An Early Look at Most Improved

Through Monday, the NBA season is exactly 25 percent done. The quarter pole is a great time to evaluate a lot of things, but here we’re going to look at early candidates for the Most Improved Player award.

There isn’t clear criteria for the award, as indicated by the 13 different players who received first-place votes last season. Personally, I thought that Kevin Durant, who went from non-All-Star to MVP candidate, was the only choice, but only 17 of the 123 voters agreed with me.

Statistically, there are a few different ways you can compare performance from one year to the next. And I’ll probably explore all of them by the end of the season. But for now, since it’s still early, I’ll keep it simple.

To see whose production has taken the biggest jump from last season to this one, I looked at efficiency per game. Efficiency is a stat that’s been used here on for a while now, and it’s fairly simple to understand. You just add up a player’s positive stats (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) and subtract turnovers and missed shots (both from the field and from the line). So the formula is this:

Pts. + Reb. + Ast. + Stl. + Blk. – Turn. – (FGA-FGM) – (FTA-FTM)

Here are the season leaders, and here are the most improved players, according to efficiency per game…

Most Improved: Efficiency per Game
Player Team 2009-10 2010-11 Diff.
D.J. Augustin CHA 6.0 16.2 10.2
Reggie Evans TOR 4.9 14.3 9.5
JaVale McGee WAS 8.6 17.1 8.5
Kevin Love MIN 19.7 27.0 7.4
Paul Millsap UTA 15.6 22.7 7.1
Russell Westbrook OKC 18.1 25.1 7.1
Raymond Felton NYK 14.8 21.5 6.8
Tyson Chandler DAL 10.3 17.0 6.6
Daniel Gibson CLE 6.0 12.6 6.6
Jrue Holiday PHI 9.4 16.0 6.5

D.J. Augustin probably isn’t one of the first guys you think of when it comes to Most Improved. But he’s clearly a step ahead of the field (especially since Reggie Evans is out for two months with a broken foot), having stepped into Raymond Felton‘s role as the starting point guard in Charlotte.

None of the other names on the list are real surprises.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the 10 players who have regressed most in terms of efficiency per game…

Most Regressed: Efficiency per Game
Player Team 2009-10 2010-11 Diff.
David Lee GSW 27.0 18.8 -8.2
Reggie Williams GSW 16.2 8.0 -8.2
Brendan Haywood DAL 16.1 7.6 -8.5
Erick Dampier MIA 12.2 3.7 -8.5
LeBron James MIA 32.4 23.8 -8.6
Corey Maggette MIL 18.6 9.3 -9.2
Jermaine O’Neal BOS 15.8 6.6 -9.3
Anthony Randolph NYK 14.3 3.2 -11.1
Earl Barron PHX 17.0 2.7 -14.3
Troy Murphy NJN 20.5 6.1 -14.4

The name that stands out here, of course, is LeBron James. We all knew that his statistical production would fall off, but maybe not this much. People talked about him averaging a triple-double with the Heat, but his rebounds have gone down from 7.3 to 5.7 per game, and his assists have gone down from 8.6 to 7.3.

Last year, James led the league in efficiency at 32.4 per game, which was more than four points better than the next player on the list, Durant at 28.0. It’s obviously not easy maintaining those numbers when you’ve got to share the ball with two other All-Stars.


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.


  1. EssenInternationalTrade says:

    I’ve got to say, Kevin Love and Roy Hibbert should be favorites to win the MIP award. However, I’d also like to add one name on this list that I haven’t seen mentioned much. Brandon Bass. His game has elevated so much. From a bench warmer last season to a starting 5 this season. That’s a huge jump for any guy in the NBA, don’t you agree?

  2. chris pike says:

    glen davis has stepped up massively this year. candidate for sixth man

  3. dan says:

    Joakim Noah, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love are beasts!


