Over the last several years, I have gotten a feel for who the NBA will choose for MVP well before it happens. By this time of year the pool of candidates is well known, and generally what happens is that one horse in the race develops momentum and an echo-chamber effect among the main news sources about who the winner should be. This year doesn't seem to be any exception, as right now I would be shocked if Derrick Rose isn't hoisting the MVP trophy in a couple of months.
The question I have is, should he?
There are many bases on which one could pick the MVP. This is a fantasy basketball article, so let's start off by looking at his fantasy rankings. Rose ranks 14th overall and 15th by average according to Yahoo! standard roto rankings, he ranks fifth according to CBSSportsline's roto rankings, and is seventh on the ESPN fantasy player rater. Good marks for Rose across the board, but nowhere near the top of the fantasy heap. That honor would have to go to Chris Paul, who is ranked No. 1 by all three raters.
But fantasy sports track only the traditional box score stats, and in real life the game is about more than that. So, let's look at how Rose stacks up in the different advanced stats that are publicly available. Rose isn't in the top-10 in John Hollinger's PER, Basketball-reference's Win Shares/48 min, Dave Berri's Wins Produced/48 min, 82games.com's Roland Rating or BasketballValue's Adjusted +/-. In fact, I recreated the advanced stat comparison that I reported for Dwight Howard and the big menlast week, only expanded to include the top-20 among every position, and Rose was nowhere near the top. That would be Howard, Paul and LeBron James battling for the lead with Rose in 16th out of 20.
So, if Rose's individual numbers don't get him into the MVP discussion, it must be his team impact, right? Well, yes and no. The Bulls are one of the best teams in the NBA, one of the prerequisites for producing an MVP candidate, and Rose is their best player and face of the franchise. So to that end, he fits an important MVP criterion. On the other hand, Rose isn't the driving force behind their most important unit. The Bulls win first and foremost because of their defense (battling for No. 1 in the NBA), while their offense languishes at 12th in offensive rating. I saw a Tweet the other day saying that Rose was the least important member of a dominant defense and the most important member of an average offense, and the numbers bear that out. The Bulls' offense is 10.2 points better/100 possessions when Rose is on the court than when he's off, by far the highest mark on the team, but the defense is 9.4 points WORSE per 100 possessions with him on the court than when he's off (a mark that beats only Brian Scalabrine as the worst on the team). One could argue that being the offensive engine on a team otherwise built for defense is valuable, as that makes Rose the more limited quantity on the team, but in the face of other MVP candidates doing more for their teams I don't find it especially compelling.
OK, so neither the traditional (i.e. fantasy) stats, the advanced stats, nor the team-impact measures suggest Rose is anywhere near the best player in the NBA this year. So how on earth is he the runaway favorite at the moment? Well, it seems that he's caught the same lightning in a bottle that Allen Iverson captured a decade ago to win his MVP award in 2001. As detailed in the article, Rose has the right mix of unexpected team success, name recognition and exciting style of play in conjunction with a slightly down year/poor public perception of a more talented player (LeBron James in '11, Shaquille O'Neal in '01) to add an MVP award to his mantle. Like Iverson, I love watching Rose play enough to pull for him to do well. But the basketball nerd in me will cringe a bit when I hear the official news that another player that isn't the best in the league has been chosen MVP.
Around the League
• Standings update: With about 10-12 games left in the season for most teams, there are nine teams more than five games out of the eighth playoff spot: the Pistons, Nets, Raptors, Wizards, Cavaliers, Warriors, Clippers, Kings and Timberwolves. For all intents and purposes these nine teams are out of the playoff hunt, which makes their veterans less reliable but their young talent very interesting.
Similarly, the Spurs have a 6.5 game lead in the West while Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Oklahoma City are all pretty well slotted into their playoff positions. The Spurs are the only ones in that group to be led by older players that make them prime candidates to rest more down the stretch. I don't expect the younger leaders on the other slotted teams to start sitting yet, but they could rest a bit in the last week of the season which could be an issue for fantasy championship games in some leagues.
