Given that the media seems to have pre-emptively designated Chicago Bulls point guard Derek Rose as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, I suppose it’s not too early to start complaining about how crazy this is. Nor is it too early to start noting that it’s based on a very simple analytic error—ignoring defense.
The case for Rose is basically that he’s the main offensive initiator on a very successful team. But why is Chicago so successful? Is it because their Rose-initiated offense is hot stuff? Well, no. They score 105.4 points per hundred possessions. League average is 104.5 points per hundred possessions. If you combined their Rose-led offense with an average defense, you’d have a team with a modest winning record bragging about its 6th or 7th seed in the East. San Antonio and Denver both score 109.5 points per hundred possessions. The gap between the best offenses and Rose’s crew is as large as the gap between Chicago and the lowly Minneapolis Timberwolves.
The reason the Bulls are so successful this year is their stellar defense. They only give up 97.4 points per hundred possessions. That’s the best mark in the league. And obviously Rose is doing his part in that. But does anyone think Derek Rose is the best defender in the NBA? That he’s the key to Chicago’s defense? Of course not. But if you’re going to credit someone for Chicago’s success, you need to credit someone who’s making a huge difference on the defensive end.