket, concerned with speed, not making sure he takes a Jordan-like approach. Rose's gap in efficiency (which has shrunk over the final month of the season) is mitigated by his lethality.

Yes, Rose is a popular story. But why is that a problem? Shouldn't the MVP reflect what the fans want? Isn't it, at the end of the day, nothing more than an award to celebrate the season and anoint a player as a hero in basketball? Derrick Rose has been the most exciting player in 2010-2011, and he's got the wins to go along with it. 

Derrick Rose is worthy of the MVP. 

Dwight Howard is worthy of the MVP. 

That statement is not the result of simply reading numbers in a table and ignoring everything that happened on the floor. It does not reflect a bias towards centers in a league weak in big men. It is the result of watching a lot of games, looking at all the information, Howard's impressive work at both ends of the floor, the relative weaknesses of his team and the marginal success they've had, and yes, the great numbers he puts up in advanced metrics. But to simply say "Dwight Howard is MVP because his numbers are better" isn't just a weak argument, it's a cruel case of shorting Howard's impact in all phases of the game. 

Derrick Rose is a fine story, but what about Howard? The Magic could have melted down, Howard could have demanded a trade, he could have given up on the team and stopped caring when things didn't go right. Instead Howard posted his best season yet. Howard helped keep a Magic team in transition grounded, leading them to homecourt in the playoffs, despite Gilbert freaking Arenas being a key bench player for them. Howard has pushed his team all season, and while some of his in-press badgering seems heavy handed, he's just as committed to winning as Derrick Rose is, despite the differential in demeanor between them. 
Howard's MVP case starts of course at the defensive end. Watching defense isn't just unpopular, it's difficult. To really get a sense of what Howard does, you have to not watch the ball move. You have to focus on Howard, how he keeps his spacing, reacts to not just the ball's movement, but how the offense shifts to try and create opportunities with the extra pass. How many times has an offense drawn help against the Magic, rotated the ball the corner where the offensive player attempts a pump-and-go baseline drive, only to find Howard have rotated from the far side over and completely cut off the lane? To put Howard into the simple context of just blocks is to ignore the real work of a defender, dissuading field goal attempts, disrupting passing lanes, and suffocating possessions. No one does it better than Howard. 

So the question is offense. And it's there we may react too much to "feel." Howard scored 23 points on 14 shots this season, shooting 59 percent from the field. That's how he winds up with such great efficiency. Howard's drop-hook is not a thing of beauty. It's the same rolling, awkward bird flap it's always been. But the fact remains; Howard is a force on offense. He sets brutal screens, works well off the roll, has added a short-range jumper, and, oh, yeah, can dunk hard enough to rend the heavens asunder. 

And have we mentioned he's one of the best rebounders in the league, topped only by Kevin Love? That Howard controls a ridiculous amount of caroms from both his guys and the opponent? That means control of possessions for the Magic. Which again, leads to efficient scoring. That's how the Magic have dragged their way to the fourth seed. 

There will inevitably be questions about the technicals. How could the MVP be that boneheaded? But if Howard's pursuit is to gain an advantage in officiating, something all players, and especially the great ones try to do, isn't that worth the fines and suspensions? This is a regular season award, but the point of winning is to angle for a championship. And losing a game in the regular season means almost nothing when weighted against the incredible impact he has in all the others he plays in. The free throw shooting? What, you haven't seen some of Wilt's free throw shooting numbers, let alone Shaq? 

Stats aren't everything. But they are something. They provide neutral, indisputable elements to give texture and context to what we see, and what we don't. Our eyes aren't going to give us the total view of Howard's defensive impact. Our eyes won't credit Howard with his newfound offensive versatility. It will accentuate Howard's weaknesses while glossing over Rose's. But even if we throw out the stats, the fact remains. 

Dwight Howard is worthy of the MVP. 

