Stan Van Gundy is good at making headlines. For good or bad. He is the latest person to weigh in on the MVP race.
Or perhaps the lack of an MVP race as Van Gundy believes. Most would probably consider the race for the award down to three (possibly four) players. Dwight Howard is certainly one of those players with a chance to win it. The other two are most likely Derrick Rose of Chicago and LeBron James of Miami. It is very hard to argue anyone else has played at the same level of those three guys throughout the season.
As good as James has been this year, it is tough to put him in the argument for too long. His numbers just do not match up to his previous two MVP seasons. No matter how you cut them. And, as you will likely see later, this basic eye test matters to a certain extent. Still, James has done more than many thought he would on a new team with new teammates and in a new role. James is the best perimeter player in the league and that always leaves him in the running.
That leaves you with Rose and Howard. And Van Gundy intimated that the race is already over.
"I don't think it's wide open. The media seems to have made their decision, and they're the ones that vote. So I think it's over," Van Gundy said before Wednesday's game. "I mean, I just listen and read. I think it's over. Derrick Rose has it. I haven't really read or heard a media guy who is going another way at this point. I'd be shocked if he doesn't win it."
There has been a ton of talk about Rose being the clear front-runner for the award.
With the way his team has been playing, he certainly should be considered as a frontrunner. And Rose's raw numbers suggest he is among the favorties for the award.
Chicago currently sits 51-19 and atop the Eastern Conference. Many people considered the Bulls to be a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference during the preseason, but still behind the Celtics, Heat and Magic. To see the Bulls succeeding this much this soon is a surprise. And Rose's play is a big reason for that. The third-year point guard is averaging career highs in points per game (24.9), assists per game (7.8) and 3-point field goal percentage (34.0%).
Rose has been very very good.
But so has Howard. And arguably, he is much more valuable to his team than Rose is. Howard is also averaging career highs in points (23.1 per game) and rebounds (14.2 per game). According to Basketball-Reference, Howard leads the league this year in Defensive Win Shares (6.7) and Defensive Rating (94).
And that really gets to what is the crux of the argument between Howard and Rose.
Dwight is undoubtedly the best defensive player of the league, impacting more possessions on that end than anybody else. Rose has a defensive win shares of 4.2 and a defensive rating of 102. In fact, Howard's offensive rating is higher at 113 than Rose at 112. Those numbers can be more about the team that surrounds you than the player itself. But Howard's numbers are just insanely good on defense.
Of course there are very little numbers to quantify how good a player plays on defense. Really it is all about the eye test. And even that gets skewed toward offense.
Silver Screen and Roll made the historical argument comparing this year's MVP race to that of the 2001 race that saw Allen Iverson defeat Shaquille O'Neal. That year, Iverson wowed with an incredible offensive display while surrounded by mediocre offensive talent. Shaq, on the other hand, was a defensive and offensive force who just did all the dirty work for the eventual champion Lakers.
The comparison between the two MVP races is quite astonishing.
What might be more astonishing is the chart that shows the team is significantly better defensively with Rose off the floor. The Bulls have a 92.5 defensive efficiency with Rose off the floor. And this is a team that is already one of the best defensive squads in the league. It is important to note that the Bulls are a much better offensive team with Rose on the floor. But there is no denying these numbers suggest Rose's impact is only felt on one side of the floor.
Howard, on the other hand, impacts just about every possession. You take Howard off the Magic and what you have would make many observers feel very uncomfortable. You could argue Howard and Rose both benefit from the argument of "their teams would be nowhere without them." That is one popular approach to voting on the league's MVP.
Another would be statistics. It seems Howard has some edge there. The big argument throughout the Internet during this whole debate has been centered on this.
Howard's impact on the defensive end is close to immeasurable. His offense has been the best of his career and his PER reflects that.
He and LeBron James have been trading the lead in that category for the better part of the last two or three months. Howard's 26.42 PER is second in the league, while Rose is 11th at 23.31 (behind non-MVP candidates Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Chris Paul). Rose only rises to eighth when measuring by John Hollinger's value added rating and Howard is second.
Those numbers might wash over the voters, because in the end this whole thing is a popularity contest. The "eye test" is most likely the method used by most voters. Both players pass the initial eye test. But then Rose does amazing things with the basketball. Howard's approach is methodical and sometimes looks too easy. The way Rose finishes at the rim and the surprise of the Bulls' season -- added to the disappointment of the Magic's -- and Rose starts to smell more like an MVP.
In reality both Howard and Rose are MVPs. And ultimately the voters will have their say. It is easy for us to argue Howard deserves the award, we see him every night.
The unfortunate part is that Howard is still fighting misconceptions about him -- whether it is his ever-developing offensive repertoire or his "hot-headedness" that comes with those technical fouls he struggles to stay away from. And the eye test still seems to be the way most national voters, who may not see either player at their best, cast their vote.
Unfortunately, as deserving as I think Howard might be of the award, Van Gundy appears to be right. Rose is going to win this popularity contest this year.