Before the season started, Derrick Rose of the Bulls made a claim that can either be seen as confident or arrogant:
"It's high," Rose said of self-confidence. "The way I look at it within myself, why not? Why can't I be the MVP of the league," he asked. "Why can't I be the best player in the league? I don't see why [not]. Why can't I do that?
"I think I work hard. I think I dedicate myself to the game and sacrifice a lot of things at a young age, and I know if I continue to do good, what I can get out of it."
Rose does work hard. Rose is anything but arrogant -- his public image (despite the grade-point scandal at Memphis, which is pretty much water under the bridge at this point) is clean, and he does work hard and sacrifice for his team, and so far, he's done exactly what he said he would in that Sept. 28 quote. Currently ranking eighth in points per game at 24.9, he's only half a PPG behind the Heat's Dwyane Wade for fourth, and only two-tenths of a PPG behind former league MVP Kobe Bryant. In addition, he ranks ninth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.2 -- the only NBA player to rank ninth or higher in both those categories.
Yesterday, my SB Nation DC colleague Mike Prada posted a series of tweets, in the wake of D-Rose's 42-point scorching of the Spurs, that tried to downplay Rose's importance to the Bulls' renaissance this year:
It just feels like Rose is getting all the credit for a series of developments in Chicago, many of which are beyond his control.
TT is a great coach. Gar/Pax made shrewd signings. Taj & Deng have improved. And yet the Rose MVP case seems to assume he's the only change.
Rose HAS made a big jump that's worth noting. But much of the case seems to rest on "if CHI didn't have him, they're dead" which I don't buy
Anyway, if you're going to elect someone based on the "his team is nothing without him" criteria, I'd choose Dwight Howard over Rose.
Mike is correct about the addition of Tom Thibodeau, who as a coach makes Vinny del Negro look like some random fan they yanked out of the stands to coach for a couple years (which, in effect, he was, having never coached before); the signings by Gar Forman of Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and the amazingly youthful-playing Kurt Thomas have been better for the Bulls, I would argue, than spending all that $ on LeBron James would have been (because then they wouldn't have been able to keep the supporting cast), and Luol Deng seems rejuvenated, en route to possibly the best all-around year of his career.
But to argue that the Bulls could be where they are -- sniffing around the top echelons of the Eastern Conference, even in whispers about "Finals?" -- without Derrick Rose ignores this fact: he's been healthy even when players around him have missed games. D-Rose has missed one game this year, a 98-97 loss in Denver on Nov. 26 when C.J. Watson scored 33 points and the Bulls lost when Thibodeau inexplicably let John Lucas III (since released) take a pair of final-minute free throws, both of which he missed, and the Nuggets won on a Carmelo Anthony buzzer-beater. Watson had a fine game that night, but otherwise has scored in double figures twice and has a 4.7 PPG average. How'd you like to see that instead of Rose's numbers? Where would the Bulls be then?
The Bulls have weathered long absences from two players who would likely be playing in the All-Star Game had they not been injured -- Carlos Boozer, who missed the first 15 games of the year (the Bulls went 9-6) after a bizarre hand injury when he fell in his home during the preseason, and Joakim Noah, who has been out since Dec. 15, when he played with a severe thumb injury against the Raptors and scored 11 points with 11 rebounds in a 110-93 Bulls win. They were 16-8 after that game. They've gone 20-8 without Noah, who is expected back next Wednesday, when the Bulls again visit Toronto.
So the Bulls have done fine without their two best rebounders -- in fact, the trio of Rose, Boozer and Noah has been together for only seven games this season. But could they have made it without Rose for that long a period of time? C.J. Watson starting in his place? John Lucas III on the bench? Rose also played several games despite painful stomach ulcers.
No way, I say. That's why Derrick Rose -- who, had he not left college early, would right now be leading Memphis to a possible fourth straight final four, at age 22 -- would get my MVP vote. It may have been a boast pre-season, but it was a confident one, and Derrick Rose is living up to every bit of his hype. Maybe he'll even make Sunday's All-Star Game worth watching.