Numbers reveal four strong MIP candidates

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Kia Most Improved Player award is thought of as the most nebulous of the six major end-of-season awards and typically gets the widest range of votes. Last season, though Paul George finished with a vote total of more than twice that of any other player, 15 different players received at least one first-place vote and another 18 received at least one vote for second or third place.

But the award also lends itself to simple statistical analysis. It should be fairly simple to determine whose numbers have improved most from season to season.

If you want to get real simple, we can just compare the raw numbers, using the efficiency statistic.

Biggest increase, total efficiency

Player Season 2012-13 2013-14 Diff.
Kevin Love 6 372 2,060 1,688
Terrence Jones 2 147 1,048 901
Miles Plumlee 2 20 894 874
Andre Drummond 2 826 1,561 735
Andrew Bogut 9 418 1,103 685
Khris Middleton 2 167 836 669
Timofey Mozgov 4 174 837 663
Gerald Green 7 319 923 604
John Wall 4 949 1,511 562
James Anderson 4 180 740 560
DeAndre Jordan 6 1,079 1,638 559
Anthony Davis 2 1,167 1,705 538
Jordan Hill 5 275 810 535
Jeremy Lamb 2 48 579 531
Dirk Nowitzki 16 1,005 1,531 526
Jared Sullinger 2 454 975 521
Tony Wroten 2 84 601 517
Trevor Ariza 10 637 1,151 514
Reggie Jackson 3 465 955 490
Richard Jefferson 13 200 678 478

Efficiency = PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK – TO – Missed FGA – Missed FTA

At this point, the big question has to be asked: Should second-year players be considered for the Most Improved Player award? If not, we can eliminate several guys on the list above, though both Terrence Jones and Miles Plumlee — two starters on Western Conference playoff teams — feel like strong candidates. Only two of the top 10 in last year’s voting — Nikola Vucevic (4th) and Chandler Parsons (10th) — were second-year players.

There are also a handful of veterans on the list who missed large chunks of last season with injuries, though Kevin Love and Trevor Ariza are having the best seasons of their careers.

Timofey Mozgov and Gerald Green are interesting candidates, but were both out of their team’s rotations last season, so their improved raw numbers may also be about opportunity.

But Mozgov’s name comes up when we look at PIE improvement. PIE takes a player’s numbers (with weights added to each) as a percentage of the overall numbers that were accumulated while he was on the floor. So it adjusts for pace and there’s a team-success element to it, because if your opponent doesn’t score as many points or grab as many rebounds your individual number will be higher.

Biggest increase, PIE

2012-13 2013-14
Player Season MIN PIE MIN PIE Diff.
James Johnson 5 879 5.3% 836 11.5% 6.2%
DeMarcus Cousins 4 2,289 13.2% 1,978 18.3% 5.1%
Kevin Love 6 618 14.4% 2,438 19.4% 5.0%
Markieff Morris 3 1,837 7.5% 1,864 12.3% 4.8%
Lance Stephenson 4 2,278 8.8% 2,487 13.0% 4.2%
Kris Humphries 10 1,191 9.2% 1,272 13.3% 4.1%
Bismack Biyombo 3 2,186 6.3% 957 10.1% 3.8%
Kendall Marshall 2 702 5.8% 1,270 9.6% 3.8%
Draymond Green 2 1,061 5.1% 1,481 8.9% 3.8%
Timofey Mozgov 4 366 6.9% 1,479 10.5% 3.6%
Xavier Henry 4 625 3.9% 895 7.5% 3.6%
Patty Mills 5 656 8.2% 1,306 11.7% 3.4%
Marco Belinelli 7 1,882 7.0% 1,749 10.3% 3.3%
Avery Bradley 4 1,435 4.9% 1,602 8.1% 3.3%
Andrew Bogut 9 786 9.2% 1,661 12.5% 3.3%
Isaiah Thomas 3 2,121 10.6% 2,450 13.8% 3.2%
Anthony Davis 2 1,846 13.5% 2,248 16.6% 3.0%
Marcus Morris 3 1,524 6.7% 1,601 9.7% 3.0%
Brandon Knight 3 2,366 8.2% 2,051 11.2% 3.0%
Alec Burks 3 1,137 7.4% 1,909 10.4% 3.0%

Minimum 300 minutes in 2012-13 and 800 minutes in 2013-14

Love, Mozgov and Andrew Bogut are the only players on both lists. But Bogut had better seasons in Milwaukee and Love’s increase is just 1.0 percent over his third season in the league. Mozgov has taken a decent jump, but still isn’t a real impact player in the league.