  4. Rachel says:

    Schu, you know you’re my hero, right? 🙂

  5. Top candidates period

    1. Micheal Beasley
    2. Joakim Noah
    3. D.J Augustin
    4. Arron Afflalo
    5. Raymond Felton
    6. Eric Gordon
    7. Kevin Love
    8. Paul Millsap
    9. Luis Scola
    10. Shannon Brown

  6. Dan says:

    All of you people slagging off DJ and the Bobcats know nothing and have obviously not watched a game this season, Yes we have regressed, but to blame that on DJ starting at point is insanity! DJ has easily been one of our best players this season! The reason we’ve regressed is due to having a Coach who doesn’t want to be here, players like McGuire (totally useless) getting crazy minutes! not having one decent Center, Our All-Star playing well below par, Tyrus Thomas not getting enough minutes and our starting PF being seriously overweight. If DJ was starting point at the celtics or a team with a better starting 5 you’d all be hailing him as MIP and considering him as an All-Star, Fact. So please stop with this rubbish and come back after you’ve watched a Bobcats Game. Great Article Mr. Schuhmann giving our very underated PG some well deserved plaudits.

  7. weeee says:


  8. specialfriedrice says:

    A+++ for Marks comments, so true, i think u should replace John Schuhmann the author of the article, i enjoyed your comment more than the original post 🙂

  9. Jackson says:

    i believe that hakim warrick should get some recognition for most improved. as amare left a gaping hole in the phoenix attack, it seems as though hakim as stepped up from a bench player at milwaukee to a powerful starting prescense in the phoenix starting team, and will only get better this season.

  10. Louis says:

    Is no one going to give Aaron Afflalo so love? He is averaging Career highs in:
    Points (12.9)
    Blocks (0.7)
    Assists (2.5)
    Rebounds (4.1)
    Free throw % (0.830)
    3 point % (0.439)
    Field goal % (0.520)
    All with increased minutes and shots!

    He has now changed from a defensive stopper to someone who is not only a threat on the offensive end but also he is efficient and consistent. He is making denver a better team which is more than i can say for the majority of players on your list and the majority of players named above, with the exceptions of players like D Rose and Westbrook etc.
    I know the numbers aren’t incredible, however, when you take everything into consideration he should no doubt be in everyones MIP talk!

    • private matter says:

      He’s right, Aaron Afflalo is ripping it up in every category which is converting into wins for the Nuggets whether Melo is playing, getting kicked out of games for debating foul (no calls) or going up for a rebound and coming down with the flu. Aaron is the glue holding the Nuggets together as Chauncy has been beat up and missed a few games as well.

  11. Ryan says:

    How can Eric Gordon not be one of the top players up for Most Improved? He has 9 straight games with 20+ points. He has been the real story for the Clippers. Blake Griffin is nice, dont get me wrong, but 21 year old Eric Gordon is doing work. He is at 24+ points per game and he is getting to the foul line 9+ times a game. He has scored 20+ points in all but THREE games this year!

  12. Bernie says:

    where is darko millic?
    he is starting to improve dramtically

  13. ash j says:

    use r all missing one big improving player MICHAEL BEASLEY!!! and also Shannon Brown he would make a starter on a few teams these days and who knows what he could preduce with more baal time at another team

  14. scott says:

    sadly this award tends to be pretty narrow-minded. i like all the arguments posted on here but none of them really matter if you think the future of this award will continue to be a function of the past. Unlike the MVP award, this award doesn’t matter if you’re on a “good” team. In the last 10 years this award has only gone to someone on a “good” team three times…tracy mcgrady ’01, Boris Diaw (courtesy of Steve Nash) ’06, and Hedo Turkoglu ’08. With few exceptions it goes to the player with the largest increase in PPG. With that in mind, the author’s list can be whittled down to Westbrook (+7.6), Milsap (+6.3), Love (+6.0), and Augustine (+7.0), …and i think any one of them are deserving at this point in th season.

  15. Marco says:

    I don’t understand why deron willians wasn’t mentioned in conversation about the best PG. Rondo are playing well this year but just because he has PP, Ray allen e Garnet. Put him in a team like Jazz or Thunder, and lets see if he could play in the same level that D.W and Westbrook are playing right now.

