Monday, March 28, 2011

Rose v. Howard: Why Do Chicago and Orlando Win?

Back we go to the MVP, I just can't resist. I have not favored Derrick Rose in the 2010-11 NBA MVP race, but what he did on Saturday night on the "road" in Milwaukee was something to behold.

Trailing 83-79 with five minutes to go, Chicago outscored the Bucks 16-4 the rest of the way, with Rose responsible for every single point, tallying 10 points and three assists at crunch time. Over the last three minutes, the Bulls scored 12 points on six possessions thanks to Rose's heroics.

It was certainly not the first time this season that Rose closed a game brilliantly in the fourth quarter, and it all made me go back to the drawing board and ask: man, am I really sure that Derrick Rose isn't the NBA MVP this season? I decided to dive back into the numbers and give D-Rose the fairest shake I possibly could. (After all, my mythical MVP vote is on the line!)

I decided to start with the Four Factors, the statistics which correlate most closely with winning, as delineated by analyst Dean Oliver (now with ESPN) in his book Basketball on Paper:
    - Shooting: Effective field-goal percentage (eFG%)
    - Rebounding: Offensive/defensive rebounding percentage
    - Turnovers: Turnover percentage (TOs per possession)
    - Free Throws: FT/FGA
In practicality, there are eight factors in which teams can be ranked - both their own performance in the Four Factors, and also their opponents' performance, as well.

How do the Chicago Bulls win games?
That's the question I was trying to get to the heart of. For many of you, this particular story is familiar: Chicago wins with defense. In terms of points per possession, the Bulls rank 12th in offense and 2nd in defense. Here's their profile in terms of league rankings for the Four Factors, for both own stats and opponents':

CHICAGO BULLS - FOUR FACTORS
          OWN       OPP
- eFG%: 14 1
- TO: 15 12
- REB: 4 3
- FT/FGA: 10 (17) 12 (13)
I was unsurprised to see the Bulls rank best in the league in effective field-goal percentage on defense (note: eFG% is simply normal FG% with an extra .5 credited for every made three-pointer), but I guess I didn't fully grasp their rebounding excellence.

Not only do they rank high in both offensive and defensive rebounding, but combine those into overall rebounding percentage, and the Bulls are the best rebounding team in the league, by a fairly significant margin.

The Chicago Bulls win primarily because of defense and rebounding, it is clear. And their defensive prowess is based in forcing opponents to shoot poorly from the floor, rather than creating turnovers. Generally speaking, Chicago's strengths as a team do not correlate with the individual strengths of Derrick Rose.

[Note: Many others have noted that Chicago's bench has been an underrated reason for its success, as well - it's quietly been one of the best benches in the league, excelling especially on the defensive end, anchored by tough defensive bigs Taj Gibson, Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik.]

OK, so the evidence from the Four Factors wasn't in D-Rose's favor. But the Bulls have been on a hellacious 15-2 run to take over the top seed in the East since dropping the first game after the break to Toronto. I figured it would be fair to Rose to check on his stats during this stretch, to examine how he's driven Chicago to the top. It's here that I was fairly stunned. Here are Rose's pre- and post-All Star break splits:
       FG      FG%   3P     3P%   FT     FT%   PTS  REB  AST
Pre 9.1-20.2 .450 1.5-4.3 .355 5.2-6.2 .838 24.9 4.4 8.2
Post 8.2-20.2 .404 1.7-6.1 .284 7.0-7.9 .887 25.1 3.7 7.1
Wait, what? That's your MVP push? 40% field-goal percentage? Baron Davis-quality gunning from behind the arc?

I do credit Rose for continuing to get to the line more often, as it had previously been a key deficiency, but his true shooting percentage (TS%) has still been below league average (.529) since the break (Rose is at the league average of .540 for the whole season).

The three-point shooting is truly stunning. Another oft-cited weakness of Rose's game prior to the season, he reportedly worked on his long-distance shooting throughout the offseason, and such evidence can be seen in his pre-All-Star break numbers.