2011 NBA MVP Debate
So what's the answer, then? Rose is the better story, and that's a valid reason to vote for him. Howard is empirically the best player, and he shouldn't be punished because of some ignorant resistance to the evolution of statistics in basketball.  You can't watch Rose and not believe that he's worthy of the title "Most Valuable." But it's not like watching Dwight Howard play shows some sort of context that proves he's not as good as the numbers say he is. The past few weeks have seen a fairly brutal series of arguments arise on the web between the two. Both sides have taken polarizing positions. If you rely on statistical data to augment or define your position, you're either a "stathead," or a "nerd." If you choose to let the game speak for itself, trust your eyes, and rely on anecdotal information as the traditional evaluation of the award has been, you're accused of being closed-minded or simple. It's been a tragic case of the new fan-media conglomeration eating itself. To argue one player or the other is worthy is a fine and noble pursuit. To try and concretely determine that either player is lacking in credentials for Most Valuable Players is a misguided approach. And that's where we reach the end of the examination and reach a simple conclusion. 

There should be two Co-MVPs this season. Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard should split the MVP. 

Both represent the balance of this season.  The flashy guard in the big market making thrilling plays and winning games. The big man down low, dominating in measurable ways and trying to hold together a small-market team desperately needing to stay relevant. The steal, the block, the three, the dunk. Each is as worthy of the award as the other, and neither have set themselves apart to the degree we can say definitively they are ahead. How to vote this way? I'm not sure. It will surprise exactly no one that I don't receive a vote. But the most accurate representation of the Most Valuable Player for 2010-2011 is to split the award between Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose. 
This season more than any other shows why if the league wanted to really provide the best recognition for these players, they should split the award into three categories. Offensive Player of the Year, raise Defensive Player of the Year's standing to equal level, and Most Outstanding Player. Creating a "triple-crown" of sorts would allow voters to accurately differentiate between MVPs like Steve Nash, who represented an outstanding player and the best offensive threat but who suffered defensively, and players like Michael Jordan, who likely would have won all three. It would provide yet another level of debate, as fans and media made the case for why or why not a player should get a third, two-thirds, or all three of the triple-awards share. It would more accurately designate the factors that go into determining the award.  Some consider offense to be more important, others feel defense is criminally underrated in consideration of the award, and most simply go off of "feeling." Most Outstanding Player would allow voters to designate a player who wasn't toppermost of the poppermost in either category, but when considered in context, still had the most outstanding season. It allows for empirical consideration and disregarding, focusing on personality and story or sheer highlight impact. Creating offensive player would help to bring defensive player to where it needs to be, as an equal counterpoint, rather than an award given to a player as a consolation prize for not having as nice of a highlight reel or mid-range jumper. And again, the triple-crown winner? That's a player that you could certify as a legend. 

But on the other hand, why would the league want to disrupt the voting process? Lost in all the consternation about the vagueness of the award is this: it does what it's supposed to for the league, it keeps you involved. People argue on barstools over who's better, they buy jerseys to support their guy, they make websites, call into talk shows, comment on blogs (man, do they comment on blogs), launch Twitter campaigns with little or no actual argument other than "My guy is the MVP, period!" All of this does little to advance the debate about what valuable is or who the best player is, but it sells. It brings more attention, passion, and dollar bills to the National Basketball Association, and that's why it's there. 

Still, it's been a groundbreaking season for ratings, star potential, national attention, and innovation. It's only fitting that the Most Valuable Player award reflect that by branching out of the norm and voting for Co-MVPs. It would do us right to spread the wealth. You know, before the summer when there's no wealth to be spread for however long the nuclear winter lasts. 

One more comment. 

LeBron James is worthy of the MVP. 

He is the merger of the two sides. He's as lightning-strike-like as Derrick Rose, while being as fundamentally sound as Dwight Howard. He carries an equal load as Derrick Rose, despite his All-Star teammates, and does so as efficiently as Dwight Howard. He makes the highlight plays that make you jump out of your seat, and has become one of the most overwhelming defenders in the league. He is strong, he is fast, he is productive, and he is talented. He has had a stellar season producing in so many areas while not sacrificing defensively. He's led the Heat to the best efficiency differential in the NBA. He is, pound for pound, the best player in the NBA. 

