Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010
By Mark Schanowski
With most NBA teams about a quarter of a way through their schedules, its become apparent Derrick Rose wasnt kidding when he asked reporters on media day, Why cant I be the best player in the league?
Derrick ranks among the league leaders in both scoring and assists, almost single-handedly carrying the Bulls to first place in the Central Division.
How would you rank Derrick among the leagues M.V.P. candidates? Are you surprised at how quickly hes advanced to the superstar level? Do the Bulls even need another All-Star caliber player to contend for the Eastern Conference championship? Please post your comments in the section below.
Even after taking off my Rose-colored glasses, and putting aside the fact I get the chance to watch every second of his games, I find it impossible not to put Derrick among my top M.V.P. choices after the opening 20-25 games. With Kobe Bryant not putting up his customary numbers for the Lakers, and LeBron James sacrificing some of his offense by playing with the new Big 3 in Miami, the race for M.V.P. could be more wide open than its been in years.
Oklahoma Citys Kevin Durant was supposed to emerge as an M.V.P. candidate this season, but he got off to a slow start with the Thunder. Yes, Durant is leading the league in scoring, but hes shooting a poor percentage from the field, and Oklahoma City hasnt taken the step a lot of the experts predicted in terms of being the Lakers top challenger in the West. Matter of fact, you could make the argument that Durant isnt even the best player on his own team, with Russell Westbrook having a bigger impact on both ends of the court.
Right now, my top M.V.P. candidates would be Derrick, Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki. San Antonio has the best record in the NBA, but no clear-cut number one star. Tim Duncan has slowed down with age, and even though Manu Ginobili is back to All-Star form, hes hardly an M.V.P. candidate. Similar story with the best team in the East. Boston has a share-the-wealth offense, and youd probably have to say NBA assists leader Rajon Rondo is their most valuable player at this point.
Nowitzki has led the Mavericks to the NBAS longest winning streak this season, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Hes right behind Rose in the league scoring race, and always seems to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
Similarly, Howard has been able to keep Orlando near the top of the East despite the fact a lot of the teams perimeter shooters are off to slow starts. Howard has increased his scoring average, while still playing game-changing defense. The Magic lead the league in fewest points allowed, and Howard is the single biggest reason, with his ability to block and alter shots.
Stoudemire has been a revelation for the Knicks, who were criticized around the league for giving a five-year, 100 million contract to a player with bad knees and a sometimes questionable attitude. Stoudemire just established a Knicks franchise record by scoring 30 points or more in eight straight games - all Knicks wins. New York looks like a lock for the playoffs, and if theyre able to work out a trade with Denver for Carmelo Anthony, watch out.
But after saying all that, my M.V.P. vote at the quarter pole would go to Rose. Not only has he dramatically improved his outside shooting and scoring, hes also done a much better job of directing the teams offense. Rose is averaging eight assists a game, even without having low post threat Carlos Boozer in the lineup for the first 15 games.
When Derrick goes to the bench for a few minutes of rest, the difference in the teams offense is obvious. The Bulls have trouble getting into their sets, and run the shot clock down to the final seconds looking for an open shooter. And, when Rose returns, the defense immediately has to alter its approach, trying to keep him from getting into the paint where he can do the most damage.
Having Rose on the court makes everyone in the Bulls line-up more dangerous, especially Kyle Korver. Hes been a huge factor in the fourth quarter of recent games, getting open shots because of all the defensive attention on Rose, and to a lesser extent, Boozer. The Bulls schedule for the rest of the month is filled with teams that have losing records. It will be interesting to see what kind of record theyll be able to carry into the New Year.
Carmelo's Power Play
In case you missed it, Carmelo Anthony played at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon, scoring 31 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a 129-125 loss to the Knicks. The fans at MSG gave Melo a standing ovation when he was introduced before the game, letting him know how much theyd love to see him in a Knicks uniform. And, Knicks fans might get their wish sooner than they expected.
Carmelo and his representatives basically told Denver management that hell only sign a contract extension if hes traded to the Knicks. Forget about staying in Denver, or going to the Bulls, Nets, Magic or Rockets. Anthony and his celebrity wife only want to play on the biggest stage in New York, and if Nuggets management cant work out a deal, Melo will just play out his contract and go to the Knicks as a free agent this summer.
Denver General Manager Masai Ujiri thought he could always turn back to a proposed trade with New Jersey for rookie Derrick Favors, two first-round draft picks, and Troy Murphys expiring contract if he couldnt find a better deal elsewhere. Or even consider a Bulls package of Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, James Johnson and a first rounder.
Now, it looks like the Knicks or bust. And, after working in Toronto where that franchise was held hostage by Chris Boshs upcoming free agency, Ujiri knows he cant let Anthony walk away for nothing in the summer. So, look for the Nuggets to eventually accept a Knicks package that includes Eddy Currys expiring contract, Danilo Gallinari, possibly Wilson Chandler or Anthony Randolph and a first-round draft pick the Knicks would need to acquire from a third team.
That type of deal would create another contending team in the East, with Carmelo giving the Knicks a big-time scorer to go along with Stoudemire and much-improved point guard Raymond Felton. All of a sudden, the balance of power in the NBA is shifting East, with a revitalized Knicks team possibly joining the Celtics, Heat, Magic, Bulls and Hawks as potential 50-win teams.
At this point, would you even want to see the Bulls make another bid for Anthony? Or, do you think this Bulls team as currently constructed can compete with the Easts elite teams in the playoffs THIS season?
Should the Bulls consider making a slightly smaller deal to add a scoring threat at the shooting guard position like Jason Richardson, Richard Hamilton or O.J. Mayo?
As always, we appreciate your input. Please post your comments in the section below. It should be a lot of fun this December as we get ready to gift-wrap holiday presents while the Bulls prepare to gift-wrap victories against a very favorable schedule the rest of the month. Enjoy the hoops!
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.