Posts Tagged ‘Most Improved Player’

Award races head into stretch run

By Fran Blinebury,

Four weeks from today the regular season is over. All eyes will be on the playoffs. And that means the final push is on for the 2013-14 awards.

The duel for MVP honors has been a match race all season between Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Michael Carter-Williams jumped out of the pack early as the one to beat for Rookie of the Year. But the other races have been wide open.

Here’s one man’s view as we head into the home stretch:

Most Improved Player

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — This is why the Pelicans were so happy to make him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft. This is what coach Monty Williams says Davis probably could have shown last season if the coach hadn’t kept a tight rein on his prized rookie, limiting his minutes and his exposure to getting overpowered while he built up his slender body. When Davis erupted for 40 points, 21 rebounds, three assists and three steals against the Celtics, it was the culmination of a spectacular sophomore year. He’s been steady and breathtaking at both ends of the court all season, enough to beat out the likes of worthy candidates Goran Dragic and Lance Stephenson in a crowded field of contenders. Also getting votes: DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza.

VIDEO: Anthony Davis was nominated for Kia Player of the Month for March

Sixth Man of the Year

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – Following an injury-plagued 2012-13 season that saw him enter the playoffs last spring looking bedraggled, the player who puts the jolt into the Spurs attack is back playing like a live wire in his 12th season. His field-goal percentage is up and his he’s back to doing all the things at both ends of the floor that make him a disruptive force and a difference maker. Jamal Crawford is the closest contender and has done many of the same things for the Clippers. The deciding factor has to be overall team performance. L.A. is in the top half of the Western Conference standings, but that’s once again the Spurs at the top. The return of Manu to his old form is a prime reason. Also getting votes: Reggie Jackson, Markieff Morris.

VIDEO: Manu Ginobili talks about the Spurs’ season and his play

Rookie of the Year

Michael Carter-Williams, Sixers — He was the sixth guard selected (11th overall) in 2013 and wasted no time showing he never should have lasted that long. He’s put up big numbers even as the Sixers have suffered through what is a historically inept season. If all of general manager Sam Hinkie’s decisions turn out so well, the pain will be worth the price. The fun could just be starting when MCW gets to team up with a healthy Nerlens Noel next season. It’s a long way back to the No. 2 man in the voting for this category, but we’re jumping the more likely pick and going with Tim Hardaway Jr. His hard-charging style has been one of the few reasons to watch the Knicks all year. Also getting votes: Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke. Kia Rookie Ladder

VIDEO: At the All-Star break, Michael Carter-Williams talks about his season

Defensive Player of the Year

Joakim Noah, Bulls — The Pacers spent the early part of the year polishing their reputation as the league’s top defensive team, with center Roy Hibbert starting to clear room on his mantle as the pre-eminent rim protector in the game. But it is no coincidence that the Pacers’ struggles fit with a slippage in Hibbert’s game. The truth is, when you get him just a little bit away from the basket, he’s not so dominant. Meanwhile the Bulls have shrugged off the loss of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng because Noah simply won’t let them stop working and scrapping and competing. He’s the heart and soul of the team, especially that ferocious defense as Chicago charges late and the Pacers try to regain their equilibrium. Also getting votes: Serge Ibaka, Dwight Howard.

VIDEO: Rachel Nichols talks with Joakim Noah about his surge in play of late

Coach of the Year

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — The first instinct is to say that Jeff Hornacek has taken a Suns team that everyone assumed was diving for the lottery — and the Las Vegas wise guys had pegged for 21.5 wins — and turned them into an uplifting story and playoff contender, and that’s worthy of consideration. The next instinct is to say that Tom Thibodeau is like the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, virtually getting limbs chopped off and yet ignoring the wounds and keeping right on with the fight. But when you get right down to the meat of things, it’s all about winning games and some how, some way, Popovich keeps doing that better than anybody else. Never mind that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are practically senior citizens. Never mind that an assortment of injuries has forced the Spurs to use two dozen different lineups. Never mind all of those lingering mental scars from The Finals last June. Popovich expects the best and his team keeps producing it. Excellence should be recognized and rewarded. Also getting votes: Frank Vogel, Dwane Casey, Steve Clifford.