He can't win the award. That's obvious. There's a million reasons why. His popularity, for one. You can't have an MVP half the fanbase of the league hates, even if he is selling jerseys. There's got to be a practical implication here. Second, he hasn't closed well down the stretch. If we only base our discussion around the last five minutes of the game, James just hasn't been there this season. It's not that you want the ball in his hands late. It's just that you're not struck with the same fear as you have with Derrick Rose (or Kobe Bryant for that matter; had Bryant not had a few too many games where he thought he was still 27, he'd be right here with LeBron for being worthy). The numbers say he's better than Rose in the clutch. But the games we remember most, like against Chicago, or Boston, it hasn't been there. It's not fair, but that's the perception, and it's based on a reality of sorts. His All-Star teammates do demand that he exceed expectations, or at least reach the lofty goals set for him by the media in preseason. He called his shot alongside the Triad this summer and he missed. If you think that shouldn't play into voters' consideration of his season, you're an idealist. Let's be reasonable. You can't talk that talk, and then walk sort of, but not quite that walk. James can't win, but that doesn't mean he's not worthy. 

LeBron James can't win the MVP because everyone hates him. That's not a bitter statement, it's an exaggeration of the fact that most people, most fans don't like him. Those are the consequences for his decisions, and they are fair. The story says no. But if we're evaluating whether or not James deserved to be right there for the conversation, his play, night in and night out, says yes. 

In closing, it's been a tremendous season. We will have what will likely be a new MVP, one of the youngest ever.  The big markets are all back to relevance (even if small-markets are being strangled to death in the process).  The MVP debate this season reflects the incredible number of stars we are able to enjoy every night. Kevin Durant led the Thunder to the fourth seed in the West (probably) and led the league in scoring, and he'll only get a handful of second and third place votes. Dirk Nowitzki at age 30 put in one of the best seasons of his career and had the Mavericks in play for the top spot in the West for much of the year. Kobe Bryant was Kobe Bryant. Again. If wins were irrelevant in the conversation, Kevin Love would have had a say in the debate. Amar'e Stoudemire helped put the Knicks back into relevance when his starting center was Ronny Turiaf for most of the year. The list goes on and on. It's been an incredible season, one of the best ever, and an equally exciting playoff season is around the corner. 

So consider this a logic-driven plea. To the representatives of the NBPA and NBA owners' group, consider how much potential the sport has right now, how much has gone right for it. There are points to each side's position in the labor talks, and business will always come first. But to lose out on the unbelievable potential the sport has right now is to squander one of the best opportunities the league will ever have to reach heights it has never seen. A prolonged lockout would squash all that momentum. Each side has reasons for their positions. And that's understandable. But get in a room. Talk. And keep talking until a resolution is reached to save the season. You've got so much going right for yourselves. But the best thing you have is a fanbase that's truly excited to follow and be involved in your sport. 

And that's what's most valuable. 
Posted on: April 13, 2011 12:44 pm
Edited on: April 13, 2011 2:03 pm

What happened to the MVP favorite, Kevin Durant?

Posted by Royce Young

Kevin Durant had already accomplished the hard part. He had the buzz.

The first step in winning basketball most prestigious individual award is building that buzz. With a fantastic season where he became the youngest scoring champion in history, led his surprising Thunder to 50 wins, placed second behind LeBron for MVP and then put a young Team USA squad on his back in Turkey for the first World Championship gold medal in 16 years, Durant had everyone talking.

In fact, coming into the season, Durant was the overwhelming pick by NBA general managers to win the MVP. Most fans were taking him, especially with the way LeBron James damaged his image and his importance by going to Miami to join Dwyane Wade.

But all that buzz is actually what sort of betrayed Durant. Expectations for him were taken to an entirely new level. He averaged 30.1 points per game on awesome percentages last season, so the assumption was he'd top that this year.

He didn't. But it's not like he was bad, or even average. He was terrific. He's about to win his second straight scoring title averaging 27.8 points per game on 46 percent shooting. That's not all that bad, you know. Really, the only difference from this year and last year's scoring numbers is that Durant took almost 150 fewer free throws. Give him 135 more makes from the stripe and he averages 29.6 ppg, much closer to on par with last season.

