Next up as we count down our 2011 end of the year awards for the 2011 NBA season is the Most Improved Player of the Year award (MIP). This is a difficult award (as evidenced by the many different answers given by our writers) since it can be interpreted in many different ways. Is it the player who had the greatest statistical leap? The player with the least expectations? Or the player whose intangibles took him to the next level? In some ways, it is probably all of the above…
THE NBA REALIST: Derrick Rose
I had a tough time with this one. Do I select:
a) the player who made the biggest individual jump in 2011 and broke a 22 year old points/rebounding record, but whose team only won 17 games?
b) The player who made a sizable individual jump, established himself as the new Alpha-Dog for a team that most thought would never overcome their injuries, and led them to the 6th seed as the proverbial “Dangerous team that no one wants to face” playoff contender?
After careful deliberation, I chose:
c.) The player who made a significant individual jump, established himself as the best point guard in the NBA as well as one of the 5 best players in the league, AND served as the Alpha-Dog for a team that exceeded expectations by winning 62 games and attaining the league’s best overall record.
Kevin Love was remarkable and became the first player since Moses Malone to average 20 points and 15 rebounds in a single season, while breaking Moses’s consecutive double-double record with 53 in the same season. Moreover, LaMarcus Aldridge not only improved his game by averaging 22 and 9, but also helped his team stay relevant despite devastating and potentially career ending injuries to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. However, Derrick Rose did all of the aforementioned, plus establish himself as one of the game’s most clutch players. I would even argue that Rose’s individual improvements (3-point shot, mid-range game, on-ball defense, free throw shooting, and leadership) were as significant as Love’s.
I know that it is not customary to award the MIP to an MVP candidate within the same season, but Rose’s jump was just that impressive.
K-love was an easy choice for me here. Love gets the nod because he went from a nice year last year (14/11) to a legendary statistical season (20/15) – more importantly, no one saw it coming. Love put up Moses Malone numbers while improving in virtually every category, shooting 47% from the field, 85% from the line and a ‘ridiculous for a big man’ 41% from the 3-point line – a stat line sure to propel him into the first round of many 2011-12 fantasy drafts.
DAVE SHERIDAN: Kevin Love
This may be the most difficult award to determine, because what defines improvement? Is the award solely based on a player’s personal improvement reflected in his statistics, or should the criteria of the award be based on how a player improved and raised the level of his team’s performance?
Naturally, if a player improves his level of play, it would seem to coincide with better success for his team, but, as we know, usually a player cannot influence personnel moves or distribute playing minutes. Ultimately, a player is held prisoner to the philosophy of his team, or his team’s financial liquidity , and can only do so much to improve his team’s performance on the floor.
Based on sheer numbers, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love would appear to be the recipient of the MIP, but there is an undercurrent throughout the NBA suggesting that Love fluffs his stats. These NBA voices attribute Love’s Herculean rebounding totals to unbridled enthusiasm for fetching wayward free-throws and end of quarter missed shots.
Love averaged a league-leading 15.2 rebounds per game and 20.2 points per game. Playing on a miserably bad team, which has been beaten down by the woeful ineptness of Minnesota President of Basketball Operations David Kahn, Love is accused of purely playing for his stats. But how else should the guy motivate himself? It’s out of his control, whether David Kahn chooses to draft an infinite amount of point guards, and it’s beyond Love’s control that the Kevin Garnett deal did not bring the Timberwolves a banquet of riches.
Love only went out and broke Moses Malone’s consecutive double-double streak, which ended for Love at 53 games. Suffering a late-season groin injury, the Timberwolves saluted Love’s absence with a 12-game losing streak. Alright, the Timberwolves have only won a total of 17 games, but his absence was felt on the court.
It would be easy to anoint Derrick Rose the Most Improved Player, but that sort of violates the spirit of the award. The award is ostensibly given to a player that was previously mediocre, or borderline good, and has raised his game to very good or beyond. This award wasn’t conceived with the thought of one player winning Most Improved Player and Most Valuable Player.
MARCAS GRANT: Dorell Wright
You could say that Wright’s improvement is based on an increase of minutes, but plenty of guys get more minutes every year and don’t know what to do with them. The Warriors nearly doubled the amount of floor time Wright saw with Miami and he more than doubled his production in nearly every significant offensive category. For the first time in his career, Wright played all 82 games (and started every one) and at times was Golden State’s third scoring option – taking pressure off of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry.
This award often goes to a player who became respectable in large part because of significantly increased playing time. In my view, it’s rarer and more noteworthy for an already good player to jump a level without significantly increased playing time. That’s what Aldridge did this year. With Oden out all season and Roy out for most of the season (and diminished when he wasn’t out), Aldridge stepped up his game, becoming more of a post presence and a more consistent threat. In addition, he became a team leader and a more assertive presence, keeping the Blazers afloat through their injuries in a typically loaded Western Conference.