VIDEO: GameTime delves into how deeply Gregg Popovich’s influence is felt around the NBA

Most Valuable Player

Kevin Durant, Thunder — It’s been a two-horse race between Durant and LeBron James almost from the opening tip. You can almost never go wrong picking James, who still reigns as the league’s best player with his ability. It looked like James might be making a late charge for an MVP three-peat with his 61 point game a couple of weeks ago. But an ensuing slump by both LeBron and the Heat took the steam out of that charge. Durant responded and has raised his game even higher over the past 1 1/2 weeks. We also have to go back to Durant’s body of work without Russell Westbrook for 30 games — and counting — as he keeps the Thunder in the hunt for best overall record and heads toward what should be the first of multiple MVP wins. Also getting votes: Joakim Noah, Blake Griffin. Kia Race to the MVP Ladder

VIDEO: Chris Webber and Greg Anthony debate and discuss the MVP race

Bucks’ Sanders Prepped Refs For Big-Time Block

MILWAUKEEGordon Hayward didn’t have the heft of reputation necessary to get the foul call in the final seconds of regulation Monday night against Milwaukee. That’s what it looked like to some, anyway, when the Utah Jazz’s third-year swingman drove to the rim, went up, created some measure of contact with Bucks forward Larry Sanders and had the ball knocked away.

Others wrote it off as a classic “swallowing the whistle” moment, the three referees making a conscious decision — contrary to everything the league claims and preaches — not to determine the outcome. The ball wound up in Enes Kanter‘s hands left of the basket, and his short baseline shot off one foot hit the rim and fell out into a scramble at the horn. Milwaukee won the overtime 10-9 on eight points by J.J. Redick and the clinching jumper by Monta Ellis.

In a sense, though, the Bucks won the game when Sanders took advantage of a break in the action to set up that Hayward play with the refs.

Previously in the fourth quarter, Sanders had greeted Kanter in front of the rim but his feet were planted in the restricted area. When the chest-to-chest contact came, he was called for the foul.

So, Sanders said he sought out veteran ref Dick Bavetta and his mates to get them all on the same page for Utah’s final possession of the fourth quarter.

“I asked them to make sure that was the rule – I didn’t leave my feet on the big guy [Kanter] and it was a foul,” Sanders said. “So, the next time I made sure I left my feet and went straight up. Once you’re straight up, you’re OK. I felt like I was on the same page with the referees at that point. As long as I didn’t swipe down.”

Sanders wound up with 16 rebounds and six blocks, including one of Paul Millsap in the final minute of overtime. He has logged at least one block in 40 consecutive games, which means he has a ways to go to match  Elmore Smith‘s franchise mark of 61 straight back in 1975-76.

The NBA’s leader in blocks (3.23 per game), Sanders also will get heavy support for Most Improved Player — his 9.0 points and 9.0 rebounds nearly triple what he averaged last season.

“[Hayward] comes to the basket, Larry’s there. That’s what he’s done for us all year,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “In my NBA experience, I look at Larry and I see a little bit of Tyson Chandler. Because, when I was in Chicago, Tyson was very similar: able to make a big play at the end of a game, a big block, a big tip-in or something like that. Larry has a lot of the same qualities.”

Sanders Adds To Bucks’ ‘Fear’ Factor


MILWAUKEELarry Sanders has sent basketballs into the fifth row. He has had sequences in which he thwarted one, two – boom! – even three shots in rapid succession, essentially hanging a “Closed For Business” sign on the rim for that possession anyway.

But the blocked shots the Milwaukee Bucks’ one-man SWAT team likes best, the ones that bring adrenaline and satisfaction in equal doses, are when the ball winds up in his hands. Or better still, batted or shuttled quickly to Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis for two points before the snuffed shooter can even finish griping to a ref or picking himself up off the floor.

“I love it when it starts the break. That’s my favorite,” said the 6-foot-11 Saunders, in his third season out of Virginia Commonwealth. “When they go out of bounds, that’s all well and good. The fans get excited by those. But keeping them in play, those are my favorite ones.”

That, clearly, is straight out of the Bill Russell handbook, a defensive/rebounding/shot-blocking role model if only Sanders, 24, had been born 30 years earlier. As it was, he spent his Wonder years watching and eventually emulating not the Boston Celtics’ fabled No. 6 but the fellow who now wears that team’s No. 5, Kevin Garnett.

