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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Difference Between LeBron James and Derrick Rose

Five inches and 50-70 pounds--that is the short answer to the question, "What is the difference between LeBron James and Derrick Rose?" Their skill sets are very similar: they are both explosively quick, they are both great leapers, they are both great finishers, they are both great passers, they are both good rebounders for their positions, they are both players who opposing defenses would much prefer to see shooting jumpers than driving into the lane. James is a better defender than Rose but Rose is improving at that end of the court, much like James made strides defensively during the early stages of his career. However, if one does a "scouting report" regarding each player there is no way around the fact that, as one of my article titles declared two years ago, Size--Specifically, Height--Matters in the NBA. James is at least five inches taller than Rose (they are officially listed at 6-8 and 6-3 respectively) and James is significantly heavier than Rose (they are officially listed at 250 pounds and 190 pounds respectively but I suspect that James weighs at least 260 pounds while Rose weighs at least 200 pounds).

Rose's Chicago Bulls have been a gritty opponent for the James' Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals but the series likely swung decisively in Miami's favor during the fourth quarter and overtime of game four, which the Heat won 101-93 to take a 3-1 series lead. James finished with 35 points, six rebounds, six assists, three blocked shots and two steals but those numbers do not tell the real story (though his 11-26 field goal shooting certainly suggests that the narrative about James' supposedly improved jumper is yet another fairy tale created by the media); the real story is that down the stretch of a closely contested and vitally important game James completely dominated the action at both ends of the court: James had 13 of his points in the game's final 17 minutes (perhaps closing the case that Dwyane Wade is/should be the Heat's "closer") but, just as significantly, James smothered Derrick Rose on defense and thus essentially shut down Chicago's entire offensive flow. It is possible to debate the skill set merits of James versus Rose but James' extra inches and pounds makes that debate irrelevant: watching Rose try to evade James' defense was like watching someone's little brother get his shot swatted by his big brother: Rose cannot get around James nor can he shoot over him. In less than 20 minutes, we witnessed a savage and brutal refutation of the idea that Rose is a better and/or more valuable player than James. I do not believe in overemphasizing what happens in a small sample size--but unless Rose figures out how to grow significantly (or how to shrink James) he is not going to be a better player than James any time soon. People can say all they want about a supposedly new wave NBA that is a point guard dominated league but the last small (i.e., 6-3 or under) point guard who was clearly the best player on a championship team was Isiah Thomas in 1989 and 1990 (Tony Parker won the 2007 Finals MVP, but Tim Duncan was the best player on that San Antonio team, while Chauncey Billups won the 2004 Finals MVP as "first among equals" for a Detroit team that had several solid All-Stars but not one truly elite player); NBA championship teams are almost always led by dominant big men and/or elite, all-around wing players who are at least 6-6.

James should have won the 2010-11 regular season MVP but the media members who vote for that award chose Derrick Rose, placed Dwight Howard second and bumped James down to third. Perhaps the voters did not want to give the MVP to the same player again (the "Michael Jordan Effect," also known as the reason that Charles Barkley won the 1993 MVP and the reason that Karl Malone won the 1997 MVP), perhaps James' infamous "Decision" rubbed them the wrong way or perhaps they underestimated the Bulls so severely prior to the season that they assumed that Rose must be the best player in the league if he could lead Chicago to the best record (which is how Steve Nash won his two MVPs).

I have been very critical James for quitting versus Boston during the 2010 playoffs and for turning his free agency process into such a narcissistic extravaganza but I have never wavered in my stance that he remains the best regular season player in the NBA--and I only questioned his status as a playoff performer because of how indifferently he played against Boston and because his erratic jump shot is a weakness that elite defensive teams can exploit. This year, James has been very energized and active throughout the playoffs and he has yet to run into a team that has successfully exploited his erratic outside shooting; one by one, the potential challengers to the Heat have fallen by the wayside: the Magic took themselves out of contention in December with two ill-advised trades, the Spurs dropped out in the first round, the Lakers departed in the second round and the Heat vanquished the aging Celtics in the second round. The Bulls have a solid defensive game plan but they have killed themselves with their offensive ineptitude--bad shots and turnovers have fueled Miami's transition game and thus made it less important for James or Wade to consistently hit midrange jumpers in a half court set.

