Most Improved Player: Gerald Green

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns forward Gerald Green has provided plenty of highlights this season

No question, the Kia Most Improved Player Award is the most difficult of the awards to choose, and consequently the most debatable. It can keep the picker tossing and turning for nights on end.

What exactly are the parameters here? And, frankly, whatever the parameters, there’s a sizable group of guys who certainly seem eligible.

Should Kevin Love, already an All-Star, be under consideration because he missed the majority of last season with a twice broken hand and has come back with the best statistical season of his career? Or is such improvement expected from an establishled All-Star?

What about New Orleans’ second-year forward-center Anthony Davis. What a season he’s had. Except, do we also expect such improvement from the No. 1 overall pick?

Should Suns second-year center Miles Plumlee get a serious look? He’s been a solid starter from Day 1 after sitting for 68 of 82 games as a rookie with Indiana. There’s simply no data for comparison. Or, is that the ultimate comparison?

Electrifying dunk artist, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, has past data to compare, and this season compares remarkably favorably. Then there’s Oklahoma City point guard Reggie Jackson, Indiana’s Lance Stephenson, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Pheonix’s Goran Dragic.

Speaking of Phoenix, it realistically has four candidates — Plumlee, Dragic, Markieff Morris and Gerald Green.

Wait, stop right there: Green.

Yes. The, lanky 6-foot-8 wing debuted in the league in 2005. Eight years later, he’s rocketed straight out of the blue. That’s improvement.

Green, 28, was the 18th overall pick of the Boston Celtics. After two seasons he was traded to Minnesota, then traded to Houston, waived by Houston, signed by Dallas and out of the league before he turned 24. Out of options in the NBA, he played in Russia for two years and another in China. He came home, played in the NBA D-League and finally got another shot in the NBA in the second half of the 2011-12 lockout season with the Nets.

He played well enough to sign a three-year contract with Eastern Conference power Indiana. He fell out of the rotation last year, and just prior to this season got traded, along with Plumlee and a first-round draft pick, to rebuilding Phoenix.

Poof. Green is legit.

Once a freakish athlete that lacked court awareness, Green still isn’t exactly a textbook on fundamentals, but he is more mature and more in control as he mixes gravity-defying dunks with dribble drives, high-rising mid-range fallaways and deep, deep daggers.

“Gerald Green, if he’s hot, he can score with the best of them in this league,” Mavericks sure-fire Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki said.

How’s this for scoring: Since the All-Star break, with every game mounting in importance as Phoenix still guns for a playoff spot entering Monday night’s crucial Game No. 81 against Memphis, Green is averaging 19.1 ppg on 45.4 percent shooting overall and 43.1 percent from beyond the arc in 29.6 mpg. His effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) — adjusted to account for 3-pointers being more valuable than 2-pointers) in that span is 54.8 percent.

Green’s season scoring average (15.9 ppg) is more than double what it was last year with the Pacers (7.0). He’s played in all 80 games, starting 47 times in injury situations. In Indiana’s slower, halfcourt-based offense, Green shot 36.6 percent overall and 31.4 percent from beyond the arc. Unleashed in first-year coach Jeff Hornacek‘s up-tempo attack, he’s blistering opponents from deep at 40-percent clip, while shooting 44.5 percent overall.

Hornacek has proven to be the perfect coach for Green, patient through mistakes and poor decisions, and always keeping the shooting light green.

“We wanted to go up and down [the floor], and try to make the team younger and more athletic and shoot a lot of 3s,” first-year Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said earlier this season. “And Gerald checked all of those boxes.”

Check.

Five contenders

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers – The sixth-year center has come of age, leading the league in field-goal percentage (67.5 percent) and rebounds (13.7 per game) — practically doubling his total rebounding from last season (7.2). He’s also averaging a career-best 10.4 ppg.

Goran Dragic, Suns – “The Dragon” has had a brilliant season after making room for fellow point guard Eric Bledsoe. Dragic easily could have been a Western Conference All-Star as he’s been the Suns’ MVP, 20.4 ppg and 5.9 apg while shooting 50.6 percent overall and 41.5 percent from deep.

Markieff Morris, Suns – Also a Sixth Man of the Year Award candidate, averaging career-highs by a wide margin with 13.7 ppg and 6.1 rpg. He’s transformed himself into a dangerous mid-range shooter, making 48.3 percent of his shots, up from 40.7 percent last season and 39.9 percent as a rookie.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers – Who had Stephenson pegged as the league-leader in triple-doubles or the Pacers leading rebounder at 7.2 rpg? He notched his fifth triple-double with Sunday’s 17-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist effort to knock of Oklahoma City to break a triple-double tie with All-Stars Stephen Curry and Joakim Noah.

Reggie Jackson, Thunder – He got his training on the fly during the 2013 postseason. Since then, he’s provided the Thunder with stability and scoring off the bench … and as a starter during Russell Westbrook‘s injuries this season. Jackson is averaging 13.2 ppg, 4.2 apg and 3.9 rpg in 28.5 mpg. He averaged 14.2 mpg last season.

