By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Mar 24 2011 12:16PM
In this NBA.com StatsCube study, StatsCube takes a look at candidates for the Most Improved Player award.
Voting for the Most Improved Player award is usually wide open. There are always a lot of players who have better seasons than their previous year, and it's up to the voters to determine which one improved to the greatest degree. Last year, 30 different players, including 14-year veteran Ben Wallace, received first-, second- or third-place votes for the award, evidence that among the voters, there are a lot of different criteria.
|Most improved points per game|
There are different steps that players take from year to year. Second-year players evolve from non-rotation rookies to contributors. Contributors turn into starters. Starters turn into stars. Stars turn into All-Stars. And All-Stars turn into MVP candidates.
Which step is the biggest or most important? Well, somehow Kevin Durant went from non-All-Star to MVP candidate last year, and that earned him only 17 of a possible 123 first-place votes. As it turned out, Aaron Brooks' numbers jump was more convincing, even though Durant's improvement was the main reason for the Thunder winning 27 games more than they had the season before.
Brooks' scoring average increased by 8.4 points per game last season. This year, when it comes to putting points on the board, no one has been more improved than the Warriors' Dorell Wright.
Of course, there's more to the game than scoring. And when we look at the efficiency stat, which adds up all positive numbers and subtracts the negative, only four of the players above remain in the top 10.
|Most improved efficiency per game|
|-Minumum 50 games played this season
-Efficiency = Pts. + reb. + ast. + stl. + blk. TO (FGA-FGA) (FTA-FTM)
Love obviously has had a huge season statistically, but there is a pace factor to his numbers. The Timberwolves lead the league in pace, averaging 99.5 possessions per 48 minutes. Last year, they ranked third (98.5), so his "improvement" is only slightly aided by pace.
Still, when you adjust for pace, Love moves down a spot in the improvement rankings. The top 10 is the same group of players, but we see that the raw improvement of Love, Wright, Young and McGee has been given a boost by the pace at which their teams play.
|Most improved efficiency per game, pace adjusted|
|-Minumum 50 games and 1,000 minutes played this season|
Now, Augustin's improvement is a lot about opportunity. With Raymond Felton leaving Charlotte via free agency, Augustin is averaging almost twice as many minutes this season (33.4) as he did last season (18.4). But he's still become a better player. If we look at efficiency improvement on a per-minute basis, Augustin is still in the top 10, with Chandler and Humphries also remaining on the list.
|Most improved efficiency per 40 minutes, pace adjusted|
|-Minumum 50 games and 1,000 minutes played this season|
This list better represents the players who have improved their games, and whose jump in numbers isn't just about increased minutes. Kevin Love ranks 12th by this criteria at +4.1, while MVP candidate Derrick Rose ranks 11th at +4.4.
Individual stats are nice and all. But they don't mean much unless they're helping win games. Augustin, Love, Humphries and Wright all play for teams at least 12 games under .500. Coming off the bench, Augustin was a plus-10 for the Bobcats last season (+0.2 per 100 possessions), and he's a minus-230 this year (-5.1 per 100 possessions).
It would be tough to give an award to Augustin when the scoreboard has been going in the wrong direction when he's in the game. The Bobcats have been a better team with Augustin on the bench than with him on the floor. And if you consider team success when determining All-Stars and MVP candidates, surely it has to play a role in Most Improved Player voting.
The easiest way to determine team success is to look at the standings. But when evaluating individual players, how well their team performs when they're on the floor must be considered. And when we look at improvement in on-court team stats, we get a much different list.
|Most improved team efficiency differential (with player on floor)|
|-Minumum 1,000 minutes played this season and 500 last season
-Efficiency differential =
Own teams points per 100 possessions - Opponents points per 100 possessions
Humphries ranks 67th by this criteria at +3.1, while Love ranks 86th at +1.9. While they both play for bad teams, their improvement has helped their squads get a little bit better.
It takes more than individual improvement to make it to the top of this list though. Good teammates help. Ranking second in the league in usage rate, Rose obviously has more of an impact in his team's success than the other nine, but Chandler has also clearly made a difference in Dallas.
And Chandler is the only guy on each of the last three lists. His per-game numbers have improved dramatically, his per-minute numbers have made a jump, and he's contributing more to his team's success than he did last season.
Chandler's 2009-10 season in Charlotte was a drop-off from his best seasons with the Hornets. His efficiency per 40 minutes is a career best this season, but his efficiency per game was better in 2006-07 and 2007-08. So again, it's up to the voters to determine if his increased numbers are truly about "improvement" or if he's just returning to form after two injury-riddled seasons. It's probably a little of both.
If you're looking at raw stats to determine the league's Most Improved Player, it's hard to look past Kevin Love. But if you look deeper into the numbers, you have to consider guys like Chandler, Holiday and even Rose, who in making the leap from All-Star to MVP candidate, has taken his team with him.
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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