If Miami plays Dallas in the NBA Finals, the media is going to focus on the rematch of the 2006 Dwyane Wade-Dirk Nowitzki showdown but the series will almost certainly be decided by the performance of the league's best player--LeBron James. I say this not as a fan of James, but as an objective observer; as a fan--not of a particular team but rather of the sport in general--I much prefer Rose's basketball values and character to James': after James quit during last season's playoffs, he brushed aside questions about his obvious lack of effort by saying that his greatness had "spoiled" Cleveland fans and then this season he offered a halfhearted apology for the "Decision" but insisted that he had to leave Cleveland because he could not win a championship "by himself"--as if he had been playing one on five and as if we are all supposed to forget that he is the one who quit when the Boston series was up for grabs. In contrast, when the Bulls lose Rose always says that it is his fault and that he must play better; Jeff Van Gundy recently observed that Rose and Kevin Durant seem to be focused on winning, not on "building their brands." Van Gundy did not mention James by name but it seems obvious that he was thinking of James (back in December, a veteran NBA scout told me that the difference between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant is that James is focused on "his brand" while Bryant is focused on winning championships). As a true fan of the sport, I can identify with competitors like Bryant, Rose and Durant much more than with a "brand-builder" like James--but as an objective analyst I realize that James is a great player at the height of his powers and that if James continues to be focused at both ends of the court then his team will be very difficult to beat.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:14 AM

12 comments

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12 Comments:

At Wednesday, May 25, 2011 8:56:00 AM, Blogger Codysseus said...

As a Bulls fan that was really rough to watch. I've become accustomed to seeing Rose making big plays down the stretch, but Lebron was simply suffocating. I haven't seen anyone cover Rose 1 on 1 so effectively, what an awe-inspiring performance. Of course, it makes me wonder how far Cleveland could have gone last year if Lebron was similarly focused.

 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2011 11:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comment on Lebron's character is exactly how I've been thinking about him since he refused to shake hands with the Magic. It's so frustrating to see such an inherently talented (not as skilled as he could be yet) player such as James approach the game in such an indifferently childish manner.
Great article.

 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2011 1:21:00 PM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

The problem with Derrick Rose isn't that he isn't as good as Lebron James (a fact that should be obvious to everyone), but rather that he doesn't know his limitations.

I saw portions of the game last night and it was apparent that he was doing his best Russell Westbrook imitation. They both got the Kobe disease - forcing up horrible contested shots while ignoring their teammates. Meanwhile it seemed like their teammates gave up after a while and started standing around instead of setting screens or running around trying to get open.

Basketball is a team sport and Rose should remind himself that it doesn't matter whether he is the best player in the league, 5th best, or 20th best. The team is still good enough to win a championship and winning should be his primary goal.

I think Rose will eventually learn, though. I'm less optimistic about Westbrook and Oklahoma City should seriously consider shipping him out for Chris Paul.

 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2011 5:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

lebron been a beast yesterday show how great he is in the clutch. he been like this game 4 and 5 in boston 2 and 4 in this series his size giveing rose some trouble. but rose can make those shots his all around court game showin itself greatly. he now has teammates in bosh and wade that can make timely plays that he didnt have in cleveland mike miller as well yesterday haslem game two.

i never thought he had enough in cleveland why he left for this oppourtunity here its payed off so far. he made the right "decision" that is key in the whole process. but they will have tough time in finals wit nowitski mavs and size they have. but i like they chances to win ring.

 
At Wednesday, May 25, 2011 7:39:00 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Your old pal Mike Brown is arriving to coach Kobe and the Lakers. I hope that means a renewed focus on defense and an offense that gets points at the basket.

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2011 12:22:00 AM, Anonymous ATM said...

That's a solid article. You may be one of the only few analysts who hasn't been drinking from the Derrick Rose kool-aid this season.

But I'm more interested in why the Bulls were not able to prove you right in beating the Heat, much less fall behind 3-1.

