My guy over at Str8Hoops gave out his NBA season awards up to this point in the season. It was good and well thought-out but looking at his Most Improved List got me to thinking.
The breadth of each NBA player’s game progression on his list made me wonder how improvement is measured for NBA players. And, in turn, under what circumstances should the MIP be awarded.
Is the improvement stemming simply from an increase in minutes? Or is the increase in minutes a function of drastic improvement?
Is developing into a decent, role-playing starter (Rajon Rondo, Jose Calderon) more valuable than taking your game to the purported “next level,” (Hedo Turkoglu)?
The first MIP award was given to Alvin Robertson in 1986. If you take a look at his numbers from that season (17.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.7 steals) and compare them to his prior rookie season (9.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals), there is undoubtedly improvement. His numbers in all areas increased almost two-fold.
Now look a little deeper. Robertson got more minutes: 21.3 up to 35.1 per game. He started all 82 games as opposed to starting only 9 from his rookie season. But the man’s field goal percentage only increased marginally — from 49.8% to 51.4%. This guy was a skinny 6’3″ playing in the 1980’s!
It’s much more impressive for Robertson to shoot over .500 then than it is for Tony Parker to shoot it now. There weren’t any hand checking rules in the 80’s. Defenders could straight up maul you and then when you drove into the lane, big men would literally tackle you. And for kicks, those bigs would stand over their opponents for a few seconds to intimidate. None of that nowadays.
So, a man shooting almost .500 his rookie season has got to have game to begin with, right? Did Robertson really improve that much? I think the Robertson selection was primarily based on him getting more burn. I will concede the fact that he also won Defensive Player of the Year in ’86. However, back in the 80’s, teams were stacked. Guys could ball and most had really well-rounded games. Sometimes, playing time was all that separated a man from scoring 10 points a game to being a legit All-Star selection.
Bobby Simmons, Boris Diaw and Monta Ellis have been selected the last three years. Each player’s MIP season shares a few characteristics.
- Each player at least doubled their scoring average
- There was a coinciding double in their field goal attempts
- Each player was on the court for at least 35 minutes
- Each player started at least 75% of their games
- They all played at least 75 games
I have a nagging feeling that Simmons’ game was always at that level but it was his contract year. And he parlayed that success into a big-time contract with the lowly Milwaukee Bucks. Simmons’ jump in numbers was so drastic that they just gave it to him. Correct me if I’m wrong but the mood about him after that season was that he was going to be a Jerry Stackhouse-esque player. Or at least a Bonzi Wells for the Bucks.
Boris Diaw’s success was more because Amare Stoudamire wasn’t around to hog the ball. They ran plays for Boris and his confidence was sky-high during that season. The mood about him after he won was that he was a solid player that was finally given an opportunity. It was more of a psychological improvement, if you will.
Monta Ellis is a good player but I think that his numbers come simply because he plays Nellieball. He is currently meeting expectations but I don’t think anyone expects him to push for an All-Star spot anytime soon.
It seems that the MIP isn’t really subjective. There’s a few criteria that they meet and the hype and success of a player becomes a measure of that subjectivity. Who fits the criteria in this year’s cast of players?
- 10.8 points to 19.6
- 4.1 of 9.7 FGA to 7.4 of 16.5
- 37.4 minutes this season
- Started 66 of 66 games
- On pace to play all 82 games
Subjectively, I have some picks of my own. I think Hedo Turkoglu has really stepped up his game. Hedo was getting into the All-Star conversation. He seemed to be hitting big shot after big shot in the first half of the season.
A lot of people are sleeping on Chris Kaman. Although his improvement is more along the lines of Boris Diaw, sans winning, it’s still impressive. The man has increased his scoring and rebounding from 10.1 and 7.8 to this year’s 16.0 and 13.1. He’s playing almost 40 minutes a night. And his free throw attempts have jumped which shows that he’s being much more aggressive.
Jose Calderon is having a great year. A lot of it isn’t showing up on the stat line but his floor game is great. He’s kept that Raptors ship going even after TJ Ford’s injury.
I would love some feedback. What’s improvement to you?