NBA: Most Improved Player Rankings
The NBA Most Improved Player award is an interesting topic because a slew of players have made improvements and some who have made drastic improvements.
Sometimes, it gets hard to separate one from another. But the ones who have made drastic improvements generally take home the hardware.
Who are the drastic improvers?
Let’s take a look:
James Harden has become a superstar with the Houston Rockets (Photo Credit: Angel Blue, Flickr.com)
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Talk about obvious.
While James Harden is undoubtedly the obvious pick to win the Most Improved Player award, it would be unfair to give it to someone else just because people like to be unique.
The Oklahoma City Thunder traded him due to financial purposes this past offseason and they were unsurprisingly scrutinized for the decision. Without context, they’re fools, yes. But we also have to consider the circumstances, as Harden would never have evolved into one of the NBA’s elite scorers if he sat behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on OKC’s depth chart.
With the Rockets, however, he’s assumed the scorer’s role. He’s averaging 26.4 points per game, which is fifth in the NBA, and nearly a 10-point increase on his 2012 total.
Harden could be in line for things bigger and better than the Most Improved Player award, too.
MVP is out of the question with LeBron James being, well, LeBron James. But, Harden could take aim at a spot on the All-NBA First Team, which is an underrated achievement, but is more telling than several of these other awards.
Harden has taken the Rockets past preseason expectations and has done much, much more along the way. This should be enough for him to claim the Most Improved Player award. If it’s not, well, the system needs to be fixed.
Larry Sanders has been a defensive stalwart for the Milwaukee Bucks. Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr.com
2. Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks
Larry Sanders has made major strides in 2013, emerging from a non-factor to a Defensive Player of the Year candidate to Most Improved Player candidate. Simply, he’s in the running for a couple awards that are worth more than a passing whim.
But first, let’s take a jaunt around Sanders’ 2012 campaign.
He averaged 3.6 points and 3.1 rebounds, with the one bright spot being his 1.5 blocks per game. Of course, his low minute totals misrepresented his overall value, but the Bucks’ coaching staff had their reasons for not completely unleashing him.
Here we are in 2013, and Sanders has embraced a larger role with the Bucks. In just a tick over 26 minutes a game, he’s averaging 8.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks. Obviously, his numbers still aren’t eye-popping and probably never will get to that point. But a near six-point improvement isn’t something to scoff at.
Defensively, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that Sanders has improved dramatically. He’s been a defensive stopper since breaking into the league and that hasn’t changed this season.
A little bit more refinement on his offensive game, and Sanders could represent the next wave of elite power forwards.
3. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
Nikola Vucevic is one of those names you rarely hear about because he’s on a bad team and he just isn’t one of those big-name players. But he certainly deserves some credit, because the numbers don’t lie; he’s having a really good season. So good, that even Dwight Howard’s presence seems like a distant memory–well, not quite.
Vucevic is averaging 12.3 points and 11.3 rebounds, both of which are easily career highs. Some pundits would tag these numbers as skeptical because they come on a mediocre team. This is true, to a certain extent, though.
What the Magic are simply looking for in Vucevic is progress regardless of what the circumstances are.
Orlando’s front office knew that Howard’s departure signaled the beginning of a roster shakeup, but Vucevic is a piece they will continue to build around. And no, centers of Vucevic’s kind aren’t going extinct because he is a capable mid-range shooter, which is slowly evolving as the “new thing.”
Take a look at his shot chart:
Clearly, Vucevic’s game expands beyond the painted area, where most centers are limited to.
It looks like the Magic have found their center of the future. Now, all they need to do is put some pieces around him and they might have something cooking.
Omer Asik has been a bargain pick-up for the Houston Rockets. Photo Credit: thepanamerican, Flickr.com
4. Omer Asik, Houston Rockets
Two Most Improved Player candidates on one team? How about that? There’s a connection, too.
The Rockets weren’t expected to be a playoff team. At best, they would challenge for one of the lower seeds, but ultimately occupy ninth or 10th place in the Western Conference when it was all said and done.
Here we sit in March and Houston is holding onto the seventh seed. Players like Harden and Omer Asik have fueled this surprising success, which is where the aforementioned connection comes into play.
The former Chicago Bull is averaging 10.3 points and 11.8 rebounds to go along with 28 double-doubles, which is the seventh most in the league. To put those numbers into perspective, last year he averaged 3.1 points and 5.3 rebounds. Part of these improved numbers is due to a spike in his minute totals, as he’s playing nearly 16 more minutes per game this year. Still, his progression shouldn’t go unnoticed.
With his defense already among the elite, Asik can only go up from here.
Jake Dal Porto is a high school student from the Bay Area. He has been following the NBA for years, and enjoys writing about the sport as well. Jake is the assistant editor at Golden Gate Sports, and writes for Busta Sports and MLB Reports as well.
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