What's shocking about Rose's outside-shooting numbers is not that his percentage has regressed back near that of his first two seasons (.242 overall), but that he's still jacking them up at such a high volume (his 109 threes since the break is almost as many as he attempted in his first two *seasons* combined - 132).

Derrick Rose is a great player who has had an outstanding season. He is the best player on the best team in the Eastern Conference. He has been the driving offensive force in pulling out wins in the fourth quarter on several occasions. The Bulls offense as a whole has been excellent when he's been on the floor.

But Derrick Rose has been one of several key factors - defense (and the coaching behind it), Rose, rebounding, bench - in the Bulls' surprising success this season. He has not been the single primary factor.

One other interesting factor I discovered while exploring the Bulls is the team's bizarre injury profile. A significant factor behind the Rose-for-MVP narrative is that he has kept the Bulls afloat despite substantial injuries to the team's second- and third-best players (Carlos Boozer, 23 missed games; Joakim Noah, 31 missed games).

Yet, what I found remarkable is that the Bulls have otherwise had almost pristine health. Out of the other nine players who've seen significant time this season, there have been three games lost to injury, total (Rose, 1; Gibson, 2). That's a shockingly low number. I think the perception is that Chicago has been hit hard by injuries. In reality, I'd guess the loss of two stars for significant time balanced by almost no other missed games leaves the Bulls with a fairly average injury profile overall.

How do the Orlando Magic win games?
My mythical vote is not necessarily a Rose vs. Howard proposition at the moment, but I wanted to check out how the Four Factors argument worked out for another top candidate, to see if my reasoning above was unduly or unfairly harsh towards Rose. So, I took a look at the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard, who rank 14th in offense and 3rd in defense overall:

ORLANDO MAGIC - FOUR FACTORS
          OWN       OPP
- eFG%: 5 4
- TO: 25 15
- REB: 17 1
- FT/FGA: 5 (15) 15 (8)
The Magic are strong in effective field-goal percentage at both ends of the floor. Dwight Howard's .601 eFG% is second in the league. He's also the undisputed force behind the team's field-goal defense, as a multiple Defensive Player of the Year winner without much, if any, imposing defensive talent surrounding him.

Orlando's also exceptional at defensive rebounding. Howard is second in the league in defensive rebounds per game (10.2) and third in defensive rebounding percentage (30.3).

The FT/FGA factor is an interesting one, as there is some question as to whether that factor is better calculated as FTM/FGA or FTA/FGA. There is secondary value in simply drawing a large number of fouls, mainly to get the opposition into foul trouble. For both teams, FTA/FGA and FTM/FGA (in parens) are listed.

The different measurements change Orlando's ranking significantly, mainly because Dwight Howard draws a lot of fouls, but also misses a lot of foul shots. Howard shoots 11.8 free throws per game, leading the league by a huge margin of more than 3 FTA per game. I believe that drawing fouls is a major positive factor, and thus favor FTA/FGA as a calculation, though I can accept that you may prefer FTM/FGA, which changes the reading of how vital Howard is in this category.

In any event, I strongly believe that FTA correlates more closely with winning than FT%. I'd much rather have Howard shooting 12 FTA per game, and making only 59%, than having Stephen Curry shooting 3 FTA per game, but making 93%.

It's also worth noting that the Magic are particularly bad in committing turnovers. Dwight Howard ranks slightly above average in turnover rate for a center. The real culprits for Orlando in this category are point guards Jameer Nelson, Gilbert Arenas and Chris Duhon.

All of this is to say that the success of the Orlando Magic correlates almost directly with the strengths of Dwight Howard. The Magic win games primarily because of Dwight Howard, period. Secondarily, they make a lot of three-pointers on average, and have an excellent coach. But Dwight is the driving force.

