Welcome to June on NBA Tuesday, the traditional month in which professional basketball in North America crowns a champion. We move one more season closer to the present day, as well, which is exciting for us in many ways. This year saw the Dallas Mavericks win their only league championship to date, and that is notable in itself.
On with the awards show!
2011 NBA MVP: Derrick Rose (original), Chris Paul (revised)
The Chicago Bulls topped the NBA with 62 victories, in a return to greatness, and as a result, their point guard—Derrick Rose, who we stripped of the ROTY Award in 2009—won the MVP vote this time around. Well, guess what? Rose just was fifth in Win Shares (13.11) and ninth in Player Efficiency Rating (23.54), so was he really the most valuable player in the league? We are not so sure.
Topping the league in both categories, again, was Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (15.58 WS, 27.27 PER), in his first season on his new team. The Heat won 58 times to post the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. Other players to consider here?
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (third with 14.39 WS, second with 26.06 PER), New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul (fourth with 13.91 WS, sixth with 23.70 PER), Miami shooting guard Dwyane Wade (sixth with 12.82 WS, third with 25.57 PER), and Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love (ninth with 11.42 WS, fourth with 24.34 PER) all were arguably better than Rose as well.
The Magic won 52 games to reach the playoffs, while the Hornets won 46 times to make it as well. With just 17 victories, Minnesota didn’t even come close. It’s also clear that James and Wade, as teammates, really cannot be considered most valuable in the true sense of the words, even if LeBron was again the best player in the league.
So, where does that leave us? Howard, Paul, and Rose now lead our MVP discussion, which may not seem fair to James or Wade, but “value” is a loaded term here—and always has been. And when we look at the standings, we see that Orlando had a 16-game cushion for the postseason, while the Bulls had a 26-game cushion. Howard, therefore, was a bit more valuable than Rose.
The Hornets? They had a two-game cushion, so without Paul, they never would have made the playoffs. Does that mean he can grab our MVP Award nod, again? Yes, it does. He was not as good this season as he was in 2008, but he still topped the league in steals (2.4 per game) while taking a career-low 11.6 shots per game on his was to posting 9.8 assists each time out.
Paul did what he had to do to get the Hornets to the playoffs: shoot less, distribute the ball, and play defense. This is a surprise to us, as it’s hard to ignore James’ excellence—but with Wade as a side kick, the King’s overall sabermetrics were not as high as they were in Cleveland during his previous MVP campaigns. So Paul sneaks through here to snag another MVP.
2011 NBA ROTY: Blake Griffin (original), Landry Fields (revised)
Three first-year players stood out from the rest during this season, and they were New York Knicks shooting guard Landry Fields (5.3 WS), Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (9.8), and Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe (6.6). On the surface, it seems the voters made the right choice is tagging Griffin with the ROTY vote.
Yet the Clips won just 32 games, a mere 3-win improvement over their prior-season record. How about the Knicks? They improved 13 wins to make the playoffs with a 6-game cushion. The Pistons won 30 games, missed the postseason, and improved 3 victories as well from 2010.
How does that change the look for this award now? Obviously, Fields wasn’t the sole reason the Knicks improved, but without him, they may not make the postseason, and he was part of an overall huge improvement for the New York organization from last year. Fields scored 9.7 ppg in 31 minutes of average floor time for a playoff team, and that’s a big contribution.
Here’s the deal, as well: Griffin actually was a second-year player, although he missed his “first year” due to injury. So, after being drafted by the Clippers No. 1 overall in 2009, he hurt himself—but still benefitted from an extra year of team coaching, familiarity, health management, and support before he ever took the floor. That makes it a lot “easier” to average 22.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg, and 3.8 apg in a debut season when you’ve been a part of the team already.
We’re not arguing Griffin wasn’t the best “rookie” … he clearly was a very special player, but in terms of value for a true, first-year player? That nod goes to Landry Fields.