Who should be the 2012-13 Most Improved Player?

nikola vucevic

Today — as expected — it was announced that J.R. Smith won the 2012-13 NBA 6th Man of the year award. Pretty soon, the other NBA award winners will be announced, including MVP and Rookie of the Year. So I figure that now’s a good time to look at this year’s candidates for Most Improved Player (MIP).

Here’s what we’ve written about this award in the past:

Before I get into this year’s candidates, let’s take a look at the previous winners (data and explanation taken from Who will be Most Improved in 2012-13?):

Season Player Age Experience +MPG +PPG Vote %
 2012 Ryan Anderson 23 4 9.9 5.5 43%
 2011 Kevin Love 22 3 7.2 6.2 69%
 2010 Aaron Brooks 25 3 10.6 8.4 66%
 2009 Danny Granger 25 4 0.2 6.2 60%
 2008 Hedo Turkoglu 28 8 5.8 6.2 61%
 2007 Monta Ellis 21 2 16.2 9.7 55%
 2006 Boris Diaw 23 3 17.3 8.5 79%
 2005 Bobby Simmons 24 4 12.7 8.6 62%
 2004 Zach Randolph 22 3 21.0 11.7 63%
 2003 Gilbert Arenas 21 2 10.4 7.4 49%
 2002 Jermaine O’Neal 23 6 5.0 7.1 41%
 2001 Tracy McGrady 21 4 8.9 11.4 60%
 2000 Jalen Rose 27 6 11.9 7.1 26%
 1999 Darrell Armstrong 30 5 4.2 4.6 46%
 1998 Alan Henderson 25 3 12.3 7.7 28%
 1997 Isaac Austin 27 4 8.5 4.6 36%
 1996 Gheorghe Muresan 24 3 5.9 4.5 44%
 1995 Dana Barros 27 6 9.4 7.3
 1994 Don MacLean 24 2 22.3 11.6
 1993 Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf 23 3 14.5 8.9
 1992 Pervis Ellison 24 3 12.4 9.6
 1991 Scott Skiles 26 5 13.5 9.5
1990 Rony Seikaly 24 2 7.4 5.7
 1989 Kevin Johnson 22 2 15.2 11.2
 1988 Kevin Duckworth 23 2 15.0 10.4
 1987 Dale Ellis 26 4 22.4 17.8
 1986 Alvin Robertson 23 2 13.8 7.8

The MIP award usually goes to the player who increases his point total more than anyone else. Since the 2002-03 season (when the voting process changed to the current format), the MIP has played at least 32 minutes per game in at least 67 games, and scored at least 13.3 points per game. The MIP is also young; only one winner, Hedo Turkoglu, has been older than 25 years old and playing in more than his fourth season when he won the award. And of course, thanks to Yay! Points!, the defining feature of the award is that the winner has increased his previous year’s scoring by at least 5.5 points per game — actual improvement in play is not required. Most MIP winners achieve this PPG increase through a simple increase in playing time; Danny Granger is the only winner in the last ten years who increased his PPG without increasing his MPG.

How about this year’s candidates?

Player MPG Increase PPG increase WP48 Increase Wins Increase*
James Harden 6.9 9.1 -0.046 0.3
Nikola Vucevic 17.3 7.6 0.096 7.0
Omer Asik 15.3 7.0 -0.056 3.1
Lance Stephenson 18.7 6.3 0.157 7.8
Larry Sanders 14.9 6.2 0.171 7.8
Chandler Parsons 7.7 6.0 0.015 2.4
Tobias Harris 12.0 6.0 0.005 0.3
Paul George 7.9 5.3 -0.029 0.4
Eric Bledsoe 8.8 5.2 0.111 4.4
Greivis Vasquez 8.6 5.0 0.003 1.1
Earl Clark 10.7 4.6 0.092 2.5
J.J. Hickson 6.0 4.3 0.140 7.9
Jrue Holiday 3.7 4.2 -0.013 -0.5
Tristan Thompson 7.6 3.5 0.085 5.8
O.J. Mayo 8.7 2.7 0.022 2.3
Al-Farouq Aminu 4.8 1.3 0.109 5.2

*Note: Win increase uses pro-rated win totals for last season’s 66 game season.

If we go by ESPN’s pundits, Paul George is the most likely winner. But George (+5.2) hasn’t increased his points per game (PPG) as much as James Harden (+9.1), Nikola Vucevic (+7.6), and Omer Aski (+7.0). In fact, George is only ranked 8th in PPG increase between this season and the last. So if the voters are going to be heavily influenced by PPG increase, the winner will probably be Harden, Vucevic, or Asik. My money is on Vucevic, as not only has his PPG improved significantly, but he seems to have surprised a lot of people. He’ll also benefit from the Orlando Magic boost – Magic players have won four of the last 14 MIP awards and five in the 27 year history of the award.

If we rank each player in terms of the improvement in per-minute efficiency, Larry Sanders (+0.171), Lance Stephenson (+0.157), and J.J. Hickson (+0.140) are the top three candidates. These same three players are also the top three in win increase as well, although the order changes to Hickson (+7.9), Sanders (+7.8), and then Stephenson (+7.8). So if we awarded the Most Improved Player award to the player who actually improved the most, it would probably be one of these three players (although it should be noted that Vucevic would be a decent selection under these criteria as well).

- Devin

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