Over the last two seasons, you could argue that the two elite teams which depended most on their respective best players have been the Dallas Mavericks and the Chicago Bulls. With neither Derrick Rose nor Dirk Nowitzki playing yet this season, which team misses its stud more now?
The biggest reason that Nowitzki and Rose are so critical to their teams is that they have been the most important players on their teams offensively. While both have had solid supporting casts, neither team has had that second superstar to help carry the load.
Last year it's hard to argue with the importance of Dirk Nowitzki for the Mavs offense, as Dallas scored 8.8 more points per 100 possessions while Nowitzki was on the court. The Mavericks shot 4.8 percent better from the field, and in large part that was because Nowitzki is one of the best pure shooters in the game.
By comparison, the Bulls were 5.5 points better while Rose was on the court and shot three percent better as a team.
Defensively, the Mavericks were 3.8 points better while while Dirk was on the court, and the Bulls were actually 3.1 points worse while Rose was playing.
So the cursory look suggests that the Bulls would be missing Derrick Rose less. However, part of the reason for the Bulls' success was their bench, which gave up a league-best 14.5 points per 48 minutes last year.
When you look at five-man units in the NBA last year with at least 250 (the normal minimum) minutes played, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer and Rose composed the best lineup in the league, netting plus-17 points per 100 possessions.
When the only change in that lineup was C.J. Watson for Rose, the Bulls fell to minus-0.8 points. From that, you can conclude that Rose was worth nearly 18 points per 100 possessions.
Then again, the Mavericks didn't have any rosters with enough minutes to qualify. If we pare that qualifying number down to 150 minutes, the Mavericks' most frequent lineup—Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Brendan Haywood, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion—is the league's second best, at plus-22.2.
The Bulls' bench lineup of Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver and John Lucas leaps to the top, though, at a remarkable plus-35.6.
Chicago's starting lineup drops to fifth.
The remarkable thing about this isn't just that, in spite of a lack of star power outside of Rose and Nowitzki, the Bulls and Mavericks still posted three of the league's five most successful lineups. It's what's left of them.
Of the 14 players on those three lineups, seven are gone, and the two superstars have yet to play a game. That means only five of those 14 players have seen the court this year for the same teams they played with in 2011-12.
That's why we can't just look at last year's numbers. Who has come in to replace the players who have gone? Both teams had good benches last year, according to hoopstats.com. Dallas' was ranked fifth in the league, and Chicago's sixth, in spite of a plethora of injuries.
This year, however, there is a jarring difference, as the Bulls' bench support is virtually gone. They have fallen all the way to 23rd, while the Mavs have retained their fifth-place ranking.
Additionally, Dallas has brought in a legitimate offensive threat to its starting lineup in O.J. Mayo, who has helped the Mavericks to boost their scoring. Mayo is averaging 21.5 points per game. The best newcomer on the Bulls, Nate Robinson, is scoring only 11.3 points.
In fact, the Bulls' leading scorer, Luol Deng, is averaging only 17.2 points, more than four points fewer than Mayo.
Last year, it was true that the Mavericks needed Nowitzki more than the Bulls needed Rose. This year, however, with the loss of their deep bench, which had great chemistry, Rose is the more important missing piece. When you factor in the new acquisition, Mayo, the Mavs are better off.
No matter how you slice it, though, it's evident that both players are critical to their teams' success.
It's little wonder that both teams are struggling around .500 without their superstars.
All stats posted are as of games played on November 26.