Most Improved Player: Larry Sanders

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Welcome. The darts are on this table, the names are on that wall.

Choose Most Improved Player.

Several candidates will get votes, as is the case most years in this most-subjective of all postseason awards that requires weighing past impact as much as present value. Best reserve or top defender are about 2012-13, but this is the category that attempts to quantify a full body of work. Some among the writers and broadcasters who regularly cover the league from each NBA city will even consider expectations – the young player picked in the lottery was supposed to be this good and merely needed time to get there, unlike the guy that built a career from back in the pack.

How subjective?

One well-regarded coach – not Mark Jackson – said Golden State’s Klay Thompson would be his choice because of Thompson’s key role in the Warriors surging into the playoffs… and Thompson is a shooter whose shooting percentage dropped from last season. Most Improved can become a bottomless grab bag.

The choice here, after conversations with several people inside the game, is Larry Sanders of the Bucks in a very close call over Omer Asik (Rockets), Paul George (Pacers), Jrue Holiday (76ers) and Greivis Vasquez (Hornets), such a close call that the runners up are listed alphabetically to avoid making a split on top of the split. Kemba Walker (Bobcats), Tristan Thompson (Cavaliers) and Nikola Vucevic (Magic) also probably get support.

Each candidate from the lead pack has a sound argument, especially George and Holiday as All-Stars in an undeniable credibility boost. If coaches in their own conference say George and Holiday reached such a special level, that is impossible to dismiss.

But so is this: George’s shooting percentage overall and on threes is down from last season. Holiday’s overall accuracy will be about the same as 2012-13. Plus, they were already established, big-minute guys.

Sanders will go from 12.4 minutes a game last season, all as a reserve, to possibly finishing in the top 10 in the league in two categories, blocks (for sure) and rebounding (maybe). In a nod to his 27.3 minutes, not the typical starter’s work load, he could also end up in the top five in both departments per 48 minutes, and he has logged more time the second half of the season, a nudge that started soon after Scott Skiles was fired as coach.

This is the Sanders the Bucks envisioned when they picked him at No. 15 in 2010, five spots after the Pacers took George and 13 before Vasquez went to the Grizzlies. This is also the Sanders that Milwaukee imagined as part of the front line after trading center Andrew Bogut last season, albeit, the team hopes, while learning to control his emotions. That needs to become his next improvement.

The other top contenders:

Asik – For all the deserved attention on what the arrival of James Harden has meant for the Rockets, signing Asik as a free agent to be the once-and-for-all successor to Yao Ming at center became a direct hit of an acquisition. He became a big factor on defense at age 26 and they became a playoff team.

George – He turned the potential devastation of losing Danny Granger to injury into the positive of George blossoming in his third season as one of the best young wings in the game. Already well-established after starting 19 games as a rookie and all 66 in 2011-12, George became an All-Star who will score and rebound.

Holiday – The serious fade of 39.4-percent shooting in March and 26.6 percent the first five games of April hurts his case. But there is no denying the gains of 2012-13, all the way to the All-Star game. P.S.: He’s 22 years old.

Vasquez – The kind of out-of-nowhere candidate that can draw a lot of attention in this category. Holiday and George were full-time starters last season, and Asik had the headline of the free-agent move from Chicago, but Vasquez went from a lot of Jarrett Jack backup duty in 2011-12 to being on track to finish third in assists in 2012-13. Not third on the team. Third in the league.

28 Comments

  1. JayJay says:

    MIP, Asik only, No. 1 in total rebounds in his 1st year as a starter in a playoff team, respect!

  2. Matthew says:

    No way in hell on planet earth does vucevic not win this 6th man award he went from bum who couldn’t even speak English on the court to damn you just broke shaqs record of most rebounds in a game with 29 the most ever was manute Bol with 34 so like damn he did that in his first season ever starting . 47 double doubles that’s third in the league I’m pretty sure that’s more than lebron but in the article people don’t even mention him .

  3. godrapg says:

    VUCEVIC!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Besovic says:

    My vote goes to Vucevic, because he is definitely growing into something BIG. Just look at his stats from this and season before and you’ll see what im talking about. Second in rebounding, third in double-double, also id like to add his breaking Shaqs record in Magic with FANTASTIC 29 REBOUNDS (Howard’ll never get this number). All that in his sophomore year. He must win this, if he doesnt ill be very disappointed at NBA for disrespecting players who arent americans.

  5. GSW baby says:

    Steph Curry should get this like how he should have gotten an All Star spot

  6. Confused says:

    Paul George should’ve won it..

  7. Chuckles says:

    Vucevic or Vasquez. These two went from unknown,last man on the bench to all-star calibre play. I could see where some might disagree due to the weakness of their teams I don’t think this is a case of their stats being padded, they were very consistent throughout the year. There was no doubt Harden could score 20 if he were lead option and Asik was given 8 mil to sign. When we take into account “most improved” I don’t think anyone realized their potential, they were truly unknown.