Most importantly though, his team has gone from fun 50-win upstart to a 55-win legitimate contender in the Western Conference. In terms of resume, Durant has a solid one. Probably an MVP-worthy one.

Bur for some reason, he just sort of got overlooked. Most don't even have Durant in their top five. It's likely he'll finish sixth, behind Dirk Nowitzki. Maybe it was because of his semi-slow start. Maybe it's because teammate Russell Westbrook stole some of the spotlight. Maybe it's because he didn't reach the bar set for him in the offseason, because he didn't live up to the hype. Whatever the case, he sort of was forgotten, despite having a season almost on par to the campaign that had him as runner-up to LeBron.

That's the thing about being the favorite though. People expect things. Durant was expected to take his game to another level and despite his team being better with Durant still doing very good things, he wasn't as good as we thought. That made all the difference.

When he was showered with all that offseason praise for announcing his extension on Twitter, for winning gold and for being the frontrunner for MVP, there was some worry that it might have an effect on Durant. Some wondered if it was possible for it all to get in his head a bit. But KD said it well back in September at the Thunder's media day.

“I feel like the same guy I was in high school. I’ve got a car and a driver’s license, but other than that, it’s the same.” And a giant house, and a shoe, and millions of dollars... but let's not get picky here because I see his point.

When he was asked about NBA GMs picking him as the preseason MVP he said, “I mean, it’s cool but it doesn’t really mean too much." Don't let him fool you entirely -- he would very much have liked to win. But it was never his focus.

Durant said a month ago that the media tends to gravitate toward the new guy. He was that guy last season leading a surprise team to the postseason. This year, it's Derrick Rose. Having that fresh face really is a pretty big advantage. Rose wasn't pegged by anyone as a preseason MVP candidate. So his awesome season seemed to come out of nowhere, making it feel like he really elevated his level of play this year (which he has of course). Durant, on the other hand, appeared to regress. How can a guy be an MVP when he wasn't as good as last year?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing for Kevin Durant here. He's not this season's MVP. But I also don't think he really did anything to entirely remove his name from the discussion.

Winning the MVP really was never on Durant's mind though. Before the season he said, "I don’t set individual goals like that. The only goals I set for myself is to try to have a better season than I did last year. That’s about it. I don’t have to score more points, or get more rebounds or get more assists. But if I got better throughout the season is how I determine if I had a better season than last year.”

Well, he didn't score more points or get more rebounds or get more assists. But his team went from novelty future winner to a contender right now. His team went from good to very, very good. From scary to downright terrifying. Somehow, I think that's the goal Durant had all along. So he can live with his name slipping from the MVP talk.

And before you get too wrapped up in thinking Durant had a "down" year or disappointed in some way by not fulfilling all the hype, remember this: He's only 22 years old. He's just finishing up his fourth season in the NBA. He still has a lot, and I mean a lot, of time left. His MVP will come, but like he said, that's not really what he's thinking about.
Posted on: April 7, 2011 11:55 pm

Rose etched his name on the MVP against Celtics

Posted by Royce Young

If there was really any doubt, I'm pretty sure it was eliminated Thursday. And no, I'm not talking about the Celtics chance at the No. 1 seed.

Derrick Rose is your MVP. It's happening. If you love advanced stats, if you love Dwight Howard, I'm just warning you now -- deal with it.

After his electric performance Thursday destroying the Celtics (30 points on 9-16 shooting, seven assists) in front of a national TNT audience while announcers, fans and media fawning over him for 48 minutes, there's just no doubt about it.

Whether Rose should win it, that's for another column. In fact, read Ken Berger's stellar piece on exactly that. But it was clear Thursday against Boston that Rose is very, very deserving.

This was a big game. You could feel it. The Bulls not only had a chance to essentially wrap up the top seed, but send a substantial message to the Celtics, and the rest of the Eastern Conference. If there are "Heisman Moments" in college football, you could lock down this game as Rose's. He showcased every ability he has, led his team masterfully and basically destroyed the defending East champs.

It was a complete takedown.

