We're lucky to live in interesting NBA times.
The NBA regular season that's drawing to a close -- we're five days away from its conclusion, and eight from the beginning of the playoffs -- has delighted us, if we're honest, like no NBA season we can remember. The top-level talent in this league is fantastic, as evidenced by the especially vociferous arguing about All-Star snubs and, more recently, the rightful Most Valuable Player winner. Hoops fans seem to acknowledge that Derrick Rose will win the honor for leading the Chicago Bulls to a surprisingly strong finish atop the Eastern Conference. But several of us have pointed out that Dwight Howard, despite playing for an inferior team, is arguably more deserving. LeBron James, though he plays with better teammates than Rose for a Miami Heat team below Rose's in the standings, is another strong candidate.
But this post isn't about the MVP award; people far more intelligent than I have articulated that argument on all sides. I'm more interested in what the implications for the discussion of the MVP award are, and what they reveal about our biases as fans.
If you're familiar with my work here at Holding Court or at Orlando Pinstriped Post, the Orlando Magic blog I run for SB Nation, you know it has a heavy statistical bent. In and of itself, using statistics isn't a terrible thing. I stand by using data to make decisions and to inform my analyses in all areas of my life. My fear, though is statheads such as myself, Tom Ziller, John Hollinger and Kevin Pelton (to name but a few) are cast as people who either don't know or don't understand the game precisely because we rely on data.
That problem stems from a growing tendency among us as human animals to want to regard everything in some sort of binary opposition. Either McDonald's or Burger King is the best burger joint. Kobe Bryant is clutch or he isn't. You can like Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner, but not both.
As it applies to the focus of this article, there are statheads and there are, well, anti-statheads. These folks, in my experience, distrust any data that refute conclusions they drew with their own eyes.
The truth is more complicated than that. Basketball, like nearly everything else in life, is too complex for us to understand if we apply only one doctrine, so to speak, to our evaluation of it. If we rely too heavily on statistics, no matter how advanced or refined, we are bound to miss something; we run the same risk if we rely too heavily on what we observe.
Call me naive, but I think we can all coexist as hoops fans, without calling names or inventing straw men, if we merely blend the statistical with empirical observation.
For instance, the statistics strongly suggest the Bulls win games because of rebounding and defense, two areas of the game in which Rose, an offensive-minded point guard, does not contribute as much. The Magic, on the other hand, win because of their defense, rebounding and low-post scoring, which is what Howard provides in bunches. The great M. Haubs of The Painted Area covered this subject in impressive depth.
And yet, even knowing all that, it's hard to watch the Bulls' 16-point victory over the Boston Celtics Thursday night and not feel like the stats Haubs outlined misled you, even just a bit. Against the NBA's second-best defense, Rose tallied 30 points on 9-of-16 shooting and dished eight assists. In 40 minutes, in which he dominated the ball to the tune of 16 shots and 10 free throws, he committed only three turnovers.
Those are statistics, yes, but in this instance they undermine the traditional narrative about Rose in the statistical community: that, while he's undeniably a brilliantly gifted player, he gets too much credit for what his teammates and head coach accomplish.
I think it's time we take a step or two away from our own biases and try to understand one another a bit better. The looming lockout could rob us of the entire season this fall, and I'd hate for us to do nothing but snipe at one another while we quite literally have nothing better to do. Let's be productive and proactive, acknowledge our biases, and try getting along.