27 Comments

  1. Surely Kyle Lowry deserves at least a mention, right? Honestly, if I had to pick a winner, I’d choose him.

    I also think Blake Griffin’s improvement from last season to this one is pretty glaring, although they tend not to give it to already established stars, no matter how big of a leap they take.

  2. quockeck19 says:

    no doubt

  3. Bullsfan says:

    What about augustin he is freaking amazing this year and he got no consideration

  4. okc2014 says:

    I want to say Reggie Jackson but Lance Stephenson really sticks out for me.

  5. oleg says:

    Gerald has tremendous potential and he finally started using it

  6. bodjee says:

    Gerard Green is the most exciting player in the NBA.

  7. Clinton says:

    Lance Stephenson went from crazy bad to crazy good in one season – by far the biggest leap of anybody in the league.
    He gets the award.
    (MJ used to stick his tongue out. I think we can overlook Stephenson’s little hop-skip too.)

  8. Mike says:

    The Phoenix Suns’ season proves how much of a joke the Eastern conference is. I think the NBA should seriously reconsider its Conference format when a losing team like Atlanta (37-44) can make the playoffs and the Suns (47-34) miss out. When a team is called a “playoff team” it’s generally implied that they are one of the best teams in the league. Sadly, the Hawks will be remembered as a playoff team, and the Suns will not. Is this fair?

  9. Majk says:

    Let’s be real – Dragic is MIP. Hands down. Look at his stats … and now go search for guards with averages: 20+ ppg, 50+ FG% and 40+ 3FG%.

    The only reason why people aren’t going >Linsanity< over him, is because he's not from China, but from Slovenia (a small, 2 Million market). It's all about $$$.
    Suns exceeded everyone's expectations because of Dragic. Bledsoe was away for a long time and he's anyway more marketing (Nike) than game.

  10. ck says:

    too bad kawai leonard broke his hand, woulda been my choice, he’s legit

  11. tonysly41 says:

    Dragic is MIP and Green is 6th man. I think that would be fair.

  12. kek says:

    I actually think Blake Griffin could be in this discussion. Blake is an completely different player this year, he has a good postgame now, shoots the midrange, his freethrow percentage are up by 7% and his ppg from last season are up by 6. thats a crazy improvement if u ask me.

  13. Marko says:

    I think Gerald Green can be M.I.P, but still if you look into his statistics, few year ago he had more or less the same stats and his career was like rollercoaster. Wouldn’t be surprised if next year won’t be so good, but still wish him look.

  14. Rej says:

    I think it should go to Green, I think he has been a dismal player most of his career and his improvement in Hornacek’s system is really glaring. Lowry and DeRozan have been good in my opinion ever since…

  15. oby20 says:

    gerald green should win the most imporved and 6th man! first in nba history win both awards! hands down gerald green!

  16. Peta says:

    No Lowry or Derozan mention? Makes perfect sense (rolls eyes), although I do definitely think Gerald Green should be in the mix but man its like the Refs and the rest of the NBA hates the Raptors.

  17. Green the best small forward for suns :D and for me :) congrats Gerald Green ^^
    GO GO GO suns for more improve players :)

  18. Tim C says:

    The Raptors played in the much weaker Eastern Conference, while the Suns play Golden State and Clippers in their division. Green is kind of the obvious choice.

  19. Game Time says:

    Lance Stephenson, the only thing he’s gotten better at is being a crazy.

    Winner should be one of the following guys: Green, DeRozan, Dragic, or Davis.

  20. J.Wynter says:

    Gerald Green deserves most improved this year, he’s been going off for his team and held it down with Dragic in the absence of Bledsoe. If Bledsoe didn’t get injured this year he definitely would’ve got it but Dragic and Green kept it going for the team.

  21. Jessie says:

    No Kyle Lowrie?? He has improved leaps and bounds and is the key reason for the Raptors sucess this season.

  22. eddyakuma says:

    The author Jeff Caplan has no idea what he’s talking about. You picked three suns players when you overlooked the best candidate for M.I.P. imo Torontos swingman DeMar DeRozan.

  23. Raza says:

    Demar Derozan, Kyle Lowry? Anyone? Not to mention the Raptors went from 34-48 last year to 47-33 this year.

  24. T says:

    DeMar DeoRozan should be MIP this year. All-star on a playoff and Division Title team.

  25. Bob M says:

    Lance Stephenson is a candidate. He is a great defender and, when he is hot, can score with the best of them. I’m a fan of Gerald Green. He never quits and has improved a lot since first coming into the league. Shaun Livingston has been a nice piece for Brooklyn. He played really well in Deron Williams absence and plays great defense and makes big shots. I don’t know how his improvement stats are, but he has been a big piece of Brooklyn’s second half run…. just ask LeBron

  26. jdub455 says:

    Green is definitely the most improved winner. Hands down.