    D.J augustin as the M.I.P ? It was just a joke right ?
    just look how Kevin Love is playing. he is dominating the paint.
    And he is not as atlhetic as Howard not to mention he is smaller than the most Cs of the leaguel.

  16. Isaac says:

    Most Improved Player Top 10

    1. Roy Hibbert
    2. Dorell Wright
    3. Kevin Love
    4. Darko Milicic
    5. Josh McRoberts
    6. Mike Conely
    7. Paul Milsap
    8. Wesley Matthews (if he keeps up his starting 5 form)
    9. Jrue Holiday
    10 Richard Jefferson

    What do ya’ll think…. Can i be a writer now?

    • Shorty says:

      You are joking right?
      Richard Jefferson, c’mon!!!
      The guy has been in the game for so long, played good for the Nets, hasn’t improved to a better level.
      Grew back towards his old one is more like it.
      For me Kevin Love is the MIP for now.

  17. djchento says:

    u r right Eschu,DJ Augustine and my favorite R.Westbrook more chance at this point i think…

  18. C Bar says:

    K-Love is averaging 20 and 15 right now, Westbrook is an easy pick as well, and Beasley has only increased his points.
    I think Love has a step up because he is rebounding at such a ridiculous rate right now. If he keeps it up that is.

  19. some good comments on today’s board. mostly. here are some candidates in my opinion:

    Rondo -bringing a complete game w/great efficiency
    Beasley -showing more assertiveness and professionalism. better numbers.
    Hibbert -I honestly never followed him before, but wow. lots of potential there
    Eric Gordon -scoring machine this year

  20. Greg White says:

    In regards to the list above of likely candidates for this years Most Improved Award, I must agree with certain comments from previous individuals. Based on efficiency those candidates seem fairly accurate, but i must say that their are many players who are supremely overlooked. For example, Michael Beasley who wasn’t even a primary starter or consistent player coming off the bench for the Miami Heat, has become a go-to-player for the Minnesota Timberwolves. As a bench player he averaged 14.8 points for Miami and is now a starter in Minnesota averaging 22.2 points per game as their leading scorer. although it is arguable that he has been well due to the fact that he has increased his minutes per game. He is subject to Darko’s comment about Player Efficiency rating in which he quotes (minutes to give a true value). Other players such as Luis Scola of the Houston Rockets, averaged 16.2 points per game last season and is now averaging 20.3 points per game. Minutes have remained in the same ball park and with or without Yao Ming in the lineup is still the catalyst for their low post presence. Players like Joakim Noah who is among few players to average double-doubles, Arron Affalo who went from 8.4 ppg to 13.0 ppg are not to be overlooked either. Hard to disregard players such as Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Eric Gordan. Their production has been consistent from last season and this season, but numbers don’t lie. they all have increased their games substantially

  21. Fred says:

    What about Michael Beasley?

  22. shiv says:

    i think that b easy should definietly be in this convo for most improved

  23. Dan The Hand Stand Man says:

    Rondo should be in other discussions (along with Rose and Westbrook ) but not this one hes been playing like this for FOUR YEARS!! but Kg is healthy he has Shaq,PP, and Ray who are all having career high FG percentages as for Kevin Love i agree but even more so his counterpart Micheal Beasley. If Improved is what it means hes defining it so far this year. other notable players
    Roy Hibbert IND
    Glen Davis BOS
    Wesley Johnson POR
    Raymond Felton NYK
    Brandon Bass ORL
    Darko Milicic MIN

  24. Beasley=the man says:

    I agree.

  25. RJM says:

    Shannon Brown should be included in the conversation for most improved.

  26. Lolwut? says:

    How u guys gunna forget beasley,,,,,,

    • Eschu says:

      Beasley should be a candidate, for sure. Almost playing like an all-star. DJ Augustine? His team has regressed, and a large amount of that is due to his increased minutes at the point.

  27. Darko Millicic says:

    I agree with mark, you should really use Player efficiency rating(PER), not efficiency rating. PER factors in pace and minutes to give a true value, that while not perfect, is more useful in determining a players skill. The early award should go to westbrook because he’s playing in the same system and getting similar minutes and his PER has increased. DJ augustin is benefiting from starting this year, not necessarily because his game has improved.