  8. godrapg says:

    VUCEVIC!!!!!!!!!

  9. King Gary says:

    Vucevic.. thats it, no one else compares. He is one of the few sparks for the magic and not even playing huge minutes

  10. Dig says:

    Harden was already 3rd best SG last year. His FG% & 3P% are down and turnovers increased. How he can be consider the most improved?
    It’s definitely between Vucevic and Butler.

  11. Kamote says:

    Again, the debate on the Most Improved player is on do we consider a bad player becoming good, a good player becoming better, or a better player becoming great:

    - The first group would be on the likes of Vucevic, Sanders, Parsons where they we’re basically unknowns last year but made names for themselves this year.
    - Another group includes Vasquez, Holiday, Asik who’s roles are already defined but still managed to improve on their games vastly after a year.
    - The last group includes Harden and George, who were considered players with high potentials, were given the keys to a franchise, and led them to winning.

    The league has been heavily inclined to giving awards to the first and second group for the past years. This is due because less is expected from these players, then suddenly they’re piling up stats surprising everyone. Unlike in the third group that much is expected and a gradual improvement is easily dismissed.

    My vote however, goes to James Harden. Not only he almost doubled his stats, but also changed his role from 6th man/ 3rd option to the franchise player of the Rockets. In doing so, he has helped Asik and Parsons improve on their game by being the opponent’s focal target, and also diminished any disappointments Houston fans might have on paying franchise money to Lin. People might say that the increase in playing time and ball touches might have helped him, but not all players utilized this as much as he did. Please also remember that players like Beasley (Suns), Afflalo (Magic) and DeRozan (Raptors) had the same opportunity but never utilized it. And also Lin was supposed to be Houston’s main man, good thing Harden came just in time. Indiana’s Paul George had the benefit of having the same core team mates sans Granger, while Houston’s winning record trumps Magic’s Vucevic and Hornet’s Vasquez.

    Harden it is :)

    • Marco29 says:

      Agreed. Taking that 3rd step from good player to the elite is the most difficult. Many players have failled on this step while Harden did it almost naturally proving all the doubters and haters that he deserved to be a franchise player and that the move out of OKC was the right thing to do. He lifted Houston back into playoffs with all the pressure and attention on him.
      This award’s definition and measurements are not very clear but, iif he does not deserve it statistically (I am not sure he improved all aspects of his game) , Harden does for the achivement of going from Best 6th man to MVP candidate and the leadership he has shown.

  12. WRSmoove says:

    Jrue Holiday has been 3 cold this year! I want him to win it

  13. Wow... says:

    what about earl clark?

    • bout7 says:

      I agree he’s improved out of sight this season. Although in the past couple of months he’s dropped off a fair bit…

  14. Ralph says:

    Show some love for Chicago Bulls Jimmy Butler.

  15. KB24/8 says:

    Because The only thing he improved on is scoring 10 more points 26.8 from 16.7 while playing 38 minutes per game (2nd) in the league after Durant. Vucevic is averaging 11.9 rebounds per game coming 4 while playing 33 min now when before he played 15. Oh yeah he is third in the league this year in double doubles with 47 ;) so thats why harden doesn’t deserve it .

  16. ko0kiE says:

    what about chandler parsons?

  17. elt says:

    vucevic got this by miles

  18. Andre says:

    No James Harden??

  19. sameem says:

    why not norris cole he need more playing time so he could improve

  20. Seiku, why you let Shaq and them bag on you like that? You gotta get them back sometimes

  21. W/E says:

    OMG are u people kidding me, JAMES HARDEN IS THE MOST IMPROVED PLAYER BY MILES OMG!!!!the guy went from a sixth man to the main guy of his new team, fifth scorer in the league how is not James Harden the most improved player in the league?!?

  22. OKCKD35 says:

    What about serge Ibaka? He is now starting to dominate both sides of the ball, has established himself as a shooter all the way out to the 3 point line, and should also get the nod for DPOY!

  23. Willy says:

    Oh a what’s the name of kid who plays for the San Antonio team the Spurs, he is pretty good too and I think he improved alot this year? You forgot him? Under the radar Spurs why is that?

  24. Chris says:

    You provided a great argument for both overlooked players, but I’m sure it will be Harden’s title to lose. Although I really like George and Holiday also.

  25. steppx says:

    Agree. Sanders gets my vote. Asik close second, and maybe gets nod for most underrated. Faried is third, and then vasquez. Faried worked on all aspects of his game, and is now much more a complete power forward. Vasquez has been terrific though….but on a flawed team and its hard to clock his game because of that. Sanders though has been amazing. I recall a couple games where he had 10 blocks. Thats insane.