As the 2014 NBA off-season and free agent frenzy rolls on, we continue to hear media folks nationwide talk about how the Houston Rockets may be likely to come up short in their pursuit of Carmelo Anthony. We continually hear, mostly just opinions with no basis of fact, why the Chicago Bulls would be a better option for Melo.
At first it was around the erroneous assumption that the Chicago Bulls would manage to unload Carlos Boozer to the New York Knicks in sign and trade. The Knicks however have said they have zero interest in taking Boozer. Clearly Isiah Thomas is no longer running the Knicks.
So where is this theory or thought that the Bulls are in better position than the Rockets coming from? Kevin McHale vs. Tom Thibodeau? Sure you can make a case there, but does a hard core old school coach like Thibodeau strike anyone as a Carmelo Anthony kind of coach?
My feeling is at the core of this “Bulls vs. Rockets” discussion, regarding Melo or the fallback plans of each team, it has a lot to do with the perception of Derrick Rose and James Harden. So why is Harden being underestimated? And why is Derrick Rose getting a pass?
Let’s start by looking at the stats and compare the two players.
A few things jump out. First scoring wise, in only one season has Rose come close to matching Harden’s past two years with the Rockets of 25 point a game, and it was his MVP season of 2010-11. I know what the first thing people will shout, “Rose is a point guard!”
Really? Well technically yes, but is Derrick Rose a John Stockton? Is he an old school distributing point guard? Not hardly. At his best Derrick Rose is a score-first point guard. His assist numbers are just slightly higher than Harden’s from year-to-year.
Rebounding Harden is slightly better as you would expect and as we said assist-wise Rose is a little better, so we’ll let those cancel each other out.
Rose and Harden are both guards however and today’s NBA, 3 point shooting is critical in an evaluation. Harden easily wins that comparison and it’s not even close shooting between 36 to 39 percent while Rose has struggled to even get above 30 percent.
So you say Rose’s game is not shooting it’s going to the basket. No argument, there. But has anyone seen Harden in iso situations, his elite level euro step? Harden is one of the best in the league at going to the hole, finishing and drawing fouls. 3rd in the league in free throw attempts last year and 1st the year before. There are very few defenders in the league that can even slow Harden down. Derrick Rose in his MVP season was 11th in the league in free throw attempts.
Now we come to the advanced metric numbers PER (Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares). PER is typically an offensive rating, it takes VERY little defense into account. Harden’s offensive PER has been consistently around 23 and barely even took a dip with the addition of Dwight Howard this past year. Derrick Rose on the other hand has only hit 23 once, again the same MVP year of 2010-11. Other years, not even close.
The thing Harden gets knocked for most is of course defense and clearly that needs to improve for the Rockets to go further. The perception and it is also reality, stems from the times when Harden simply doesn’t even try to defend, as shown in the popular You Tube video.
But when you look at the opponents PER vs. Harden it’s honestly not bad at all. It’s not elite, but there are a lot of guards in the league that are far, far worse. So does Derrick Rose excel here? Not hardly. Rose is actually worse according to the numbers and only slightly better in his MVP season.
Win-Shares (estimate of team contribution to wins – reference), again we see the same thing. James Harden is extremely consistent at 12.8 once he was a full time starter. While Rose was only slightly better his MVP season. But it’s fairly alarming when you see how much worse Derrick Rose was in his other full time seasons.
But the thing that should jump out to people the most in all of this is the SEASONS. We are comparing the 3 most recent seasons for James Harden to seasons 3 years ago for Derrick Rose. Why? Because those are the last full seasons that Rose played. That, my friends is and should be a huge factor in this discussion.
So why does Derrick Rose get a pass? Why does no one question why 2 seasons in a row reports were that Rose was healthy and practicing during the post-season but refused to suit and play for the Bulls? Why do national media types hang onto this thought that Derrick Rose is a top 5 player in the league when he hasn’t done it in 3 years?
The reason I think is the romanticizing of the MVP season. No doubt it was a great season for Rose. And I think as time goes by and memories fade we tend to either exaggerate or discount things in the past. But is there a discernible difference in the past 2 years that Harden had for the Rockets and Rose’s MVP year? They are in fact very similar.
Two things however are alarming when you look at Derrick Rose’s numbers. One, we’ve mentioned he hasn’t shown us that he can still play at that level and stay healthy in 3 years. Two, look at his two full seasons prior to the MVP year. There is quite a difference. Rose was still a good player, but nowhere near MVP level.
At this point you have to wonder was the MVP year an aberration? Or was it about to become the norm only to get curtailed by injuries. We may never know. But the concerning thing is we may never see THAT Derrick Rose again.
What will Melo choose? What will Chris Bosh or Pau Gasol decide to do? We have no idea. But if you are comparing the Rockets situation to the Bulls situation in any of these decisions, one look at these numbers might tell you all you need to know.
James Harden is an elite player, just coming into his prime years and thus far has been very durable. Derrick Rose appeared to be an elite player for exactly one season and after that we just don’t know. But many players in the past have been great, flashed bright, then suffered injuries and were never quite the same again.
Stick with House of Houston for all the latest on the Rockets’ offseason.