Sure, Derrick Rose is a candidate for NBA MVP. But if he is, so are Russell Westbrook and many, many more.
No one ought to feel entitled to tell others who they ought to consider an NBA MVP. Consideration and contemplation are infinite resources, and frankly, too many voters -- in politics, for basketball awards, in American Idol -- vote with their hearts instead of their heads. Consideration of a great many candidates and arguments is a good thing. If we all spent 10 minutes looking over the restaurant menu instead of 10 seconds, wiser decisions would be made.*
So, no longer will I tell everyone I know that Derrick Rose is not a legitimate NBA MVP candidate. Instead, I will present the argument that if you consider Derrick Rose a legitimate NBA MVP candidate -- or even, as some suggest, the indisputable NBA MVP -- you ought to also consider no fewer than a dozen (yes, 12) other players.
One such player is a guard almost never mentioned in MVP talk: Russell Westbrook. Let's consider Rose, and consider Westbrook, and contemplate.
The basic per-game statistics for Rose and Westbrook are seriously similar. Rose averages 24.9 points and 7.8 assists per game; Westbrook is at 22.2 and 8.3. Each shoots 44 percent from the floor and a touch below average -- 34 percent for Rose, 33 percent for Westbrook -- from long-range. Westbrook draws almost eight free throws a game and shoots them quite well; Rose draws seven FTs on average, and shoots them quite well. Westbrook averages 4.6 rebounds per game; Rose, 4.2. Westbrook gives up 3.9 turnovers, Rose 3.4. Just under two steals for Westbrook, just more than one for Rose.
The similarities extend to advanced metrics. The guards' True Shooting percentages -- that measure total shooting efficiency, or points per shooting possession in percentage form -- are virtually identical at just below average. They manage that efficiency at high, almost identical 32-percent usage rates. Westbrook's assist rate is somewhat higher; Rose's turnover rate is somewhat lower. PER? Rose is 23.3, Westbrook 23.7. But really, you'd have trouble tracking down more similar comparisons.
Rose's team is really, really good -- 51-19, tops in the Eastern Conference. Westbrook's team happens to be really good too, at 46-24. Oklahoma City is virtually guaranteed home court advantage in the first-round of the West playoffs, no small feat. Both are team leaders. Rose has a less star-studded supporting cast, though Luol Deng is an All-Defense contender, and Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah (or maybe both) would have been an All-Stars if not for long injury absences in the first half of the season. Westbrook has, of course, Kevin Durant ... and no other teammate that will ever likely make even an All-Star All-Snub team.
The Bulls are superior defensively, but lineup data suggests Rose's defensive impact may be minimal -- the Chicago defense improves when C.J. Watson replaces Rose, for example. The Thunder's defense (excellent a year ago) is middling; Westbrook has a terrific defensive reputation, but the data this season isn't strong. I sincerely doubt anyone would hold that if you swapped Westbrook and Rose, though, Chicago's defense would fall off. It wouldn't.
So there we are. All told, Rose likely has the slimmest of edges over Westbrook based on the fact he has played more minutes and, given the turnover comparison, a touch more efficient. But it's incredibly close, and if you're willing to strongly consider Rose for the award, you've also got to consider Westbrook. And if you consider Rose and Westbrook, you've got to consider superior producers LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dwayne Wade, Dirk Nowitzki ... heck, Durant. Kevin Love is as productive as Rose. Why not him? Where would the Wolves be without Kevin Love? Worst team ever? Kobe Bryant. Zach Randolph. Pau Gasol. Amar'e Stoudemire. All of these players compare to Rose in terms of production; many of them compare favorably.
If you're handing your support to Rose without considering Westbrook and the others strongly, know that you're not awarding the Most Valuable Player trophy, you're awarding a kindergarten gold star for a totally awesome story or the Man Booker prize or something. Awarding MVP trophies based on warm fuzzies should be reserved for youth soccer, not the highest levels of sport. If you present the argument that "you can't base the award strictly on stats," I will direct you to the Steve Nash wing of the Basketball Hall of Fame in the year 2055, where a plaque will read:
"Dear basketball fans,
No, we don't know why Steve Nash won two MVP awards as the 20th or so best player of his generation while monsters like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal only won one each, and Tim Duncan only won two, and Dwyane Wade never won one. Our forensic research suggests that voters became enamored with the entertaining and surprising Phoenix Suns and, worried that their pea-sized brains would forget all about Nash and the Seven Seconds Or Less offense, decided to memorialize the era with not one but two giant bronze trophies. We regret the voters' lack of reason, and as penance present this oversized mural depicting a bayonet-wielding Shaq chasing Mitch Albom through the Fourth Circle of Hell.
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame"
It's still possible to get this right, voters and influencers. Let science into your heart! Just say no to Mitch Albom Logic!
* I used to wait tables. I would not have encouraged 10-minute menu contemplation sessions in those days. In fact, I would have vigorously discouraged it. By spreading malicious rumors about those who did spend 10 minutes contemplating the menu. See that guy? Knew him in middle school. Used to sell him pogs that were really just the white cardboard from milk jugs. What a maroon!