• Love limping: Kevin Love, struggling with a groin injury, will not travel with the team on their two-game road trip this week. The team hopes to have him back on Sunday against the Celtics, but that is still up in the air. Of his potential replacements, I like Anthony Randolph as the biggest upside play.
• Duncan's injury: I have been cautioning for awhile now that the veterans on the Spurs are dangerous to own with their combination of advanced age and a huge lead in the standings, but this is an instance when I'm not happy to be right. Tim Duncan has gone down with an ankle injury that is expected to keep him out at least two weeks, possibly as long as a month. The season only has three weeks left, so depending on the official diagnosis in coming days it could be time to drop Duncan from your teams.
• Iguodala's knee: Andre Iguodala is in the exact opposite situation from the vets on the Spurs, as the 76ers are fighting for their playoff lives right now. Thus, while he is having trouble with knee tendonitis, expect him to fight through the injury and play as much as possible. He sat out on Saturday and was rumored briefly to sit out Wednesday as well, but he is now expected to play on Wednesday and will likely be out there as much as his body will let him.
• Jackson's hamstring: Like Iguodala, Stephen Jackson (hamstring) was rumored to be doubtful for Wednesday's game before reports surfaced that he would play. Also like Iguodala, Jackson's Bobcats are still on the playoff bubble so he will likely go as long as he is physically able.
• Gay's done: Rudy Gay is officially done for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. If you haven't already dropped him, now is the time to do it.
• End of the Roy/Camby experiment: I picked up both Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby when they were out injured, with hopes that one or both would be healthy enough to play to their abilities down the stretch. It appears, however, that neither will be able to give me that last minute push as both continue to come off the bench, and both are fighting secondary injuries (Roy's back, Camby's ankle) on top of their original issues. This isn't shocking news, but I had hoped to steal lightning in a bottle, so it's a bit disappointing.
• Williams' injury: Deron Williams has missed the last two games with a wrist injury, did not travel for Wednesday's game, but will join the team on Friday in Orlando. It is not guaranteed that he actually plays on Friday, though, and as I pointed out in the standings update the Nets' season is essentially over. I am very leery of Williams' availability for the rest of the season, and would caution Williams owners to keep a close eye on potential back-ups on the free agency wire.
• Cavs starters and Baron Davis: I have cautioned repeatedly that Davis is a good candidate to shut it down now that he's on such a woeful Cleveland team, but that really hit home for me when I looked at the Cavs' starting lineup this week. On Monday against the Magic, the Cavs started Alonzo Gee, Samardo Samuels, J.J. Hickson, Ramon Sessions and Anthony Parker. That's two players that even I have barely heard of, two other players aged 22 and 24, and a journeyman swing man that's likely on his way out of town as soon as his contract ends. I reiterate: don't expect much from Davis down the stretch.
• Anthony Randolph (41% owned in Y! leagues): Randolph will get the starting nod at power forward on Thursday, and when he plays he produces numbers. He also produces turnovers (seven in 24 minutes of his last outing), but he has explosive short-term upside and is worth the spot-start add under most league formats.
• Mike Bibby (34% owned): Bibby will take over as the Heat starting point guard with Mario Chalmers expected to miss the next two weeks with a knee injury. Bibby knocked down four treys, scored 14 points, and dished a couple of assists in 34 minutes in the game that Chalmers went down. He is no longer the fantasy threat that he used to be, but Bibby should make an adequate source of 3-pointers and maybe a few cheap assists for as long as he's starting.
• Tony Allen (30% owned): Allen has been solid since Rudy Gay went down, and with Gay officially out for the rest of the season he is worth owning. Allen has averaged 15 points, 5.3 boards, 3.7 steals and 3.3 assists in his last week of action.
• Patrick Patterson (10% owned): Patterson has produced three straight double-doubles in his last three games, two of which came while Luis Scola was out injured. Scola returned on Sunday, but Patterson still played 28 minutes and scored 14 points with 13 boards. There is a risk that Patterson could lose playing time, but at the level that he's playing he could be worth a speculative add if you have a roster spot and a need for a short-term starter.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio every Friday afternoon at 1:00 PM EST on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 147, Sirius 211.