LeBron James vs. Derrick Rose: How Superstars Have Stacked Up Throughout Careers

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 6, 2013

Derrick Rose won't board the "LeBron James is the best player in the NBA" train.

Asked by CNN's Pedro Pinto who the league's best player was, Rose responded by saying "Derrick Rose."


Refusing to admit that LeBron was the correct answer was no ordinary slight.

Self-sustaining egos fuel the Association's superstars. Conceding that you're not the best at what you do would have been out of character not just for Rose, but any All-Star.

What was truly unique about Rose's not-so-subtle exclusion was its lack of absurdity.

Whether or not you care to admit it, you can say Derrick Rose thinks he's better than LeBron James without laughing. We know it's not true, but as the youngest MVP in NBA history, Rose's contention is not one that can be so readily dismissed.

For the Chicago Bulls superstar, it's really not about him being better than LeBron now. Four years separate the two and LeBron has been in the league twice as long (10 years). A full generation almost comes between them, similar to the distance between LeBron and Kobe.

Mostly, this is about how the two stack up and whether Rose is justified in his belief that he belongs in the same conversation.


The First Four Years

Technically Rose is five years into his professional career, but really, it's four. Losing a whole season to injury will do that to you.

Through his first four years, he matched many of LeBron's own accolades. Rose was selected with the first overall pick in his draft (2008), just like LeBron. He won Rookie of the Year, appeared in three All-Star Games and did not win a championship. 

Below is a breakdown of their achievements through the opening four seasons of their careers:

PlayerROYAll-NBAAll-DefenseAll-Star GamesAll-Star MVPLeague MVPTitles
LeBron JamesYes33100
Derrick RoseYes103010

Individual decor is merely an ice breaker; it doesn't prove anything other than both LeBron and Rose are really good. 

Where Rose had a league MVP, LeBron had three All-NBA selections (one first; two second) and an All-Star MVP. Rose was (and still is) without a championship; LeBron's rings were as nonexistent as cap space in Brooklyn.

Tangible recognition in mind, the two experienced similar amounts of success. Statistically speaking, however, LeBron generally topped Rose in just about every pertinent per-game category:

LeBron James26.746.332.773.
Derrick Rose21.046.431.

Save for free throws, the duo shot nearly identical clips from the field through their first four years. Points, rebounds and steals per game (and PER) are really where LeBron began to run away, though Rose had him beaten in assists and free-throw shooting.

Looking to their playoff numbers during that same span, we see much of the same:

LeBron James 3327.344.230.474. 
Derrick Rose2925.142.525.682. 

The total of games played is very important, because Rose went through to the postseason in each of his first four seasons, while LeBron saw the playoffs just twice. Even so, he still appeared in more postseason bouts. 

Those numbers fail to show anything of significant value. So what if Lebron scored more points, forced more turnovers and posted a much higher PER? Does that really mean anything?

Well, yes. It just doesn't mean as much as the roles the two played early on.

Rose fell to a Chicago team that desperately needed him. But the Bulls also already had Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. LeBron joined the Cleveland Cavaliers under pre-existing conditions that barely relate to Rose's situation in the Windy City.

The Cavs had Carlos Boozer, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and a mercurial Ricky Davis who believed LeBron was drafted to complement him, but no one with the upside of a Deng or Noah.

Not that this takes away anything from what Rose did. In his rookie year, he walked into a 33-49 mess and helped it turn into a .500 (41-41) playoff team. An exaggerated tip of the hat is still deserved.

Cleveland simply relied on LeBron more—in part because he could do more, but mostly because the Cavs needed him to. They weren't a playoff team upon his arrival the way the Bulls were with Rose, which is more a reflection of their supporting cast than anything.

With LeBron, the Cavs were close to a one-man show, or rather, more of a solo act than Rose and the Bulls.

Take a look at how their usage rates differed during our four-year sample size:

Every year, without fail, LeBron had the higher usage rate, attesting to Cleveland's dependency on him alone. 

Further proof can be found in the number of wins either player accounted for during their first four years (shown below).

Despite the Cavaliers averaging just 44.3 wins per year, LeBron amassed about 12.3 win shares. Rose's Bulls recorded 48.5 victories a season, and he accounted for roughly 7.5 of them.