Based on the above lists and deeper dives into the numbers, there are four non-second-year candidates that stand out.

Marco Belinelli, Spurs

Choosing between the Spurs’ two back-up guards is tough, because Patty Mills‘ play has been eye-opening. But Belinelli has had a bigger role on the league’s best team.

Belinelli’s points per game have increased from 9.6 season last season (with Chicago) only to 11.4 this year. And he averaged more than that (11.8) two seasons ago with New Orleans. But he’s having, by far, the best shooting and rebounding seasons of his career.

Among 168 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from the restricted area each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (51.9 percent last season, 70.2 percent this season) ranks second in improvement, behind only Love.

Among 139 players who have attempted at least 100 mid-range shots each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.9 percent, 44.0 percent) ranks sixth in improvement.

And among 126 players who have attempted at least 100 3-pointers each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.7 percent, 43.7 percent) ranks fifth in improvement.

No other player is in the top 25 of all three lists, and only one (Markieff Morris) is in the top 10 of more than one. It certainly helps (quite a bit, one could argue) that Belinelli has gone from a bottom-10 offensive team last season to a top-10 offensive team this year. But he also ranks 10th in improved rebounding percentage among players who have played at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings

Boogie has seen a jump in both usage (USG%) and scoring efficiency (TS%). Though he’s still not a great shooter (his 49.3 effective field-goal percentage is below the league average), he has gone to the line a lot more than he ever has. He has also rebounded at a career-high rate.

Defensively, he’s not exactly Roy Hibbert or Kevin Garnett, and transition defense is a major problem. But the Kings have been almost six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Cousins on the floor. He’s a plus-62 for a team that’s 25-46.

Cousins’ teammate Isaiah Thomas seems like another good candidate and is 16th on the most-improved PIE list above. But his scoring effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage have barely budged (his 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage have gone down), and his numbers jump is mostly about an increased usage rate and a small jump in assist rate.

Markieff Morris, Suns

If you could vote for the Morris twins as one entity, that would be the clear favorite. You can’t, but Markieff (No. 11 in your programs) should be on the short list.

He’s been a much more efficient player this season, even though his usage rate has jumped quite a bit. And the Suns, who are an improved defensive team, have been better on that end of the floor with Markieff in the game.

As referenced above, he’s the ninth most improved mid-range shooter in the league and also ninth most improved in the restricted area. He’s played about the same number of minutes as he did last season and he’s gone to the line more than twice as many times.

With both Morris twins, Plumlee, Gerald Green and Goran Dragic all worthy of some consideration for Most Improved, it’s obvious that Jeff Hornacek should be in the running for Coach of the Year.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers

Like Cousins and Morris, Stephenson has seen a big jump in both usage rate and efficiency. But he’s also the most improved rebounder among 203 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons, with his rebounding percentage jumping from 7.5 percent to 11.4 percent (best among guards).

Stephenson still has some improving to do. He’s a below-average shooter from outside the paint and his turnover rate has jumped as he’s been asked to handle the ball more. But overall, he’s taken a step forward this season.


  1. Goran Dragic has been the most dramatic improvement in my opinion. He went from being a role player at best to being a bonafide superstar. The entire Phoenix Suns team has been pretty incredible this year- Dragic going from a role player to a superstar overnight, Miles Plumlee going from a bench warmer to a major contributor, (He only scored 20 points all of last season!) the Morris Brothers, Gerald Green, etc. Too bad the entire team can’t win the award. And all of this is coming from somebody who generally does not like the Suns franchise.

    Kevin Love missed almost all of last year, but he’s a known star- he should not even be considered.

    If I had a vote, I’d be hard pressed to choose between Dragic and Miles Plumlee, I would probably go with Dragic, however, as he has, in my opinion, “stepped it up” more than anyone else.

  2. Alfonso says:

    Marco Belinelli

  3. Sugashayn says:

    I agree with what you guys are saying, but someone has to be DeAndre Jordan into the conversation. He may not be a prolific scorer, or even an All-Star, but he is one of the top 5 leaders in the league this season in blocks, rebounds, and field goal percentage. Plus he has taken responsibility as a true defensive anchor by also improving his horrendous free throw shooting so Doc can keep him in the game during tight 4th quarter situations.

  4. JazzBeast says:

    Im not going to argue that Alec Burks should be ranked any higher on the list. Just happy the guy gets mentioned due to the leash coaches have on him. He gets no love, even got the leash 1 game after going off for 30 against Lebron and Dwade in Miami.
    Nobody here probably knows anything about Gobert who has also been chained to the bench in a “development” season, but watch out for him being high on this list next season if we get a real coach .

