Saturday, April 4, 2015

NBA Most Improved Player

Greek Freak(y) good!
The Most Improved Player award annually has multiple strong candidates. This year is no exception. Giannis Antetokounmpo has nearly doubled his scoring average from last season. Rudy Gobert helped make the Utah Jazz defense do a 180-degree spin from being terrible to being very good. Jeff Teague and teammate Kyle Korver went from being good players to being All-Stars. Their younger teammate Dennis Schroder barely played last season but this year Schroder has been a dependable backup point guard on the best team in the East. Brandon Knight stepped up his game. Khris Middleton quietly did too. Klay Thompson improved his efficiency by going to the basket more often. Jimmy Butler went from being a solid player averaging 13 points per game to a guy that gets 20 a night for the Chicago Bulls. Evan Turner was virtually left for dead in Indiana at the end of last season, and now he is relevant again after a solid year in Boston. Victor Oladipo made strides in Orlando this season as compared to last. Certainly Draymond Green should be in the mix as well. Donatas Motiejunas parlayed a successful Summer League into a really nice year for the Houston Rockets. Hassan Whiteside was not even in the NBA last season. In 2015, Whiteside has emerged as a legitimate BIG in the league. 

If you are scoring at home we just named 14 players that we think a case could be made for. But let's define "most improved". Is it actually for the player that improved the most? Or is it for the guy who was already pretty good but just was not getting the minutes? As you may have guessed, I like to see who actually improved their game. We can do that by looking at the efficiency per minute from one season to the next, and also by the defensive rating from one season to the next. 

Efficiency improvement from 2013-14 to 2014-15 

Whiteside DNP to .814 = +.814
Schroder .253 to .485 = +.232
Butler .366 to .555 = +.189
Gobert: .488 to .673 = +.185
Thompson .403 to .572 = +.169
Antetokounmpo .371 to .512 = +.141
Green .469 to .582 = +.113
Middleton .387 to .464 = +.077
Teague .500 to .573 = +.073
Motiejunas .409 to .471 = +.062
Turner .427 to .476 = +.049
Knight .459 to .498 = +.039
Oladipo .425 to .464 = +.039
Korver .417 to .441 = +.024

Defensive Rating improvement from 2013-14* to 2014-15

Knight 114 to 104 = +10
Antetokounmpo 110 to 101 = +9
Middleton 111 to 103 = +8
*Whiteside 102 (2011-12) to 96 = +6
Gobert: 104 to 98 = +6
Teague 109 to 104 = +5
Turner 109 to 104 = +5
Schroder 110 to 106 = +4
Thompson 106 to 103 = +3
Green 98 to 96 = +2
Korver 108 to 106 = +2
Motiejunas 106 to 105 = +1
Oladipo 106 to 108 = -2
Butler 100 to 105 = -5

Gobert's D is real. 
The fact that Jimmy Butler's defensive rating took a major hit as his offense improved is enough for me to rule him out in this, winner take all Most Improved Player award, race. Since Hassan Whiteside only played in 43 games this season it is difficult, in my way of thinking, to give him the nod over others who played a full season. ...Oladipo's defense actually took a step backward while he just gained a slight uptick in efficiency. Ultimately, Oladipo is out of consideration. Green has been brilliant this season and while his overall production is up significantly, we always thought he was good. He improved but mostly because his role was expanded. ...Knight, Motiejunas, Turner, Teague, Middleton, and Thompson all improved but cannot make the claim as MOST improved. There can only be one. For us, it really is a tight race between Schroder, Gobert, and the "Greek Freak" (Antetokounmpo). 

While Gobert and Schroder have unquestionably improved their play, we feel like Antetokounmpo made the biggest leap. As a rookie he often looked clueless at both ends of the floor. Now we see glimpses of a player that has a chance to excel as a two-way star in the league. By any measure, Antetokounmpo (age 20) already ranks in the top-tier of NBA small forwards. He improved his defensive rating by a full nine points (110 to 101) from 2013-14 to 2014-15. His per-minute efficiency improved dramatically with a better shot selection this season. 

Again, we think it is close, but in our opinion, it is Antetokounmpo by a vowel over fellow international ballers Gobert and Schroder for the 2014-15 NBA Most Improved Player.  

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