No one is equating Sanders, even in this breakout season of his, with the Hall of Fame specialness of either Russell or Garnett. But there have been nights these past two months when Sanders at least seemed to be auditioning for the tribute band.

There was his triple-double game at Minnesota Nov. 30 — off the bench — when he scored 10 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked 10 Timberwolves shots (tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 39-year-old franchise record for blocks in a game).

There was his 16 boards and five swats the next night against Boston and a seven-block effort against New Orleans on Dec. 3 that even topped Kareem (20) for most blocked shots in a three-game span.

And if you squinted a little bit on Dec. 21, Sanders’ lanky frame and facial hair — against the backdrop of the parquet court at Boston’s TD Bankgarden — made him look eerily like Russell when he had 17 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks in the Bucks’ overtime win against the Celtics. He made YouTube that night by finishing an alley-oop dunk over Garnett late in the fourth quarter.

Before that game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers compared Sanders to Oklahoma City’s shot-attacking Serge Ibaka. “We should probably stop shooting when he’s right there,” Rivers said. “I honestly told my son, Austin, when they played the Bucks, I said, ‘Hey Austin, be careful with Sanders, you get a step deep and he’ll get you.’ I think his first two shots were blocked, so I was thinking, ‘Nothing changes. No one listens.’ “

Many, however, are noticing. Sanders has emerged as a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award only a few months after slipping down — some might say nearly off — the Bucks’ depth chart. Frankly, they’re as surprised by his work this season as half the unsuspecting wing players whose shot attempts he has rejected.

Drafted at No. 15 in 2010, Sanders was raw, a project player who came to the game late as a skinny sophomore at Port St. Lucie (Fla.) High. He was all elbows, cockeyed jump shots and potential (4.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg in 14.5 mpg) as a Bucks rookie and, unprepared when the lockout ended, there was no step forward last season.

Even Sanders’ progress this season snuck up on Milwaukee. General manager John Hammond worked overtime to add size last spring, trading for veteran center Samuel Dalembert and picking UNC’s John Henson on draft night. Then he signed 7-foot-1 free agent Joel Przybilla, too, with the plan of bulking up around Ekpe Udoh and Drew Gooden, who shouldered most of the “big” burden once Andrew Bogut got hurt and then dealt. (more…)

Love shows Wolves the way up

If it’s true, as the saying goes, that you must help yourself before you can possibly help anyone else, then there are indeed better days ahead for the lowly Timberwolves.

Kevin Love just won the Kia Most Improved Player award for 2010-11, based on the work he put in during the previous offseason, providing an example that his teammates and the Minnesota front office might want to follow.

Not content with being a player of average means, Love turned himself into a force on the glass and also a threat beyond the 3-point line. The NBA hasn’t seen many hybrids like this before, a power forward with the mentality of a pit bull and the touch of a diamond cutter. The result was a historic coming-of-age for Love, who led the league in rebounds and set a new pace for double-doubles.

Love averaged 15.2 rebounds along with 20.2 points, increases from 11 and 14 a year ago. His record of 53 straight double-doubles (double-figures in points and rebounds in the same game) fell just two shy of Elvin Hayes’ “modern” record. The NBA hasn’t had a 20 and 15 guy since Moses Malone in 1982-83. His 31-point, 31-rebound game against the Knicks last November was arguably the finest individual performance of the year.


Awards Season: Most Improved Player

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – While it’s not the most prestigious honor handed out during the NBA’s award season, one of our favorites here at the hideout is the Most Improved Player award.

This is the one award that rewards guys for actually taking their game from one level to the next, a transition that takes place for various reasons (a change of scenery never hurts and a regime change can inspire a player, too).

NBA TV’s Game Time crew (Marc Fein, Brent Barry and Jerry Stackhouse) had a pretty good debate about it last night (above). Unlike the MVP chatter, this topic doesn’t dominate our conversations this time of year. But the list of worthy — or at least legitimate — candidates for the Most Improved honor is much longer than the list of names populating the MVP debate.

In fact, the leader in the MVP clubhouse, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, could easily be considered the front-runner for MIP. We’re not going to rely on anyone else’s research. (Although, if you haven’t seen John Schuhmann’s StatsCube piece on the Most Improved race, you should.) We’re taking the vote to the people (that would be you) to see what the popular opinion is on the Most Improved Player:


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.