  28. Markkk! says:

    I Believe D.J. Augustin has the most Potential,he Could Possibly be one of the best,but with due time.At the moment Derrick Rose Rules The league as the Best PG,Next to Rajon rondo as the top Point Guard.,at Heart i Prefer Tony Parker to get the Job Done,Spurs Have the best team right now,plus the best Role players,George hill is Bound to only get better,he is Under the Radar but players dont need recognition to Be Good,Also Stephen Curry is a Dangerous Player,and its only his 2nd Year.

  29. Andy says:

    I personally believe that Eric Gordon should be taken into consideration when it comes to MIP award… Most of DJ Augustin’s “progress” is result of huge increase in playing time( over 11 minutes more), while EG is posting bigger numbers(+0,7 RPG; +1,5 APG; +7.4 PPG) while playing just 1,5 minute per game more than last season.

  30. mathias says:

    I agree.
    Shuman is just a retard.
    From now on I’m only gonna read Ashburner and Aldridge, caus the other writers just don’t know anything!

  31. TITAN says:

    if you are asking me (and you are not) DARKO should be main candidate for this one, no doubt (if he keeps it up of course) !!! i can name a lot of reasons for it but people who are watching him know!

  32. sellah says:

    My first comment ever here, i was always reluctant to post anything but there is something i dislike a whole lot about and that is that you seem to be a whole bunch of bandwagonners. Last year come playoff time you were _ALL_ on cleveland’s bandwagon posting articles about how everybody complements LeBron perfectly and how theyre for an nba championship. Then after they lost suddenly everybody starts saying Cleveland was nothing but LeBron. (yeah i guess even you tend to say in some videos yourselves Chuck is the biggest bandwagonner out there, still i couldnt find a pre-playoff article which was nothing but praise for Cleveland)
    Miami loses a few games and you say the whole experiment is nothing but a misery and then they beat some .500 teams excluding atlanta and theyre back into the mix. Lakers win what, 8 straight against weak teams? And you’re all over them saying how they might crack bulls 72-10 season, they lose 4 straight and suddenly theyre no championship contender anymore. Knicks beat weak teams theyre absolutely supposed to beat and theyre a good team all of a sudden. Can’t wait for their tougher part of schedule.
    What more examples, hmm. The whole fear the dear thing, how the bucks might shake up the eastern conference mix?
    NOH with a nice stretch to start the season, theyre a threat for LAL and SAS, now what? That goes on and on.
    That being said, i know thats your work youre doing there and you HAVE to write something, but come on now?
    PS. I can’t play ball for sh** and my country’s national sport is probably drinking booze, just observing. I’m a bandwagonner myself, having watched first highlights of an nba game in 2001 or 2002 when the lakers were winning another title but i root for them ever since.
    PS2. Those NBA Finals games are really a lot about luck, just think of Dwight actually making two of his freethrows in 2009 finals or fish missing the trey (what game was that?). Or the officials actually refeering the Game 7 in 2010 better, like NOT missing how Rasheed tripped Kobe in the very beginning when he was on the floor himself or how Pau made some late-game clutch layup AFTER his feet touched the floor. Being Laker fan myself, i need to admit they had a great deal of luck the previous two years. Maybe that luck hadnt been needed had Kobe not hoisted some terrible shots, but hey he has to get 30 points a game no matter what…

    • what he said says:

      i agree with everything u just said. bravo

    • private matter says:

      I think Kobe should have to donate 100% of his past, present and future income to:

      National Alliance To End Sexual Violence

      Now that would be a great improvement for society since he isn’t in jail where he belongs!!!

    • passerby says:

      I agree with everything you said except one thing. The luck part I agree on, but i don’t like the part where you said just think of Dwight making his two free throws or Fisher missing the three. Those two things are just “ifs” and “ifs” can be said about a lot of things… Luck plays a role but the to think and ifs are no use because if that was the case, then you could have as easily said, if Dwight made all his free throws, then the Magic would win. Well, just an example. But you made my points with almost all of your points. Good job.