Of course, things get fairly reductive at some point, and people view both Chicago and Orlando as teams with one superstar, and thus point to W-L records - Chicago's 53-19 is 6.5 games better than Orlando's 47-26 - as evidence that Rose is better than Howard.

As described above, I believe that this kind of reasoning severely underrates that Dwight Howard is much more responsible for Orlando's wins than Derrick Rose is for Chicago's. I'd also say that, even with Boozer and Noah missing a combined 54 games, I'd still much rather have the talent surrounding Rose than the collection of pretty good and/or aging players around Howard.

I was fully ready to swing to the Rose MVP camp following his performance late in the game on Saturday. However, after digging into the evidence, I feel more strongly than ever that Derrick Rose does not deserve to be the 2010-11 NBA MVP, though I have little doubt at this point that he will win the award. I'm going to withhold judgment on my mythical ballot as a whole for another couple weeks.

31 Comments:

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Magnus said...

This race is going to go down as the last MVP vote where dinosaur logic prevailed... every logical statistical (or non-emotional/hype-based) analysis draws the same same conclusion on the relative merits of Rose's and Howard's MVP cases. Stan Van is right - the media has made up its mind - but they've come to the wrong conclusion.

 
At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forgot one important factor. The "eye test". If you would have watched DRose all year (not just Sat. night), you wouldn't have written this article.

 
At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the problem with statistics. People rely exclusively on them, when the best observations are made just by watching the game.

Here are some points/questions for the author:

1) Does it occur to you that perhaps a reason why the Bulls are so good at defense is because they are able to trot out numerous defensive specialists with very little offensive ability because of Rose? For a bunch of games, the Bulls started Keith Bogans and Kurt Thomas, neither of whom can do anything on offense without someone else creating for them. The Bulls are able to compete because Rose carries so much of the load on offense (hence his league leading - I believe - percentage of team points he scored or assisted on).

A very similar argument can be made for Howard, but from a defensive perspective. The Magic can trot out mediocre to inept defensive players because of Howard's defensive dominance.

But in the end, who helps their team more? Well the best indicator of that is wins.

2) With the game on the line in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, who do the Magic go to? Who do the Bulls go to? For anyone who understands basketball, he understands that what happens during crunch time is the most crucial and most important to winning (not saying the final 2 minutes is more important than the first 46, but the final two are more important than the first two minutes of the second quarter). Rose scores more in the fourth quarter than Howard. And the Magic are reluctant, and rightfully so, in going to Howard because of his FT shooting deficiencies.

Now onto some less important factors:

1) How many technicals does Howard have? Rose? Does that not affect a game's outcome? How about the fact that Howard was suspended for a game because of his behavior? Is that how a MVP helps his team win?

2) I know this is not very indicative of the quality of players, but this discrepancy must have some importance. The Magic's payroll is $38 million more than the Bulls'. At what point do you say that an MVP caliber player should be getting more out of the players around him and not just call out his teammates for being crappy?

 
At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Andres said...

My "eyes" tell me that 40.4% is awful. Perhaps if his average wasn't so low, he wouldn't need to "heroically" save his team all the time.

@Magnus: I would disagree. I think MVP votes were probably more based on actual logic and statistics back in the olden days when there were no Sportscenter highlights and recaps to skew your viewing. All there was to do was look at box scores and newspaper recaps. I don't think we've seen the end of the emotional/hype-based analysis.

 
At 1:12 PM, Blogger JTjarks said...

I'd agree with Anonymous, Rose is inefficient but there's literally no one else on their roster besides Boozer who can create a shot on offense. He has no choice but to jack up 20-25 shots a game.

The Bulls are primarily a defensive outfit, but they still have to score some points. They are winning b/c they have the 2nd rated defense and the 13th rated offense, but I don't think they'd be winning with the 25th rated offense.

 
At 1:12 PM, Blogger msanmiguel1989 said...