I'm not necessarily someone on the Rose for MVP wagon, but I can tell you that nights like this make it hard not to give it to him. Reality is, not everyone has embraced advanced plus/minus or win shares. Most still watch games for what they are and Rose gives those the thrill of a lifetime. He looks like an MVP. It's hard to deny that feeling you get while watching him orchestrate the Bulls.

(However, let's not get too excited about Rose's effort on Rajon Rondo though. Defense has been the main issue most have with Rose's MVP candidacy and while Rondo didn't play well -- just seven points and six assists -- but it wasn't so much Rose as it was the terrific help defense. And the fact that Rondo seemed to make himself disappear in the second half on his own.)

It's not like he needed this showcase to cement the award, but this is precisely the sort of thing that makes it essentially impossible to deny him. To watch a game like that and then try and make a case against him is difficult. To most, you'll just appear like some moron that wants to be different. I guess I'm still one of those morons because something tells me Dwight Howard has fit what little description of the award we have. Howard has been most valuable. Rose has been most awesome.

It was Steve Nash's tweet come to life Thursday. Rose is a 48-minute highlight. He torched Boston in every way. Every button he pushed opened the right door. Like me, you can still try and say someone else deserves the MVP, but after this one, it's time to face reality. This is Derrick Rose's award whether you like it or not.
Posted on: April 7, 2011 12:32 pm
Edited on: April 7, 2011 12:35 pm

Kevin Durant: "Of course" Derrick Rose is MVP.

Kevin Durant is okay with not being on the MVP list. Well, not that okay. But he does think it belongs to Derrick Rose

Posted by Matt Moore

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Stan Van Gundy, countless columnists, fans, and I'm pretty sure a few members of various royal families. These are all people who have pledged their support for Derrick Rose for MVP. 

Throw Kevin Durant on that list. 

In an interview with HoopsHype, Durant laid out pretty clearly that he's okay with being overlooked for MVP despite being the favorite to win his second consecutive scoring title, and gave his support to the kid from Chicago:
"As of right now, I congratulate Derrick Rose for winning MVP… Yeah, of course (Rose should be the MVP). He’s having a phenomenal season. They’re No. 1 in the East now, especially with all the firepower that went to the East… (Rose), Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, those three guys should be MVP candidates.’’
via HoopsHype.com NBA Blogs - Chris Tomasson » Durant’s under-the-radar season.

If you want to read some subtext, hit the find hotkey on your browser and do a search for "Dwight Howard." This will be the first mention of his name. Howard hasn't received much of an endorsement at all. He's not even mentioned by Durant. Durant does mention Kobe Bryant several times, showing his respect for him.

Durant probably should be on the list. But if we're looking for marks, his field goal, free throw, and 3-point shooting percentages are all down. He's taken a slightly lower role in the offense (while still having one of the top usage rates in the league), and his rebounds are down as well. Last season's results shouldn't bear out in the current MVP race, but they're going to. 

Consider Durant's endorsement yet another sign that the MVP race, no matter how much debate should be held, is over.   

Posted on: March 30, 2011 7:05 pm

LeBron James says Derrick Rose is MVP

LeBron James endorses Derrick Rose for MVP for obvious, and not so obvious reasons. 
Posted by Matt Moore

In what has become a fairly vicious MVP debate between supporters of Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, Rose has had several clear advantages, one of them being "endorsements." If we admit that the MVP is a popularity contest, which of course it is, endorsements from notable people in the game are as powerful as they are in politics. On Wednesday, Rose picked up another one, from the defending MVP, LeBron James. 

James told reporters prior to the Heat's game against the Wizards that Derrick Rose is his MVP. 

The endorsement isn't surprising based on multiple factors. One, James is just smart enough to know not to push himself for the award. Second, Rose is a friend, part of the Calipari string of pro point guards that James has gotten to know over the years. And third, Rose isn't Dwight Howard, who James has developed a rivalry with based on playoff series and the Magic being a divisional opponent. Howard has been public in his criticism of the Heat and the attention paid. That probably tied into LeBron's decision to publicly back Rose. 

But at the end of it, Rose is just more James' style of player.  A perimeter whirling dervish of offensive firepower in a Bulls uniform. Doesn't take much knowledge of James' history to know that fits in strongly with his own preferences. 

