The 2013-14 NBA regular season is in the books and the post season is now upon us. But before we get too far into these incredible playoff series, it’s time to look back and acknowledge some of the superb individual performances we saw this season.
You’ve probably heard a lot of people complaining about the NBA’s Most Improved Player award — on Twitter, on TV, on podcasts, on websites and in print, the common complaint focusing on what the award actually means.
And it’s true, there is no universally accepted definition for the award other than the rather broad description of the player who has improved the most during the regular season. What does that even mean? I have a broad understanding of what they are trying to convey, but there are so many angles to attack this from.
What I decided to do, is look at three different types of improvement and give you a player who I think would win the award if the criteria were based on that particular description.
Type One — The Youngster
This sort of understanding of the award is restricted to young players — players usually in their second or third season in the league who have taken a big step in their on-court production. The argument against this type of definition is that players are supposed to get better after getting some experience in the league. If you don’t get better after your rookie season, you won’t last too long in the league. But using the broad definition, this has to be taken into consideration. And there can only be one answer when thinking about the young player who has improved the most this season.
Anthony Davis — New Orleans Pelicans
2012-13 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks, 51.5 FG%, 75.1 FT%, PER 21.7, WS/48 0.159
2013-14 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.8 blocks, 51.9 FG%, 79.1 FT%, PER 26.5, WS/48 .212
All you have to do is look at those numbers, and you will see why Anthony Davis is in consideration for this award. Sure, he was the number one overall draft pick in 2012 and is expected to be a star player. But it’s still impressive nonetheless, to see a second-year player increase his output in every statistical category, including the advanced, rate and minute adjusted stats of PER and Win Shares per 48.
In fact, all you had to do was watch Davis play a game this season and you could see that we have a rare talent on our hands. There is no better young player in the league, and if a GM was asked which player they’d want as the cornerstone of their franchise for the next 12-15 years, a large majority would be picking Davis. The fact that he just turned 21 is as scary a statistic as any that I have presented above.
Davis led the NBA in blocks per game and block percentage, finished fourth in PER, seventh in Win Shares per 48 minutes and was named to his first All-Star game — in his home arena in New Orleans no less.
If Davis is named the Most Improved Player by the NBA, it’ll be hard to argue even though improvement is all but expected of a number one draft pick in his second season.
Watching Davis’ career is going to be one hell of a ride.
Type Two – All He Needed Was A Chance
There have been plenty of players who have won this award in the past, due in large part to the fact that they were given a chance to play. Whether it was due to an injury on their team, a player leaving their team via trade or free agency or they themselves moving teams into a bigger role, the increase in stats is always hard to ignore when it comes to this sort of award. A number of players fall into this category this season. Eric Bledsoe, Andre Drummond, D.J. Augustin, DeAndre Jordan and Derrick Favors all saw their minutes increase by at least seven minutes a game and saw an increase in production corresponding to that and you could make an argument for each of them to hoist the award. But the ultimate ‘all he needed was a chance’ guy for 2013-14 was. . .
Gerald Green — Phoenix Suns
2012-13 7.0 points, 1.0 three-pointers, 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, 36.6 FG%, 80.0 FT%, PER 9.9, WS/48 .056
2013-14 15.8 points, 2.5 three-pointers, 3.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 44.5 FG%, 84.8 FT%, PER 16.5 WS/48 .126
The whole of the Phoenix organisation was a surprise this season, and it was a shame that they couldn’t cap off their season with a playoff berth. It was a couple of trades performed in the offseason that really keyed the run the Suns went on this season. First of all, GM Ryan McDonough parlayed Jared Dudley and a second round draft choice into Bledsoe and Caron Butler. It’s safe to say that that was a win for the Suns. Next, McDonough shipped Luis Scola to the Pacers in exchange for Green, Miles Plumlee (another MIP candidate) and a first-round draft pick.
So, to boil it all down, the Suns received three Most Improved Player candidates in Bledsoe, Green and Plumlee along with a first-round draft choice in exchange for Dudley, Scola and a second-rounder. Grand larceny.
But what about Green? All he did was set career highs in points, three-pointers made, three-point percentage, assists, steals, blocks, free throw percentage, PER and Win Shares per 48 minutes and actually looked like a guy who can survive in the NBA beyond just throwing down crazy dunks. Green actually hit the fourth most triples in the entire NBA this season (204), which is crazy considering he had only hit 232 in his entire career prior to this season.
Now on his seventh NBA team (and I’m not even including D-League and European stints), Green looks to finally found his place in the league. He excelled when he had to replace Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in the starting lineup, but also proved to be an effective sixth-man for the surging Suns.
Even though he was given a great chance to succeed in the desert, it’s important to note that he performed brilliantly in those additional minutes. That’s why it’s so pleasing to see such an increase in PER and Win Shares, because they are per minute stats and show that not only did his minutes increase, but his play in the minutes improved as well.
It’ll be no surprise to see Green hoisting the Most Improved Player trophy when it’s announced in the coming days.
Type Three — A Star Becomes A Superstar
Let’s call this the Paul George/Kevin Love category. It’s generally reserved for when a recognised NBA star takes his game to the next level and elevates himself in to the superstar category. There are a number of players who fit into this category. I’ve already mentioned Dragic. There’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in Toronto, Blake Griffin elevating himself to a MVP-calibre player and Mike Conley becoming the Grizzlies best player. But, the player that I’m selecting, perhaps somewhat controversially, is . . .
DeMarcus Cousins — Sacramento Kings
2012-13 17.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 46.5 FG%, 73.8 FT%, PER 20.2, WS/48 0.092
2013-14 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 49.6 FG%, 72.6 FT%, PER 26.1, WS/48 0.166
There’s probably no hope of Boogie winning this award, but in my mind, he should be a leading candidate. The fact that he seems to be in the league’s bad books with all his techs, fines, suspensions over his career probably casts him in a bad light among the writers responsible for this award. If we look at the strides Cousins has made this season however, his candidacy is without a doubt, legitimate.
There was no doubting Cousins’ talent coming out of Kentucky as the fifth overall pick in 2010 — it was his maturity that scared teams off. And that fear was looking very, very real in his first three seasons. But Cousins looked like he’d grown up in 2013-14, a few brain melts excepted, and that could be a scary proposition for the NBA as a whole.
Cousins set career highs in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, points, PER and Win Shares per 48 minutes. He also led the NBA is defensive rebound percentage, grabbing an astonishing 30.5 percent of available rebounds on the defensive end when he was on the court. He finished the season fifth in PER as well, fifth in rebounds per game, ninth in points ad has reduced his total fouls down from 332 in his rookie year down to 270 this season.
But just watching Cousins also gives you the feeling that this guy is going to be a monster for a while. He’s no longer a defensive liability, he’s hitting his shots, he’s not taking ill-advised three-pointers and he’s a legitimate presence in the paint on both ends of the court.
Looking back at some of things written about Cousins before the 2010 draft and you can see that his talent was always there.
Simply put, is he the type of player who can help a team win games, or will his attitude on and off the court end up being a detriment to his career? These are the things that will be keeping NBA GMs up at night through the months of May and June, and will surely require an incredibly thorough examination into every detail of his personality and background. Still, it’s nearly impossible to find players who are as talented as him, which is why he’s unlikely to last very long in the Green Room when it’s all said and done.
It won’t be long until we start seeing Cousins’ name in the All-Star game and the battles between Cousins and Davis, two Kentucky alums, out West, could rival past battles of big men along the lines of Robinson and Olajuwon.
Let me know who you think will win the Most Improved Player in the comments below or on Twitter, @redrock_bball.