HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’ll get back to our MVP debate later this week.
While we wait to decide between LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant for the top award, today we get an early look at the frontrunners for the Most Improved Player award.
Our West Coast bureau chief Scott Howard-Cooper weighs in today with something of a surprise pick in Jeremy Lin of the Knicks. And he overlooks the fact that Lin played just 53 percent of the Knicks’ game this season and instead focuses on the impact Lin had and the seismic rise in production for the undrafted Lin from his rookie season to this one.
H-C makes the case:
Twenty-seven games, 25 starts, 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 44.5 percent shooting in 33.1 minutes. The season-long numbers: 35 games, 25 starts, 14.6 points, 6.2 assists, 44.6 percent shooting and 26.9 minutes.
But yes. Playing barely more than half the season, the equivalent of 43 games in a season with an ordinary calendar, is enough to earn Most Improved.
Lin was barely in the league when his world permanently changed with 25 points, seven assists and 36 minutes against the Nets on March 4. None of the other candidates was signed after the regular season had started, none was clinging to NBA life to the extent that cracking the rotation would have been an accomplishment, and certainly none produced at such a high level under an intense international spotlight that would have frazzled most anyone else.
Lin never lost his focus or energy in what had to have been an exhausting time, and if his game slipped slightly in the final couple weeks before the injury, he still offered a composure and toughness any coach would want from a point guard. The only thing he really lost was his health.
TNT’s David Aldridge went in a different direction, picking Ersan Ilyasova of the Bucks, one of many awards he hands out in the latest edition of The Morning Tip. Ilyasova’s been playing his socks off all season, not that many folks outside of the Central Division have taken notice. And even DA notes that if not for Lin’s injury, this would have really been a slam dunk for the man responsible for Linsanity.
DA makes the case:
So, Ilyasova gets the nod, having upped his scoring and rebounding significantly over his previous career highs. He was 11th in the league in double-doubles beginning play Sunday. And he is, incredibly, fourth in the league in 3-point shooting, hitting 45.4 percent of his attempts, a quantum leap from the 29.8 percent behind the arc he made last season. Only Steve Novak, Mike Miller and Stephen Curry have shot it better.
Anderson also bumped his scoring and rebounding up significantly, while shooting a career high .398 behind the arc — only Novak, Ilyasova and Matt Bonner shot higher percentages among big men. (Is this when I mention both Ilyasova and Anderson are in contract years?)
[Greg] Monroe made huge strides in his scoring and inside play for the Pistons, echoing the rapid improvement of fellow Georgetowner Roy Hibbert in his second NBA season. [Goran] Dragic took over at the point in Houston when Kyle Lowry was felled with an intestinal parasite and responded with gaudy numbers (18.5 points, 6.5 assists, 49.9 percent shooting) as a starter. [DeMarcus] Cousins got in better shape, exhibited a little more self-control and raised his numbers across the board in Sacramento.
Like with all of the postseason awards, there is a strong case to be made for every player mentioned.
But if we’re only allowed to pick one, HT’s choice is Cousins, who for all of the drama surrounding his season, has found a way to become the walking double-double many thought he could be when the Kings drafted him.
Now it’s your turn …