    • kaare weidling says:

      nice to hear a laker fan give kobe i little heat. (no pun intended) i was very disappointed in some of the games, in last years finals, especially game 7 were he wen’t, what? 6-24. i have great respect for the guy and clearly he has matured over the years and developed his “teamgame” , but as they say. he has never met a shot he did’nt like. still the mvp though.

  33. Mark says:

    Hey John,

    I strongly suggest you consider standardizing for minutes played. I think “Improved” is the key word here, it’s not the “player who most increases their minutes played becuase Player X left the team” award. Did DJ work his butt off all offseason, or is he just getting better production on stable minutes since Felton is gone?

    For example, if you take their efficiency per minute last year and adjust for the increased MPG this year…
    Russell Westbrook would have had 19.7, for a net differenc e of +5.4
    DJ Augustin would have had 11.5, for a net differenc of +4.7
    Raymond Felton would have had 17.1, for a net difference of +4.4
    Derrick Rose would have had 19.8, for a net difference of +2.8
    Jrue Holiday would have had 13.4, for a net differenc e of +2.6
    Rajon Rondo would have had 22.1, for a net difference of +0.5

    Ideally, you could also adjust for change in pace. I don’t think anyone really thought Chris Duhon got significantly improved last year, yet in the beginning of the season, playing in D’antoni’s system really upped his stats due to incr minutes and incresased pace. I don’t think giveing the award to Duhon is in the spirit of the award, and I agree with you that this award should go to players who have elevated their individual games, which can be seen both objectively and subjectively. On a similar note, I think team play has to be considered as well. Players on bad teams can put up some good numbers, essentially b/c they aren’t competing against anyone on their OWN team for stats like rebounds. They are allowed to be more selfish with the ball as well. Think of guys who played well on crappy teams, only to switch teams next off-season and see their stats plummet. Lebron James is an excellent example. Do you think Lebron has regressed in talent? No, he is just in a new system with better individual teammates that he is sharing stats with. So I think you also have to consider that while DJ’s stats have improved, his team isn’t winning any more games based on this “improvement”, whereas guys like Westbrook, the improvement is translating to wins.

    Guys like Westbrook should be at the top of lists like this, not DJ Augustin.

    • John Schuhmann says:

      It was a thought, Mark. I actually looked at it on a per-40-minute basis. But even if you set minute minimums, you get some results that probably would never jive with anybody’s Most Improved ballots.

      1. DeShawn Stevenson +8.5 per 40
      2. Brad Miller +8.2 per 40
      3. Shannon Brown +8.1
      4. Tyson Chandler +7.4
      5. Eric Gordon +6.3

      Down the line, I plan to look at team efficiency numbers when players are on and off the court. That will help take defense into account and will certainly help the candidacy of Roy Hibbert. But for now, I thought this was a simple way to look at it, and I think per-game numbers a more likely what voters will be looking at.

      • Daniel says:

        Well actually I would agree with most of those MIP candidates(on the 40 minute basis). Eric Gordon is having an excellent season, Tyson Chandler is a rejuvenated man, and Shannon Brown is having a career year. Admittedly I am not sure about DeShawn Stevenson or Brad Miller, but the other 3 candidates could easily win the award.

      • Dan says:

        what i want to know is where is Beasely? i’m completely aware that he’s playing for a terrible team but miamis offense wasnt much better without wade. This guy went from pretty bad option at sixth man and terribly inconsistent to a breakout stud in minnesota averaging what 33 points a game one week? showing a little clutch at the end of games and the ability to take over games this guy belongs, i think, on the top of this list. The way i see it the 5 that belong here are
        1. Beasely
        2. Hibbert
        3. Rose
        4. Westbrook
        5. Felton

        Beasely and Hibbert are above Rose and Westbrook since they went from non factors in some games and weak options to key roles for their teams while rose and westbrook were already were key roles but are breaking out as borderline stars now. Felton elevated his game but i think its the pace thats doing the work.

        what do you think about beasely?