  5. okc2014 says:

    Stats don’t lie (Kevin Love), but for me a game changer, a person who makes a difference for his team, is Anthony Davis. Plus Davis has a much better attitude. More leadership qualities if you ask me.

  6. steagl3 says:

    It’s not just about these complex statistics and percentages – it’s also about what impact that player is having on their team, in their division, in the NBA in general. To me, Kyle Lowry, Gerald Green and Goran Dragic have done more than any other players this year in establishing themselves as household names – and that’s really the intangible that in the end matters most for a player’s career, not their PIE percentage! Ask any casual NBA fan who these guys were last year and you MIGHT get a “oh yeah he’s on such and such team.” Not, “oh yeah, he’s an elite player.” Lowry, Green and Dragic are now considered top tier players because of the impact they’ve had on their teams and in the public consciousness. Blake Griffin and Kevin Love are consistent All Stars who have always performed at a high level – just because their stats are better than last year does not mean that their game really changed all that much – they just got a bit better at certain things. But Lowry, Green and Dragic really have changed their game in so many different ways and I hope one of them comes away with the prize. I think Gerald Green most of all deserves the recognition for his difficult journey through the NBA and his commitment to not giving up and expanding his game.

  7. Cookie says:

    I agree numbers don’t lie, but in cases like AD and Cousens, you expect them to improve exponentially early in their careers. I have mixed views on some of the candidates, but shocked by the omission of the likes of Lowry, Dragic and Griffin.. They are established players who have raised their games hugely this year, and the effect has shown through their teams’ performances. If there was an MVIP, one of these guys would walk it!

  8. T-ROSS?? says:

    Went from a role player to a starter

  9. 17,6 says:

    This should be Dragic’s award for the taking… Sad…

  10. KaashMoneyy94 says:

    I’m a Sacramento Kings fan and Cousins numbers have gotten way better but I don’t think he should even be in the discussion for MIP. I feel like the MIP award should go to a guy who wasn’t really expected to put up the numbers and then all of a sudden, they come out of nowhere and produce star-like stats. So in the same thought, there is no way Anthony Davis should win MIP. We expected this out AD. He’s won a Gold medal, he’s been an All-Star, and he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. This didn’t come out of nowhere. AD’s season is just a progression that we expected to come from him because of highly lauded projection as maybe the next KG. Stars following their career arcs the way their suppose to shouldn’t get MIP. In fact no second player should ever get MIP because they’re still growing. It should go to someone that isn’t expected to grow their skills anymore that somehow managed to still grow. I know people are gonna say, we why don’t you just call it the “surprise award” but that’s what I believe should be the criteria for MIP. I would honestly give it Kyle Lowry but even he isn’t a surprise because honestly I knew he could play like this. Same with Dragic. They are improved but they are just doing what I knew they could do in the right system so I don’t know. Arron Afflalo should get high consideration

  11. Kyle Derozen says:

    where is Lowry!!???

  12. Jacques Durceille says:

    Why shouldn’t second year players be included for this award? It is asinine to eliminate them. Once you have 1 season under you belt it is all fair game. That is one of the most dumb and illogical things I have heard. The award loses credibility with bad requirements like not counting second year players. I mean that is just dumb.

    My vote goes to Gerald Green. He has doubled his ppg while not even getting a double the amount of time he stays on the court. That is most improved to me. Next!

  13. AXel359 says:

    If Kevin Love wins MIP I dont know what to do next. He was already a star player before last season, and if anyone of you remember he didnt play much because of an injury. And Anthony Davis was a rookie last year. In my opinion players who are playing their 2nd season shouldnt win MIP

  14. Wikia says:

    great work! All of them are good nominees seriously.

  15. Rok Gajst says:

    who received tonight 5 stiches and scored 32 point (+4 ast., 2 rbd., 2 ste., 64% shoting, 5/9 from 3 point)….
    Please NBA start to recognize also the players, who are not from USA….
    I think Goran should be on that list, if he wasn’t already on ALL STAR game…..
    with the help from whole team, Suns are on 7 spot in stron West conferecne,…..

  16. fooddood says:

    What about Aaron Afflalo?

  17. johnny says:

    Where is Goran Dragic, he brought the suns into playoff contention when everybody thought they would be a bust this year, his numbers skyrocketed and just saying but those years working with Nash,thats payed off…

  18. Remcovld says:

    What about Blake Griffin? He changed his game a lot. I think their are way too much players that could win this award. It would be better if they made a most improved team. With for example: Dragic, Stephenson, Green, Griffin, Love/Cousins.

