How do you determine your MVP? Sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the NBA have many different criteria. Sometimes, they just pick the best individual player, such as LeBron James, the last two years.
At other times, such as with Steve Nash, they pick the player who helps his teammates become all they can be.
But how can an MVP be anything other than the player who is most important to his team? Nothing is more valuable to a team than its most important player. (Well, except for the man cutting the checks, but there's no way David Stern is allowing Mark Cuban to get an MVP trophy.)
A new arena, great jerseys, a genius coach and state-of-the-art locker room facilities are no good without great players.
With this knowledge as a backdrop, let's examine the 2011 NBA MVP race. For months Derrick Rose has been heralded is the "leader" in the MVP race.
Why? Is it because he is the best player on (maybe) the third-best team in the league? Is it because his team is surprisingly good, thanks to the defensive strategies of Tom Thibodeau? Or is it because Derrick Rose is the "next great player" that lives in a huge NBA market?
No one can make any type of case saying that Derrick Rose is more valuable to his team than Dwight Howard is to the Orlando Magic. Taking into account both offensive and defensive metrics, Dwight Howard affects more possessions on both ends of the floor than Rose.
This is especially easy to see at the defensive end. While Derrick Rose is very athletic, unusually strong and has been taught well under Thibodeau, his defense still leaves a bit to be desired.
Howard, on the other hand, is the best defender in the NBA. His one weakness, fouls, has been mitigated this year by his increasingly heady play.
Offensively, Rose's stats are better, which should be the case, as this is his strength. However, Dwight's scoring and pure shooting percentages are both up this year, as is his offensive efficiency.
Along with that, Orlando's offense cannot go without Howard, as his dominance in the middle spaces the floor exceptionally well for Orlando's shooters.
However, the easiest way to compare the two is by looking at their respective player efficiency ratings. This stat measures the per-minute productivity of any player taking into account his shooting, ball-handling, defense and passing. Dwight's PER of 25.86 is almost three points higher than Rose's at 22.89.
While Dwight measures up to Derrick Rose in any area, his teammates do not. Rose is on a significantly better team, playing with borderline All-Stars such as Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. The Orlando Magic do not have one All-Star caliber player besides Dwight, meaning that he must shoulder an enormous load every night to will his team to win.
But why restrict the argument to Rose? How does Dwight measure up to other candidates? LeBron's PER is higher, as are his stats, but he plays with two of the best 15 players in the game, so is he really more valuable to his team than Dwight is to the Magic? Dirk has a lower PER and, while scoring two-tenths of a point more per game, gets less than half as many rebounds as Dwight.
Amar'e Stoudemire's stats don't measure up to Dwight, and neither does his team's success compared to the Magic. Also, he is now playing with a legit All-NBA player in Carmelo Anthony. Kobe Bryant is having a down year statistically and plays with All-Stars who frequently end up carrying the Lakers when Kobe cannot.
Along with meeting the statistical criteria this year, Dwight has also carried his team to a respectable record with little help. There is no player in the NBA more critical to the success of his team, and no player in the NBA does more on both ends to affect the game.
Dwight Howard should be the 2011 NBA MVP. But will he win it? Ask Shaq, who's won one. Ask Tim Duncan, who's won a whopping two. The modern NBA hates big men that defend. Merry Christmas, Derrick Rose.