Sunday, March 6, 2011

Derrick Rose and the History of the MVP

Derrick Rose is almost certainly going to win the 2011 MVP. It's been a fairly consistent, recent trend that you could determine the league's MVP by the All-Star break, and almost certainly after about 60 games. I think the close Nash/Shaq vote in 2005 was the last time the winner was really up in the air until the votes were counted. Now, I'm not going to argue whether or not Rose deserves to be the clear cut front runner. He's certainly one of a handful of players this year who could win it and ten years from now, no one would argue that someone else was robbed. He has great numbers and he's carried a team to the (currently) second best record in the East without it's second and third best players (Boozer and Noah) for long stretches this year. So, if/when he wins, you'll have a hard time saying he didn't deserve it. However, I don't think enough is being made of how absolutely crazy it will be if this guy wins. Take a look at some of these numbers.

If Rose wins, he will be the second youngest winner ever. Only Wes Unseld won it at a younger age, and it's just by a matter of a few months. Unseld was 22 and and some change. Rose will be 22 and slightly more change. It's virtually a wash as far as "youngest MVP ever" is concerned.

This is only Rose's third season. Take a look at the other recent MVP winner's experience upon winning their first MVP: LeBron had just finished his 6th season when he won his first MVP. Kobe - 12th. Dirk - 9th. Nash - 9th. Garnett - 9th. Duncan - 5th. Iverson - 5th. Shaq - 8th.  In fact, he'll actually beat out the last Bulls MVP by a year. Jordan won his first MVP after his 4th season.

The only other players to win after 3 years of experience or less? Moses Malone (3rd year - 1979, although he had played 2 seasons in the ABA before that), Bob McAdoo (3rd year - 1975), Dave Cowens (3rd year - 1973), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2nd year - 1971), Wes Unseld (1st year - 1969), Wilt Chamberlain (1st year - 1960), Bill Russell (2nd year, 1958), and Bob Pettit (2nd year - 1956).

It's been 32 years since someone with only 3 years of experience won the MVP. (36 if you want to count Moses's ABA years.) And 42 years since someone younger than Rose won. In a league that's packed with more talent than there's been in, oh, let's say a decade or so, that's just a monumental achievement for the guy. Not to mention, winning an MVP almost guarantees him a spot in the Hall of Fame. He'll still have some work to do for the rest of his career, but every eligible MVP is in the Hall, and I don't see that changing with any of the as of yet  ineligible players. The only even semi-questionable candidate would be Iverson, but I would guess he'll get in - sooner or later, if not in his first year of eligibility.

However, winning an MVP that early in your career is no guarantee of "All-Time Great" status. Yes, every player I listed above had a great career and are each among the best players ever. But Kareem, Wilt, and Russell are among the top ten greatest players ever. Malone and Pettit aren't far behind, with multiple MVP's and extended periods of transcendence during their careers. McAdoo, Cowens, and Unseld? Wonderful players, yes. "All-Time Greats?" Probably not. They're Hall of Famers, they were multiple all-stars, and they each won titles, but they're not household names among non-basketball fans. (To be fair, Pettit certainly isn't either, but that's more of a product of him playing in the 1950's before any type of extensive media coverage than anything else.) I have Cowens ranked 49th,  Unseld 56th, and McAdoo 68th all-time. I have no doubts Rose will climb at least as high up the greatness ladder to be in the range as those three guys. The only question now is how much higher he can go.

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