Posted by Neil Paine on March 23, 2011
With Derrick Rose's 2011 MVP looking like a foregone conclusion, it seems only natural to compare his campaign to that of Allen Iverson in 2001, the year another popular guard won the MVP despite not being the game's most talented player.
Here's the numerical tale of the tape for A.I. and D-Rose, with Rose extrapolated to 82 team games: (Glossary)
Statistically, the two players are incredibly comparable. If you translate Iverson from the 103.0 league-ORtg environment of 2001 to the league ORtg of 107.1 in 2011, his ORtg/%Poss/DRtg becomes 110.5/33.8/103.0, production that is basically equivalent to Rose's after adjusting for usage.
Offensively, both A.I. and Rose were roughly +6.5 SPM players (Rose is probably closer to +6, Iverson is closer to +7, but for the sake of argument let's call them even) on teams that were barely above-average offensively. The 2001 Sixers' offense was +0.6 relative to the league average; the 2011 Bulls are +0.9. Their styles differed, with Iverson scoring more (especially at the rim) and Rose placing more emphasis on passing, but the overall offensive impact was very nearly the same.
Iverson and Rose offered similar production on defense as well -- if you give equal weight to DSPM and DRtg, that is. SPM says Iverson was a 0.0 player on defense in 2001, dead on the league average, while it considers Rose a -1.0 defender (a sentiment shared by on/off +/-). But if you convert DRtg to its +/- equivalent, Rose looks like a +1.0 defender, while Iverson is +0.75. With equal consideration given to each metric, Rose would be a 0.0 defender while Iverson would be a +0.4 defender, a slim margin at best. And for what it's worth, Rose's Bulls (+7.2 on defense) outpace Iverson's Sixers (who check in with "only" a +4.1 D). In that light, I think it's fair to call them equal on defense as well.
All told, Rose and Iverson's MVP campaigns are almost eerily similar. Each player was worth approximately 6-7 points of on-court offensive rating above average for a middling offensive team, and each was essentially an average defender on a very strong defensive squad. Each man's role was to carry the offense (almost single-handedly -- with apologies to Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, & Aaron McKie) and let his surrounding role players handle their defensive duties.
Both Iverson and Rose also capitalized on down years from more physically gifted MVP competitors, rivals who should have beaten them on pure talent but were diminished in the voters' minds for various reasons. When LeBron James is producing at a +12 level, as he had done in 2009 & 2010, an MVP snub is borderline indefensible; the same goes for Shaquille O'Neal, who was a +8 player in his dominating 2000 MVP campaign. But when James dropped to +8 in 2011 (a down year by his ridiculous standards), after committing the horrible basketball atrocity of choosing his next team on national TV, he basically disqualified himself from the MVP race. Likewise, O'Neal fell to +7 in 2001, and the media discounted him after he and his Laker mates got off to a slow start.
Enter the little guy (by NBA standards, at least), the underdog, the scrappy guard, all of which MVP voters find endearing. Enter the lone offensive threat on the unexpected #1 seed in the East. Enter the best story of the season. Whatever the reason, a decade after Iverson's MVP honors, history is repeating itself with the Derrick Rose campaign. I'll leave it up to others to argue the merits of his candidacy, but whatever your opinion, you can't say that his victory is without precedent.