Rose was never responsible for more than 21.1 percent of Chicago's total victories. LeBron, meanwhile, had his hand in winning as much as 34 percent of Cleveland's grand total. 

Once again, we shouldn't feel compelled to take anything away from Rose. The situations were just different. 

That doesn't mean LeBron isn't entitled to a ceremonious head nod either. He is. He carried that Cavaliers team for most of those four years in ways Rose never had to. You have to appreciate that. 



LeBron is a robot. Rose? Not so much these last couple years.

Chicago's point man wasn't always so fragile, though. He missed a combined six games through his first three seasons. But it was all downhill from there.

Over the last two years, Rose has sat out 109 of a possible 148 regular-season games, or 73.6 percent, no thanks to his ACL.

The King has had no such problems.

Five years into his career, LeBron had missed only 19 total games; Rose is already at 115. LeBron actually hasn't missed that many games for his entire career. To this point, he's missed only 39 of 804 possible regular-season bouts, or 4.9 percent.

If Rose could only be so lucky. In five years, he's missed 115 of 394 (29.2 percent).

Just to give you a better idea of how much the last two seasons have impacted Rose's games-played-to-games-missed ratio, feast your eyes on the following:

Pretty damning if you ask me.

Solace can perhaps be found in knowing that nearly 94.8 percent of the games Rose has missed in his career have come over the last two seasons. Still, there's no denying how risky a journey he is set to embark on. Missing an entire year is rarely a harbinger of good things to come. Normally, it's a flag redder than the jersey he wears.

Hope is alive in Chicago, where the fans know Rose was meticulous in his rehab and cautious in his return (which hasn't even happened yet).

But you can't escape fate, and right now, the best-case scenario for Rose is he remains less durable than LeBron but falls short of the dreaded "injury-prone" classification.


The MVP Years

The MVP discussion isn't even close. It's not even a discussion.

LeBron has four to Rose's one. Not even the historical significance behind Rose's is enough to make up for that kind of deficit.

Let's assume, however, a player is at his best during an MVP campaign. To be sure, we're saying that the best version of a particular athlete can be found in each season they take home Most Valuable Player honors.

Seems logical enough, considering the Maurice Podoloff Trophy epitomizes individual success.

Under our assumption, LeBron has been at his best in each of the four seasons he's been recognized as the MVP, and Rose at his best the one year he was.

Here's a look at their averages (combined) during their MVP crusades:

LeBron James28.0*52.2*36.1*76.8*7.3*7.7*1.731.0*18.2*
Derrick Rose25.0*44.533.2*85.8*7.7*4.1*1.0*23.5*13.1*

(*Denotes a metric that exceeds career average so as to further justify premise of MVP campaigns representing best [statistical] version of a player.)

Forgive me for saying so in advance, but the MVP meter isn't even close.

Rose's performance in 2010-11 was beyond exceptional, and it says a great deal about how talented he still is given he was only 22 then.

And yet his lone MVP excursion barely even stacks up against the mean of LeBron's other four. What does that say? A whole lot.

About LeBron, that is.


How Rose Measures Up Against LeBron

Never forget that there is only one LeBron James. 

As incredibly gifted as Rose is, his current career path is no better than that of anyone else when pitted against LeBron. Some would even hazard it's worse because of the setbacks he's suffered these last two seasons.

LeBron towers over the competition in almost every aspect of the game. Kevin Durant himself would swear to that.

Only last season, he joined the uber-exclusive 50/40/90 club while almost winning the scoring crown. LeBron then usurped his performance, winning the league MVP award after becoming the first player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, seven assists and eight rebounds on 55 percent or better shooting.

Legitimately matching up against someone who can play at that level, who can abuse the box scores and shatter efficiency records the way LeBron can, is near impossible.

At this stage of Rose's career, going into what should be his sixth season, LeBron was coming off a 2007-08 campaign in which he averaged 30 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.8 steals on 48.4 percent shooting. With the exception of Rose's career highs in assists and field-goal percentage, his best marks don't even measure up to the year LeBron had.

Only Rose isn't even coming off a fifth campaign. All of last season was lost to injury, rehab and a drove of unanswered questions, many of which will follow him into 2013-14. At which point, Rose's greatest concern won't be catching LeBron, but catching his past self.



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