And you just don't get it! We're talking LOGICAL, NON-EMOTIONAL arguments here; and you bring in your "eye test". So you drool over all those OOOHH's and AAAHHH's every time Rose goes on one of his devil-may-care, off-balanced drive to the basket. And you want to just hand the MVP award on THIS reasoning???

Well... you're probably going to get your wish; but know this: Everyone with a head will KNOW that Dwight Howard IS the real winner here. After the novelty wears off this year; Howard will get his next year... the REAL MVP.

 
At 2:05 PM, Blogger pola said...

Correlation. Causation. Correlation. Causation. I learned something about this in grad seminars, didn't I?

 
At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sports are emotional. have you ever played one? anyone with a HEAD knows that stats arent everything.

 
At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone's getting emotional over there, with all of their ALL CAPS and ????!?!!?!?!

 
At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the article is dumb
starts off with talking about the performance rose had against the bucks. which had nothing to do with stats at the end. rose took over and won the game, kobe or jordanesque. howard could never do that, they actually avoid giving him the ball at the end and sometimes even take him out. if the magic were in the same situation they would ave lost

 
At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Arjun Chandrasekhar said...

@anonymous

1. that is certainly a fair point that rose's offensive dominance allows the bulls to trot out defensive specialists, but as you mentioned howard's dominance also allows orlando to play many subpar defenders and not suffer fatally. but to just go purely by wins as a measure of who helps his team win more is absurd. is basketball not a five man game? is it not possible that rose has superior teammates whose defensive impact outweighs the offensive production of howard's deffensively defficient teammates? I would argue that rose as a much better supporting cast, which is the primary reason for the difference in wins between chicago and orlando.

2. are you also one of those people that believes shaq shouldn't have won the mvp in 2000 simply because of his foul problems at the end of ganes? derrick rose's SKILL SET is more conducive to end of game situations than howard's. that alone doesn't necessarily make him a better OVERALL player. to vote based on rose's impact in the final two minutes while ignoring the other 46 is ridiculous beyond belief. yes i will concede that this is one area in which rose is superior. but if dwight howard has a SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER impact during the rest of the game (which is matt's argument) then i'd take that comprehensive dominance over having a particular set of skills that are more useful for specific situations. put another way, rose is better at the end of games, but if they had howard instead of rose then howard's overall dominance would render those end of game heroics less necessary.

3. technical fouls? really? this is such a marginal factor that it probably isn't worth discussion when determining the MVP. i'm not saying those technicals are a good thing (although in dwight's defense he often gets frustrated that the refs officiate him so differently from everyone else, and rightfully so to a certain extent. rose on the other hand gets the typical perimeter player star treatment and has no need to argue calls) but i still prefer to vote based on how they play when they're actually on the court.

4. dwight is the center; he's not the general manager. how does he have any control over whether the magic use their money effectively? isiah thomas annually had the highest payroll in the NBA and look where that got him. there's a difference between spending money and spending it wisely. if you think dwight has a really talented supporting cast and that they've underachieved then you should make that argument. but to blindly say that the team is not living up to its payroll without looking at the actual players on whom the money is spent, and then blaming the failure to launch on howard rather than Orlando's management makes no sense at all.

by the way everyone when you're done here make sure to check out www.arjun-allthingssports.blogspot.com. i've posted my take on the MVP race.

 
At 7:40 PM, Blogger Magnus said...

Which bit of this is hard? Obviously not the defensive side - one player is about to be the three time defensive player of the year, whereas the other is a defensive liability on his own team (look it up).

Must be the offensive end then. Those who haven't been watching may not realize that Howard is every bit as important to Orlando's offense as Rose is to Chicago's. Yes, Rose averages 1.8 points more per game - but he does it on an extra seven shots per game. Want to talk about free throws? Think a little further - True Shooting of 64% vs 52%, edge Howard. Rose gets assists, Howard draws double teams and creates wide open shots, and - this one gets forgotten - creates a ton of free throws for his teammates by getting his team in the bonus all the time. PER - which does not account for defense? Howard by far. I'd still give the offensive edge to Rose - but not even remotely by as far as Howard on D.

