Basketball players tend to be relatively consistent. At least relative to what we see in baseball and football (and some aspects of hockey), what you see from an NBA player in the past is generally what you will see in the future.
Thankfully, though, there are exceptions (after all, if there were never any changes this would not be a very interesting sport).
Each year, the biggest exception – at least in the minds of sports writers – is named the Most Improved Player (MIP) in the league. Two years ago that exception was Monta Ellis. Ellis wasn’t really the MIP in 2006-07 (at least, not according to Wins Produced), but oddly enough, he was in 2007-08. Ellis, though, could not be named MIP two years in a row since the second award might suggest the writers were wrong the first time.
This year the writers might have a similar problem. When we think of the MIP in the NBA in 2008-09, Kevin Durant has to be towards the top of the list. When we look at his per 36 minute stats (courtesy of Basketball-Reference) we see that Durant’s shooting efficiency has improved tremendously. And he is rebounding more as well. Although he is not yet the player we envisioned the night he was drafted, he’s now an above average NBA player. And as Table One reveals, his improvement with respect to Wins Produced ranks toward the top of the league this season.
The top name listed in Table One is Dwayne Wade. Although Wade is doing more than last year, improvement isn’t the word for what Flash has done. Wade really has just reverted to what he was before the lost season that was 2007-08. A similar story can be told for Gerald Wallace.
The next two names on the list – Luke Ridnour and Mike Bibby – are having their best seasons ever. But again, these players are mostly reverting back to form. When you compare what these players are doing to their prior career best performances, the change is quite a bit smaller.
And that bring us back to Durant. As noted in November, Durant got off to a very bad start this season. His WP48 was -0.038 after 10 games. After 41 games his mark was 0.125. This means he posted a 0.166 WP48 from game 11 to the midpoint of the season. Last season his WP48 was 0.012, so Durant has made a significant leap.
All of this might present a problem, though, for the media. I don’t think one needs Wins Produced to know Durant is much better. But last year, the same media that selects the MIP gave Durant the Rookie of the Year award. It would be very odd to say the Rookie of the Year in 2008 has become the MIP in 2009. This might be the statement, though, the sports media should make when this season is over.
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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.