NBA

NBA MVP Race: Rockets Kyle Lowry vs. Bulls Derrick Rose

| by David Berri

Andres Alvarez – of Nerd Numbers and the Automated Wins Produced – sent along the following observation: 

Kyle Lowry’s game on Sunday night was the 15th best of the season and better than any Derrick Rose has put up so far this season. Additionally, since the New Year, Kyle Lowry has put up .25 more wins than Derrick Rose in 50 less minutes of play time.  Lowry also the most wins on his team (and once again, has been playing better than Rose for the last 3 months).   So should he be considered a serious MVP candidate?

Okay, this is just silly. Derrick Rose is clearly one of the best players in the game. Afterall, Rose

  • was the first player taken in the 2008 NBA draft
  • was voted as a starter in the 2011 All-Star game
  • scores 24.8 points per game, a mark that ranks 6th in the NBA
  • leads the Chicago Bulls – the team currently on top of the Eastern Conference standings – in Wins Produced
  • stars in television commercials

In contrast, Lowry

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  • was the 24th player taken in the 2006 NBA draft
  • prior to this season, has only started 21 games in the NBA (and may have seen an All-Star game but certainly has never been asked to play)
  • scores only 13.2 points per game, a mark that ranks 70th in the NBA

Obviously Lowry can’t be compared to Rose. 

Then again….

Let’s go back to that Wins Produced story. As noted, Rose leads the Chicago Bulls in Wins Produced.  After 69 games, Rose has produced 9.8 wins. And his WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] is 0.184.  So Rose is above average (average WP48 is 0.100).

Now let’s look at Lowry. After 71 games, Lowry has produced 8.1 wins. This mark leads the Houston Rockets.  And his WP48 of 0.172 is actually quite comparable to what we see from Rose.  In other words, if Lowry and Rose switched places, the fate of each team would be quite similar (and before you say the Bulls need Rose to take all those shots, take a look at what I wrote a few weeks ago at The Huffington Post). 

Obviously Lowry doesn’t score as much as Rose.  So what makes Lowry so productive?

Wins in the NBA are driven by a team’s ability to gain and keep possession of the ball (i.e. rebounds and turnovers) and how well the team can turn possession of the ball into points (i.e. shooting efficiency and the ability to get to the free thow line). When we look at Lowry’s stats – reported below — we see that his career numbers (these are the career numbers before the 2010-11 season) indicate Lowry was below average with respect to shooting efficiency from the field. But his ability to get to the free throw line and grab rebounds allowed Lowry to be above average. 

This season, Lowry has been a more efficient scorer.  He is also getting more assists while cutting down his turnovers.  As a consequence, Lowry is now offering nearly as much are Rose.

And just like Rose – as the following indicates — Lowry is the most productive player on his team.  

The Rockets’ record is 37-34 after 71 games, a mark that ranks last in the Southwest division and leaves this team currently on the outside of the top eight spots in the conference.  When we look at efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency), though, we see a mark of 1.7.  This is consistent with a team that would win between 39 and 40 of their first 71 games; or about 45 wins across an entire season.  And those marks would actually rank 8th in the Western Conference.  So the Rockets are not a “bad” team.

Why are the Rockets “not bad”?  As noted in early February, the Rockets have been able to find a collection of above average performers.  Beyond Lowry, the Rockets are currently employing – as part of their rotation – the following above average players:  Kevin Martin, Chuck Hayes, Chase Budinger, and Patrick Patterson.  And Luis Scola, Courtney Lee, and Brad Miller are close to average. 

So why aren’t the Rockets as good as the Bulls? The above average players on the Rockets all have WP48 marks below 0.200.  In other words, the Rockets don’t have anyone who is twice as good as average.  In contrast, the Bulls employ Carlos Boozer [0.201 WP48], Ronnie Brewer [0.236 WP48], and Joakim Noah [0.264 WP48]. 

In sum, Rose simply has somewhat better teammates than Lowry.  And that means Rose gets to experience more wins.  When we add in Rose’s scoring (driven by Rose’s propensity to take many shots), it is easy to see why Rose is considered an MVP candidate.

Of course, Lowry is nearly as productive.  So should Lowry get some consideration for the MVP award?

Well, not exactly.  There are still several players who offer more than Rose and Lowry (see Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Chris Paul, etc…).  In fact, Howard, James, and Paul offer more than Lowry and Rose combined.  And that means Lowry shouldn’t be an MVP candidate.  But then again, Derrick Rose really shouldn’t be getting any votes either.

- DJ