When Derrick Rose said he believes he’s the best player in the NBA right now, he ignited a wave of reaction on both sides last week. Scrolling through a simple Twitter search for “Derrick Rose” revealed a broad spectrum of support and criticism. The reactions ranged from overzealous Chicago Bulls diehards declaring, “He’s speaking the truth!” to overreacting Miami Heat fans immediately taking up the LeBron James mantle to defend the man who has undoubtedly proven himself to be basketball’s best these past few years. And that’s not even including the “D-Rose should’ve been playing months ago!” pundits who understandably rolled their eyes at his comments.
So where’s the middle-ground? Is there a correct reaction to Rose, a guy who hasn’t played a single NBA game since tearing his ACL more than a year ago proclaiming himself the best player in the NBA? In my opinion, the most sensible stance lies somewhere between the supporters’ and dissenters’ overreactions.
First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge that Rose’s statement, in and of itself, is 100 percent dead wrong. Sorry to break it to you, Bulls fans, but just because he stole an MVP award in 2011 doesn’t mean he’s the best player in the NBA. That designation belongs to LeBron James, who is far and away the best basketball player in the league right now. In fact, Derrick Rose isn’t even the second-best player in basketball; that runner-up belt belongs to Kevin Durant and the distance between Durant and the third-best player in the NBA (open to debate) isn’t close either.
That’s not to diminish the high-caliber player D-Rose is when healthy. Although LeBron was probably a better MVP candidate on paper in 2011, I have no problem with Rose taking it that year because he was the story of the season. Another thing to consider is the term “most valuable player” is incredibly open to interpretation. Does it describe a player who, if he were taken off the team, would watch his squad plummet without him playing? Or does it just simply apply to the best player that year? There are a lot of different variables that come into play with the MVP award and story lines definitely play a big factor in the voting. Here’s a look at Rose’s numbers compared to LeBron’s that season:
Rose: 25.0 ppg, 7.7 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.0 spg, 0.6 bpg, 44.5 FG%, 33.2 3P%, 85.8 FT%, 37.4 mpg, 81 games
LeBron: 26.7 ppg, 7.0 apg, 7.5 rpg, 1.6 spg, 0.6 bpg, 51 FG%, 33.0 3P%, 75.9 FT%, 38.8 mpg, 79 games
As you can see, LeBron’s MVP candidacy is a bit stronger than Rose’s from a purely statistical standpoint. But if voters getting sick of the same guy winning the award every year robbed Michael Jordan of two or three more MVPs, I think it’s okay that LeBron missed out on one here. Hell, even Kobe Bryant missed out on an MVP award because he was robbed by his current teammate Steve Nash in 2006. But just like MJ exacted revenge on Karl Malone and Charles Barkley in the NBA Finals the same seasons they stole MVP awards from him, LeBron similarly proved who the best player in basketball really was by besting Rose and the Bulls in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals.
So as you can see from these simple comparisons, LeBron is the best player in basketball or at least better than Derrick Rose. In terms of team success, head-to-head wins and statistics, LeBron has the edge. It’s understandable that people thought Rose’s comments were ridiculous, not only because he’s not better than LeBron when healthy, but because he wasn’t even healthy for the past year. It’s kind of hard to take someone’s claims of superiority seriously when he hasn’t played a single game in more than a year. Because of all that, it’s easy to see why so many people scoffed when Rose said he’s the best player in the NBA.
But before you dismiss him as delusional, it’s important to take some other facts into consideration. Rose is the leader of the team that posted a better regular-season record in 2011 and 2012, which just so happens to be the first two years the Miami Heat made the NBA Finals in the Big Three era. In ’11, LeBron and company beat Rose’s Bulls head on. In ’12, they caught a break when Rose went down in the first game of the first round. It’s no question Chicago still would’ve had their hands full had they faced Miami with a healthy Derrick Rose, but we were robbed of a real rematch the past two years.
Why is this important? Because it reveals a look into the recent Bulls-Heat rivalry and where Derrick Rose is coming from when he unintentionally slighted the world’s best basketball player.
As much as Rose is incorrect by declaring himself to be the best player in the NBA, I can’t fault him too much for doing so. This current Bulls squad under coach Tom Thibodeau is a tough, hard-nosed, gritty, defensive team with an Us-Against-The-World mentality. Can you imagine Chicago’s reaction had Rose, when asked who he thought the best player in the world was had answered, “LeBron James”? The Chicago Bulls believe they are the team best-equipped to take down this Miami juggernaut and although the Indiana Pacers probably have something to say about that, they very well could be with a healthy D-Rose.
Before judging Rose too harshly, you have to consider the league we’re talking about here. This is a league filled with superstars who all believe that on their best day, they can compete with and beat anybody. LeBron, as powerful as he is, hasn’t taken the league by storm the way that Michael Jordan did once upon a time. As much as he’s respected around the league, you won’t see anyone on the Chicago Bulls or anyone in the league admitting he’s the best player in the world or revering him.
Joakim Noah has been vocal about his hate for the Heat, Nash recently admitted he was cheering for the veteran San Antonio Spurs and just a few years ago, people were ecstatic the underdog Dallas Mavericks defeated Miami. People love Kobe Bryant because he always believes he can win, Kevin Durant recently told Sports Illustrated he’s fed up with being considered second-best and even guys like Nate Robinson, J.R. Smith and Brandon Jennings believe they’re the best player on the court every time they step out there. So as incorrect as he may be, Rose said he’s the best player in basketball because doing otherwise would’ve been a betrayal of his competitive fire, the Bulls’ identity and the nature of the entire league.
This is one of three teams that has every reason to resent Miami (the other two being the Pacers and the Oklahoma City Thunder). In 2011, they were the No. 1 seed and they had the MVP and lost to the team that lost the NBA Finals. In 2012, they were the No. 1 seed again and were robbed of a possible title contention when Rose went down. They had to watch Miami win the title that year, knowing they could have made the road to the Finals much more difficult. They were responsible for ending Miami’s historic 27-game win streak and that was without Rose. They were once again bounced from the playoffs by the Heat and they once again had to watch Miami raise another banner while their superstar remained sidelined. So yeah, Chicago has every reason to want revenge on the Heat.
And I think that “never back down” mindset is something special about the NBA. Nobody wants to watch a league where the players all know who the best player is before the ball is tipped. By those standards, the Indiana Pacers would’ve been swept in the Eastern Conference Finals because they would’ve known they couldn’t possibly defeat basketball’s best player. On those grounds, the Bulls wouldn’t have taken Game 1 in Miami this year despite being undermanned without Rose. And if those rules applied, the Spurs wouldn’t have been one rebound or one free throw away from knocking off basketball’s best player.
The truth is, it doesn’t really matter who Derrick Rose believes is the best player in basketball, because basketball is a team game. And what better way to rally his troops while coming back from that injury than saying, “Eff you LeBron, I’m the best player in basketball. I don’t think the Miami Heat are anything special, I think my Chicago Bulls can beat you and I think we can do it without me playing a single game for the past year!” As much as he’ll have to back it up, both in the first game of the season and again in the playoffs, I have no problem with Rose implying any and all of those things with his comments. It’ll make this rivalry grow even faster, it’ll add another intriguing story line to Rose’s comeback and more than likely, it’ll make the playoffs that much more interesting to watch.