This MVP debate is exciting, impassioned and great for basketball. The three major candidates -- the Bulls' Derrick Rose, the Heat's LeBron James and the Magic's Dwight Howard -- are all amazing, deserving, hard-working and thrilling. How fortunate for a league to have three young players like that (and many more besides).
Side note: Going to be tough to lock these guys out.
The popular pick -- especially with the Bulls still having a hope of finishing with the NBA's best record (I'd like to take a victory lap on that, by the way) -- is Rose. Should he win it, and should I be lucky enough to be in the room when the award is presented, I'll pump my fists over my head and hoot and holler for that guy. Not only is he one of the best teammates and hardest workers in the NBA, but he's also incredibly fun to watch and ... this matters most ... he cares about winning more than anything else.
Players like Derrick Rose should be rewarded.
So, you MVP voters, if you just want to say that the Bulls are the best team in the NBA, and you love Derrick Rose and that's that, I'm cool with it. Vote for the dude. To me, that's a good enough rationale.
However, one little thing: Do not tell me that the reason you're voting for him is because without him the Bulls would be a disaster.
That's misguided and insulting. It's a little insulting to Dwight Howard, who is the only candidate if that's the rationale. (Even James is a stronger candidate by this measure.)
But mainly, it's entirely insulting to everyone else who works for the Bulls.
The Bulls are a hot story today because they manhandled the Boston Celtics last night and are on track to finish at the top of the East. They didn't beat the Celtics, though, because of Rose's memorable pull-up 3s off the dribble. (Monta Ellis can do that too, and it doesn't lead to all that many wins.)
They beat them because Paul Pierce and Ray Allen could barely get a shot off. The Celtics' big four finished 15-of-43, and it's not like they were missing bunnies.
Steals, shot-clock violations, fumbled passes, broken plays. The Celtics' offense, last night, was complete and total mush -- 38 percent from the floor -- and that was no accident. That's why they lost, and that's not some gift Derrick Rose gave the Bulls.
That was because the Bulls knew exactly what to do. They do it to everybody. Tom Thibodeau took the ideas and direction that once made Boston the NBA's best defense, and, against long odds, transported them to a new roster, where the players have bought in, in no small part because of Rose.
Defense is half the game, and at that, Thibodeau is a wrecking crew.
Ronnie Brewer is one of the best defenders in the game. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are truly high-grade professional defenders. Under Thibodeau, Rose is far better at defense than ever.
But last night, it was players plucked off the scrap heap, Keith Bogans and Kurt Thomas, who really got under the Celtics' skin. On other nights it's Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer or Kyle Korver really making the difference.
The Bulls have a ridiculously effective coach, who has proved it in several markets already.
They also have really good players. By one analysis, they lead the league, and are top ten over the past few decades, in terms of how few minutes they play bad players.
People watch Rose, and see the pretty scoring -- and it is pretty. They realize few of his other teammates score like that. They put that together with all the wins, and say 1 + 1 = 2.
Statistics and other kinds of analysis do not know everything about basketball. But they know some stuff. They know that flashy scoring is overvalued. They know that the Bulls have a great record because of their defense, and they know that kind of defense is a team thing. They know that without Rose, the defense is still good.
And they know that there is literally no way at all to use objective evidence to say that Rose is the best player in the NBA. Believe me, people have looked. There's just no case to be made. (It cracks me up to see people calling Rose the MVP because he's ranked in the top ten of this or that. How, again, does being ranked behind James and Howard make him better than them?) It's purely anecdotal, or gut, or based on the eye test.
I'm not saying Thibodeau or Brewer or anybody matters more to the Bulls than Rose. I'm saying the stew in Chicago is rich with good ingredients, and that's why the Bulls are steamrolling people.
I'm saying that if you want to be emotional and human and to go with your gut, by all means, he's your MVP. I'll cheer for him too. We still have eye tests, and he passes them with flying colors.
But if you pick that way, kindly do so without insulting what may well be the best team in basketball.