Cognition & Reality

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A Derrick Rose Believer

Filed under: Sports — drtone @ 4:37 pm

I haven’t been this interested in the NBA in a couple of decades. For many years I’ve watched a few NBA games to fill in the gap between football season and baseball season, but this year I’ve watched a lot of pro basketball. The games are, if anything, more exciting than they were at the other time in my life I was a big NBA fan, the 60s to the mid 80s, when I started to lose interest and focus more attention on baseball.

One feature of this season has been the number of guys who have been mentioned as possibilities as the league’s Most Valuable Player. Early in the season, even Lakers’ forward Pau Gasol, a terrific player who is rarely considered one the few best, was in the conversation. And, of course, there’s the actual MVP of the Lakers, Kobe Bryant, who won the league honor three years ago and about whom little need be said, except that, in his fifteenth stellar season, he remains one of the best players at every facet of the game. Dwight Howard, the formidable center of the Orlando Magic, comes under consideration, partly because he’s the best player at his position a time when there are few really good ones in the game, but also because he is a force under the basket on both offense and defense. Early as it is in his career, they’re already clearing space in the basketball hall of fame for Kevin Durant, of Oklahoma City, likely to repeat as scoring champion and clearly one of the great players the game has seen, with athletic grace that must be seen to be believed. The reigning MVP is LeBron James of Miami, who’s won it the last two years, and who has not missed a beat statistically since his defection from Cleveland in what was certainly the most publicized free agency story ever in any American professional sport. Then there’s Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, in only his third season, yet arguably the league’s best point guard, who has been leading his team to an unexpectedly good record.

The question I always ask about a reigning MVP is, “What has he done to lose the title?” Up until the last week or so, despite the Heat’s up-and-down season, I’d figured that KIng James had done nothing that could de-throne him. Although he’s famously had to share the ball with Dwyane Wade, his numbers are much the same as they were with Cleveland, where the ball was always in his hands. Sure, his points per game are down a little, but what do you expect when there are two other great scoring options on his team, Wade and Chris Bosh, who was also acquired in the off-season in what is turning out to be a failed a bid to make Miami the powerhouse of the Eastern Conference. In addition, there is no better defender in all of basketball than James, whose uncanny athleticism and wondrous knowledge of the game make him able to shut down opposing players at all five positions. Then in the last two or three games, all against the better teams, LeBron has kept his team in it, but has been unable to close out at the end, supposedly his speciality. The other night, against Orlando, he missed a three-pointer that could have tied a game in which the Heat had surrendered a 24-point lead and lost. Then, this afternoon, with 15.9 seconds remaining and the ball in his hands, he could not come up with the game winner on  drive to the basket. Those are the plays an MVP makes, no matter how good the defense is. Period.

Meanwhile, Rose had another outstanding game today, leading his team from behind in the second half to win a hard-fought game against the embattled Heat. The game featured the best play I’ve seen all season: A coast-to-coast, full-speed, ramble by Rose straight up the middle of the court with the equally speedy Wade right with him, ending in a blur of layup, half a step ahead of James, who was coming fast (faster, fastest) for one his patented blocks from behind. In other words, with a combination of athletic ability and the purest skill, Rose beat two of basketball’s best defenders, one of them his main competition for MVP. As mentioned earlier, his Bulls won. Characteristically, in a post-game interview, he blamed himself for almost losing the game because of a turnover with about a minute to go and gave the most touching praise to his teammates for their tenacity.

Up to today, I had been arguing to myself that, although he’s a great player at his position, Rose would be a lot easier to replace than James would be, simply because there are three or four other NBA point guards in the any conversation about who is the best–and perhaps another half dozen after that–in some vague way diluting the value of the position. That’s silly in general and particularly unfair to Rose, who elevates the Bulls from a solid team with good players all around that could certainly expect to win more than lose into the elite few who might expect to win the league championship. He does it with passion, poise and grace. As of now, Rose is my candidate for MVP.

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