Rose now has endorsements from the former MVP, Michael Jordan, and Stan Van Gundy, among others. There's been little evidence that the voters will break rank with the greats of the game to endorse Howard, no matter how much evidence may exist to make it a competitive race. Rose is quite simply an incredible player with a great story and all the momentum. 
Posted on: March 16, 2011 1:30 pm

On the power of positive thinking and the Bulls

The Bulls have the top spot in the East, and are looking to win now. Not later, now. Their biggest weapon? They have no reason to doubt themselves. 
Posted by Matt Moore

With Tuesday night's win over the Wizards and the Celtics' idle before Wednesday night's game vs. the Pacers, the Bulls took sole possession of the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference by a half game. That they have found themselves there this late in the season in a ridiculously top-heavy conference, despite both Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer missing significant time to injury is a testament to the coaching work of Tom Thibodeau, the roster construction of John Paxson and Gar Forman, and the awe-inspiring growth of Derrick Rose. To reach a 48-18 mark shows that the Bulls are not just contenders for homecourt advantage in the first round, nor for an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, but a legitimate title contender. 

And they know it. 

Take for example, Rose's comments to Sporting News in a lengthy feature: 
“We can win a championship,” Rose says.“We are not playing to get into the second round or anything. We are playing for a championship. I can’t imagine having a goal that was anything less than that.”
via The evolution of Derrick Rose: How he went from big-name player to bona fide superstar - NBA - Sporting News.

Or the comments made by Tom Thibodeau on The Dan Patrick Show
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was interviewed on Comcast SportsNet's "The Dan Patrick Show" Wednesday morning and while he backed away from NBA Coach of the Year talk, he did proclaim--at least initially--the Bulls to be the best team in the Eastern Conference.

When asked by Patrick, the show's host, Thibodeau calmly replied, "I believe we're there now."

However, it seemed that the first-year Bulls head coach was merely referring to the team's record, as Tuesday night's home win over Washington--the team's seventh consecutive victory and 12th straight at the United Center--gave the Bulls sole possession of first place in the East.

"I don't know if we're the best team. Our record says right now we are," Thibodeau later said. "There's a lot of work to be done and we're not complete."
via Thibs dismisses Coach of Year talk, touts Rose.

What really makes a team dangerous when they reach this level is their own belief in themselves. There's a certain gap that exists between teams that have reached the battleground and lost and those who are entering it for the first time. The Bulls have no prior experience in failure. The first-round flameout teams of the past two years might as well have served as practice runs for Rose to get his feet wet in the postseason. Those teams were wholly different in star power, composition, coaching, effiiciency, and effectiveness. The result is that the Bulls enter the postseason with no expectation of anything but success. Despite the phenomenal challenge they face this spring against the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, the Bulls have no reason to believe they can't win. This goes beyond the cliche'd idea of "Why not us?" and extends instead to a surge of self-believe that is strong enough to carry them to the title itself. 

Some teams have to work past their own failures, Jordan's Bulls, for example. But others are simply born into belief and that belief is paramount to matchups, performance, or even chemistry. The Orlando Magic in 2009 rode that same self belief to the Finals, falling only when faced against a substantially superior opponent (and partially thanks to the absence of Kevin Garnett, but let's not ruin a good story). The reality is that Rose pushed the Celtics to seven games two years ago with a worse team, and the Bulls' coach has knocked off LeBron's Cavaliers and Howard's Magic.  This isn't some far-fetched idea, it's reality. 

As far as the top seed in the East and homecourt advantage in the playoffs, things are pretty favorable for Chicago. Of their remaining 16 games, only six are against playoff teams. Only two are against top-four teams in either conference. Boston's schedule, while not extremely difficult, does feature a harder course, especially for a team still trying to integrate two new major rotation players and get the O'Neals back in working order. Miami may have an even shot at it, but they've proven no ability to close anything this season. 

