Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Before you jump down my throat, I’m not saying that Rose shouldn’t be an MVP candidate, nor am I saying that he’s not a great player. Rose has improved tremendously since entering the league in 2008, and it’s clear from his performance that 2010-11 has been his best season yet. He certainly deserves credit for keeping Chicago on track despite injuries to Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, but it seems as if everyone is looking at Rose as the sole reason for the Bulls’ vast improvement this year. There are other factors worth noting, such as new coach Tom Thibodeau and Boozer, the Bulls’ first legitimate inside scoring threat since an in-shape Eddy Curry six years ago (remember when Eddy Curry was in-shape?).
Thibodeau’s defense has been a godsend in Chicago and is the primary reason why no one brings up Rose’s struggles on that side of the ball—Thibodeau’s system is designed so that the Bulls defend as a unit, allowing a rim-protecting big man like Noah to hide Rose’s deficiencies. But the fact remains that Rose isn’t a strong defender, and is not in the same league as MVP competitors such as Dwight Howard and LeBron James.
Also, while Rose’s numbers are up across the board, there is one region where he is falling short: shooting. His field goal percentage (44%) and effective field goal percentage (48%) are both career lows. Rose may be taking more shots than last year, but his shooting is still an area to watch, particularly from deep, as Rose launches way more threes than he should (he ranks 13th in threes attempted, but 106th in 3FG%).
Denver’s record since the Melo trade: 9-2 (including a one-point OT road loss on the second night of a back to back)
New York’s record since the Melo trade: 6-6 (including two losses to the Cavs)
Last time I wrote this piece, I talked about how the Knicks are overrated; this time I’m looking at the other team in the Melo trade—the Nuggets. As the numbers above indicate, Denver, winners of four in a row, is doing just fine without Anthony, holding on to the West’s #5 spot at 41-27. Anthony’s looming departure was a distraction for Denver since opening night, and now that he’s gone, everyone else has been able assume their proper role in a team low on star power but high on energy. Head coach George Karl has gotten back to preaching defense, and it has shown. On February 24, the Nuggets held the Celtics to just 75 points in a 14-point win; less than a week later, Charlotte only managed 80 in a 40-point blowout.
Denver doesn’t have the talent to make a deep playoff run—like it or not, you still need a superstar (or three) to succeed in the NBA these days—but they’re certainly capable of knocking off a team like OKC in the first round (whom they would face if the standings remain the same). The Nuggets have 11 guys all capable of playing in their rotation, and you can expect players like Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson to make a jump now that Carmelo isn’t the focal point of their offense. Carmelo may have left for the bigger stage of Madison Square Garden, but if it’s playoff success he’s after, he would have been better served remaining in Denver, at least for this season.
Kris Humphries, New Jersey Nets
First things first: he’s dating Kim Kardashian. I don’t care how good you are at basketball, if you’re dating someone as hot as that, you’re doing okay in my book. Now onto the hoops stuff…
Humphries has been unbelievable in the Nets’ recent 5-game win streak (including an 88-79 win over Boston), posting averages of 17 PPG, 17 RPG, and 60% FG%. While New Jersey will continue to struggle down the stretch, they’ve been playing better since Humphries returned to the starting lineup after the All-Star Game.
In Humphries’ first six years in the league, he started a total of 8 games. This year? 35 and counting. There’s a reason why it took a move to an awful Nets team for Humphries to finally assume a starting role: he’s not good enough to be a starter. But his increased minutes in New Jersey have led to increased production, especially when it comes to shooting and rebounding. Humphries is shooting 53% from the field, best of his career and way above his 46% career average, and is pulling down 10 boards a game, sixth in the NBA (despite averaging 10 minutes less per game than every player in the top 5). Humphries gives you everything you want from a backup big man, and while he isn’t polished offensively (his average of 10 PPG this year is a career-high), he’s a fantastic player to have on your team’s second unit.