 
At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Arjun Chandrasekhar said...

magnus, you have put together the most concisely cogent and convincing argument i've seen yet. subjectively all the mainstream media will insist til death that rose's impact cannot be measured by stats. but objectively it's pretty clear that rose's advantage offensive can't possibly outweigh the ENORMOUS advantage that we all agree dwight possesses on defense

 
At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. The above (arjun) really says it all. Sorry 'eye test' people, Rose certainly carries the Bulls offense, and Howard carries the Magic's defense--but look at the two clubs statistically. Both are near the top in defensive efficiency and mediocre offensively. For Rose to do what Howard has done, he would have had to make the Bulls offense Top 5 Material.

Plus, Howard's defense is literally the only reason the Magic can EVER get out and run. Lastly, he PREVENTS fast breaks with his transition D... I really don't understand what more you guys want from Howard for him to win MVP.

Missing a few free throws, in the grand scheme of things, matters very little when you are a defensively DOMINANT 7 footer capable of completely changing an opponents offensive gameplan AND a total beast down low who abuses 95% of the low post defenders in this league.

 
At 9:02 PM, Blogger john marzan said...

derrick rose is a younger dwayne wade!

 
At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its really simple...

Statistically Howard looks great, but are we forgetting that Howard had to be called out by a teammate to be a better leader this year?

Also it a has to be with expectations the Orlando Magic Prior to and after the Trade where expected to be a top two team in the NBA let alone the Eastern Conference. The reality is the Magic are under achieving as a team. And the Bulls are overachieving and the credit for that is going to go to the leader of the team.

Its that simple a player that makes his team better then anyone expected and is the clear leader of his team is the MVP, not just a guy that can put up the great numbers.

As a side note, how many of Howards shots are dunks? I dont really see a point in comparing the field goal percentage of a post player to a perimeter player.

 
At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Tim H said...

How about this for an "eye test" if you want to ignore glaring statistics:

If you were the GM of your team and had no salary considerations, which of the current NBA superstars would you trade straight up for Rose?

Wade for Rose? No.
LBJ for Rose? No.
Dwight for Rose? No.
Durant for Rose? No.
Chris Paul for Rose? No.

If you go down further, there's a ton of players who no team in their right mind would trade for Rose 1:1.

What's that say about the candidacy of this kid for MVP? Love him or hate him, Lebron the last 2 years had been the most dominant player in the NBA. There are few if no players that any team wouldn't have traded 1:1 for him. That is what the title of MVP should carry.

Take out their new coach, and even with Rose's new production, their team would still be sitting at the 6th or 7th seed again in the EC.

 
At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Ian said...

I definitely agree with the overall argument, but this bit seems like weak sauce:

"In any event, I strongly believe that FTA correlates more closely with winning than FT%. I'd much rather have Howard shooting 12 FTA per game, and making only 59%, than having Stephen Curry shooting 3 FTA per game, but making 93%."

Of course FTA correlates more closely with winning than FT%. But the question is whether FTA correlates more closely with winning than FTM does, and, despite the many real secondary advantages that drawing fouls brings, that still seems non-obvious, to me at least.

The relevant comparisons to Dwight (7.0/11.8 from the line per game) should be the Kevins Durant and Martin (7.7/8.8 and 7.5/8.4, respectively), not Steph Curry (2.9/3.1).

 
At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Ian said...

Just in case it's unclear: Martin and Durant are players with more FTM than Howard and fewer FTA, so they are the relevant comparisons to Howard for thinking about whether FTM or FTA does more for a team.

 
At 3:57 PM, Anonymous bhoy said...

Try to watch the series of play offs Barca Vs PAO.

They have to be taught in seminars.