  19. matickutnjak says:

    Goran Dragić is absolutely MIP. Its a shame that NBA is not recognizing that. Probably coz hes from Slovenia.

  20. rebornkoala says:

    Sorry, i’d also add Lowry to the group that should win it.

  21. rebornkoala says:

    How Anthony Davis isn’t in the top three contenders i don’t know. He’s built on the glimpses of potential we saw last year and become a legitimate top ten player. Not just his overall numbers but the development of his offensive game, he now has a burgeoning little arsenal at his disposal. No one has improved their long two % as much as he has, over a 20% increase. I realise you’ve based this on a certain range of statistics, but why not other things, leadership, individual defense, becoming the number one option, improved temperament (Boogie) etc. Also why exclude second year players? Just because we often see a jump from rookie year, why should that remove them from the conversation? Overall I’d have no argument if the winner came from any of the following.


    • Dieter says:

      I agree with you, Anthony Davis didn’t win the rookie of the year last year, because for sure Lillard deserved it, but Davis is now probably one of the best bigs in the game, he should be in the conversation

  22. NBAfan says:

    How is Gerald Green and Dragic not on this list? If you compared there averages from last year to this year, there is a huge jump.

  23. Tom says:

    Bellinelli’s improvement is largely because he’s getting better shots on a better system. I wouldn’t say Dragic’s improved that much, he was this good last year, just with less help and a bad coach. I’d lean towards Derozan/Blake/Deandre as older players who’ve stayed on the same team and substantially expanded/improved their play.

  24. Matus says:

    Dragic should have been an all-star and he deserves to be MIP as well.

  25. Carlo says:

    @ lbfnj: Did you understand what we’re talking about in this blog?

    @ levin23: Yes, numbers can lie. Or, better, they don’t lie but you’ve to read them. What sense has comparing PPG or RPG for players with different MPG (or same player with different MPG in different seasons?)
    Basing the MIP vote over numbers is absurd, almost as much as basing DefPOY on blocks or steals.
    If you stick to numbers you could say players like T.Allen, N.Collison or S.Battier contribute nothing to their teams. A great defensive-only player will never win the MIP while an offensive-only one could win it.
    Players in high share-the-ball teams like Spurs or Bulls will never show high PPG like players in I-shoot-everything teams, typically those with so-called “big three” (or “two”, or “one”). If LBJ or KDurant played in SAS the way Pop requires, they’d never rake up so many PPG, simply ’cause they won’t keep the ball so much. They obviously would be great players but with lower PPG figures.

  26. Bil says:

    The reason Dragic isn’t on this list is because he was already having these types of stats last year. He hasn’t improved that much but he has made his team improve.

  27. JayJay says:

    Goran Dragic is the guy who made a whole team look much better – within one year from one of the worst to one of the most spectacular teams in the league! Of course with a little help from Bledsoe, Tucker, Frye, Green and the Morris Twins and Rookie-Coach Hornacek.

  28. wooderson says:

    it amazes me that goran dragic, demar derozan and kyle lowry aren’t on these lists. for me they are 3 of the most obvious choices but again it comes down to what the criteria is, is it someone who was next to nothing in the league that has suddenly become a good player or is it someone who has simply improved the most, or is it someone who has been in the league a while playing at the same level then makes a jump, or can it be a second year player? tough award to choose. id go for kyle lowry though, has gone from getting a long term starting gig and turned that into a legit MVP candidacy.

  29. bgf says:

    Just my two cents: watching the Suns this year reveals two things: #1 Hornacek is without a doubt the coach of the year… rookie coach, underestimated squad…. and they are 41-29. #2 Dragic should be on this list.

  30. TheKush says:

    Looks like Kevin Love to me! In my opinion Anthony Davis would be second, Third would be Paul George

  31. rick says:

    I don’t know the numbers, but Joakim Noah has grown from ‘good’ to ‘great.’

  32. lbfnj says:

    What these players don’t have is a championship. They need to join the “King” Lebron in South Beach if any of them want a chance to win a championship

  33. levin23 says:

    Wow. I guess numbers don’t lie, but I thought Bledsoe, Dragic, or Green would have been way more in the mix over Morris. Even though apparently, you can’t see it in the numbers, I thought that Lowry, Derozan, and Afflalo have improved a lot. Like Terrence Jones, I see Ibaka also expanding his skill set outside the traditional big man role.

  34. dustydreamnz says:

    All good nominees, I find this a tough category.

  35. Kaarosu says:

    How is Goran Dragic not on this list?

  36. Maorinash says:

    SUNS should get some love: MIP – Dragic, Morris, Green.