Homecourt for Boston means a huge advantage. A raucous crowd that knows what playoff games mean, the mental edge of having that familiarity in surroundings, and the ability to enter as the favorites. They're in line to not only make a strong statement in their first year of contention, but to knock on the gates of greatness itself. Now it comes down to whether that belief is enough to overcome the positional disadvantages they face. 

Carlos Boozer's going to be a problem. He'll get his buckets, but he's just as likely to get swallowed up by an effecitve power forward defensively, and to be marginalized on the glass. He's a defensive disaster at times, a minor component at best. Luol Deng is versatile, athletic, and can be a difference-maker. He's akin to the Lakers' Lamar Odom in many ways, where if he's plugged-in, the Bulls are at another level. But when he's floating and drifting, he's nothing but a contested mid-range jumpshot taker who occasionally gets lost on backscreens. Kurt Thomas is no spring chicken, Joakim Noah is offensively limited, and the Bulls are relying on Keith Bogans for perimeter shooting. 

But the way the Bulls counteract all those issues is simple. Their whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The reason for that's pretty simple. He can be found running his voice sore on the sideline night after night, and pushing Rose to be the megastar Chicago needs him to be. 
Posted on: March 16, 2011 12:59 am
Edited on: March 16, 2011 1:14 am

Derrick Rose's perimeter kingdom

Derrick Rose has been an MVP candidate this season, and has been credited with a great jump in his perimeter shooting. But after a hot start, how much has he cooled off?
Posted by Matt Moore

Derrick Rose has been brilliant this season. We could, and will, take pages to talk about the ways he's grown to improve his game this season, to take the Bulls to the next level and have them legitimately talking about the Finals. He is not only a MVP candidate, but a MIP candidate, for the ways he's jumped in nearly every aspect of the game. Every NBA fan is waiting with baited breath to see what he shows us in the playoffs this spring, with a loaded team backed by a brilliant defensive tactician... and Brian Scalabrine. But there's an underlying trend developing in an area that has been one of the most-vaunted new strengths of Rose: his 3-point shooting

Rose worked extensively with Rob McClanaghan on his shooting over the summer. He's referenced it several times as people have lauded his perimeter shooting. While his mid-range game has stayed at a subpar level, his 3-point shooting exploded early on in the season. He shot 34 percent in November, then 44 percent in December, the best month of his career. His ability to stretch the defense forced them to respect it, drawing them out to the perimeter, which gave him more space on the drive, opening up attacks at the rim and the drive and kick. It continues to be something referenced by analysts when they talk about Rose's improved game. But a funny thing's happened since the lofty shooting by Rose in the first two months of the season. He's  shooting just 29% since January 1st, still an increase over his 2010 mark of 26%, but not good enough to justify gameplanning against it. 

Here's a look at Rose's progression by month this season in terms of makes, attempts, and percentage from the arc. 

Basically after that huge month of December, Rose dropped back to a reasonably improved 3-point shooter (34 percent in January), then reverted fully back to a sub-30-percent perimeter shooter. But because his November and December run was so huge, his percentage held (he's still at 34 percent for the season entering Tuesday night). So in reality, Rose hasn't actually been an improved 3-point shooter for most of the season, but the effect has been the same in the scouting report. Additionally, Rose was actually a better perimeter shooter when he posted more attempts. Part of this is explained in his February injury which had him partially exhausted before the All-Star break. But the trend for decreased attempts and percentage has held and the pattern continued as the season winds to a close. It becomes more interesting when you look at the relationship between Rose's 3-point percentage and total production. 

So Rose posts his lowest point per game mark in the month he takes the most threes of the year and hits the highest percentage. His assists don't fluctuate much month to month, but he does post his highest per-game assist mark that same month. The result is that a part of Rose's game which has been used as a huge part of his MVP candidacy hasn't actually held as much water as it seems like on the surface. It'll be interesting to see how teams defend Rose on the perimeter in the playoffs if he doesn't tick things back up in a major way to close the year. 

This development does nothing to lessen his overall MVP candidacy, which in truth is not vested in stats, but in the apparent way he takes over the game as you watch it live. He's a brilliant playmaker and an elite finisher among elite finishers. But it does show some interesting patterns taking hold in terms of his range and perimeter effectiveness. 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com