 
At 2:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also use eye-test

I watched around 50 Bulls games and 50 Mavs games

how can any Rose/Bulls fan say that Rose is the most important player to his team.
really - do these can talk like that with a straight face?

eye-test told me that Rose shouldered the burden with a combined 54 games period while Boozer and Boah were out
Dirk on the other hand missed his 2nd and 4th best scorer (Butler+Roddy) for about 107 games (!!!!!) - yeah thats twice as much as Rose has to suffer.
he also missed another starter in Peja Stojakovic who played about 22 of 82 games, plus Chandler and Haywood missing time.
really - if you factor all the Mavs injuries Dirk played a combined 150 games without his starters.
yet nobody talks about this, in fact it seems Rose is a hero because he played just a third of the amount Dirk had to shoulder without his starters.

another eye-test:
while Dirk was injured the Mavs went to a 2-7 streak. yeah, they couldn't even beat bottom dwellers.

when Dirk goes to the bench the Mavs can't score and can't defend. Dirks +/- is even more superior than Dwight Howards.

what I really hate the most about the Rose campaign:
"he has no offensive help"
sorry - bu thats just wrong.
compare the point margin/difference between 1st and 2nd scorer on the Mavs and the Bulls = Mavs is higher
what does this mean?
it means that Dirk has LESS offensive help than Rose.
put Deng or Boozer on the Mavs and they become Dallas 2nd and 3rd best player. put Terry on the Bulls and he'd had to battle hard with the bulls 5th best player to hold the fort

if I stop using my eye test and go into metric the picture gets way to loppsided for Dirk, who is having a historical statisitcal season. Rose is nowhere near him in the advnced metric.

 
At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Basketball Hoop said...

with all the stats and logic that is inputed through this all, you forget one thing... if your head is not in the game you are extremely unpredictable! Players aren't machines, and there is no telling if the pressure will get to them... Are they gonna sink or swim?

 
At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Arjun Chandrasekhar said...

to whoever made the comment about Dirk: we must be kindred basketball souls or something!!! i've been saying the same things about Dirk all year - that he shoulders the most weight of any player on a finals contender, of every top team Dallas would suffer the most without its top player. dirk's efficiency, especially his shooting percentages, are off the charts even by his lofty standards. i just can't see how rose carries more weight than dirk when he has such a far superior supporting cast around him. i hadnt looked at his plus/minus but that just further supports our arguments. and even by the eye test, when i watch the mavs it feels like they have the talent of a 30 win team without him, but his unique ability to create shots is what carries their offense and prevents their team is what prevents them from going completely in the toilet. i've made my case here http://arjun-allthingssports.blogspot.com/2011/03/i-wasnt-planning-to-pen-blog-post-until.html but to me dirk has the least help out of any candidate.

 
At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, no question that Dwight deserves the MVP - he has much less around him then Rose; the Magic are probably a .500 team if you replace him with a league average center.

Still though, the "Rose is inefficient and therefore not as good as you think he is" argument is getting old. His slight inefficiency is as much a function of system and the players around him as anything else - the Bulls don't have a consistent perimeter shot-creator outside of Rose. Boozer has helped a lot, but the others rely on Rose to start the process of breaking defenses down.

This also involves Rose taking a lot of tough shots, which hurt his percentages. He gets stuck with at least 2 shots a game that no-one shoots well (end of shot-clock, plays break down, last second heaves, etc.). Dwight is a center; he shoots nothing but high-percentage shots.

It's more beneficial to the Bulls for Rose to be taking those shots, but it's going to cut into his stats.

 
At 8:17 AM, Blogger Codysseus said...

Ugh, MVP debates are annoying. Honestly, is anyone going to be that upset if Rose or Howard win? Don't they both deserve it? To say that either one doesn't is absurd. At this point, it's basically splitting hairs. Sure, we have our preferences for who we each think should win, but the fact that so few people seem to be able to admit that there are several players deserving of this award is a little unnerving. Whether your "evidence" includes statistics without context or the eye test, ultimately we know there isn't going to be some great injustice done, regardless of who wins.

 
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