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Codysseus:

I firmly believe that if LeBron had been similarly focused last season that the Cavs would have won the NBA championship; if you compare the LeBron from game four versus Chicago to the LeBron from last season's game five versus Boston you would think that you are watching two completely different people in terms of energy, effort and demeanor.

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

One of the most striking stories about LeBron was reported by Adrian Wojnarowski and, to the best of my knowledge, has never been contradicted or refuted: LeBron James conducted himself so poorly as a member of Team USA that USA Basketball seriously considered leaving him off of the team in 2008; James was, at worst, the second best basketball player in the world at that time and USA Basketball was desperate to have some success in FIBA competition so that is a stunning indictment of LeBron's immaturity/lack of basketball character.

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

I think that Rose knows his limitations pretty well but the last play was designed for him to try to beat James one on one and Rose did his best to try to do just that; the Bulls do not have anyone else who can create a shot off of the dribble, so the only other option would have been screen/roll but I suspect that the Bulls were concerned that with limited time remaining the Heat would have just trapped Rose and ended up forcing the Bulls into taking an even worse shot than the one that they ultimately got.

Westbrook is combo guard who is still learning how to play point guard. He certainly can improve his decision making and become more mature but I think that a lot of media members are taking the easy way out by criticizing him instead of looking at the Dallas-OKC series in greater depth.

The last time that Kobe regularly forced bad shots was at least a decade ago, so people really need to leave that tired storyline alone. Kobe was the leading playmaker on three championship teams in the early 2000s, Kobe carried Kwame and Smush to back to back playoff appearances by authoring some of the greatest scoring explosions seen since Wilt's prime and Kobe just completed a three year playoff run of excellence that was very comparable to what MJ did during the Bulls' second three-peat. I have said many times that no superstar in history has been subjected to a shot by shot, possession by possession referendum on his decision making the way that Kobe Bryant is pilloried in the media for either supposedly shooting too much or else supposedly pouting and not shooting too much. I agree with actual NBA experts like former coaches Hubie Brown and Jeff Van Gundy who regularly point out what a great decision maker Kobe is; as Van Gundy once put it, Kobe has a quite appropriate level of trust for his teammates.

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

If LeBron had played like this in Cleveland he would have already won a championship. The ironic thing is that last summer people said that LeBron had to leave Cleveland to play for a team that would not need for him to score 30-plus points and make all of the plays at both ends of the court--but that is exactly what he had to do for Miami to win game four! For whatever reason (only LeBron knows), LeBron decided during last year's playoffs that he'd rather quit than give forth that kind of all-court effort.

There is such a tremendous contrast between how hard guys like Rose and Durant play, how devastated they seem to be by losses and how they shoulder all of the responsibility for their teams' losses versus the pitiful effort that LeBron put forth versus Boston in 2010, the way that the loss hardly seemed to faze him and the way that he shifted the responsibility for the loss to his supporting cast.

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

9WO:

Mike Brown is not my "pal" but I greatly respect his coaching ability. The Lakers' have not officially confirmed that they have hired him, contrary to what you may have seen on ESPN or read in the L.A. Times. There are still some contract details to be worked out.

 
At Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

ATM:

The series is not officially over so it would be premature to write an epitaph for the Bulls but if you had read this article closely then you would have noticed that I did explain why the Bulls have fallen into a 3-1 hole:

"The Bulls have a solid defensive game plan but they have killed themselves with their offensive ineptitude--bad shots and turnovers have fueled Miami's transition game and thus made it less important for James or Wade to consistently hit midrange jumpers in a half court set."

In my Chicago-Miami series preview, the very first key that I mentioned was that the Heat "can be vulnerable inside against patient, physical teams that do not panic and do not turn the ball over." I picked the Bulls to win the series because I thought that the Bulls fit the profile of the kind of team that can beat the Heat; the Bulls are down 3-1 in no small part because their turnovers and their bad shot selection have enabled Miami to score easy baskets in transition. The Bulls have actually done a solid job defensively in the half court but their poor offensive efficiency has limited their own scoring and provided just enough "extra" points to push the Heat over the top so far.

 

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