Justin Kubatko, creator of Basketball Reference.com, came out with another update to the Most Improved Player (MIP) race. Although he places a giant caveat before revealing his statistical analysis, saying that he is not suggesting that the NBA use a formula, to include his, to determine MIP. But, he believes they should use it to whittle down MIP candidates. Does the NBA even need a formula to “whittle down” MIP candidates? I think it certainly provides for interesting fodder, and one can definitely make a case for several players using any combination of stats, but I only agree with Kubatko in one respect: the NBA doesn’t need another arbitrary statistical formula to determine the MIP.
In early December, when Jrue Holiday was surprising everyone (who didn't realize how big the hole Lou Williams left was), Kubatko was high on Eric Bledsoe (LAC), and even Larry Sanders (MIL). I think Bledsoe certainly has a solid argument for an MIP bid.
In his recent January update, he's listed a top five. Bledsoe and Sanders ars still in that group, but a couple surprises came up: Kevin Durant and Andre Blatche. Seriously?
Can you really tell me that a League MVP finalist last year and the NBA’s league scoring champion the past 3 seasons is an MIP candidate? OKC lost James Harden this off-season. Yes, they picked up Kevin Martin, but look what Harden is doing in Houston. Harden has one of the better cases for MIP. But is he really improved, or is he just getting more time and opportunity? How is that any different for Durrant? I think both Durrant and Harden are in the same boat. They are have a stronger argument for MVP in my opinion, but not MIP candidates. I could at least consider Harden, but not Durant.
But this one really gets me going: Andre Blatche?
Kubatko has Blatche as his number one pick for MIP! Even Blazers Edge stat guru Ben Golliver has Blatche in his top spot! What's the world coming to? Can you really tell me that a guy who was crazy good after the All-Star break in 2010, then had conditioning issues all 11-12 season and was amnestied (eating $23 mil), instead of Rashard Lewis’s contract, at the end of the year, is now the MIP? Let that sink in. Rashard Lewis had arguably the WORST contract in the NBA at the time. To me, that just shows that he played poorly because of his lack of conditioning and a lack of effort to improve his perpetual and patented, fade-away air balls. Why should he be rewarded with MIP consideration for deciding, after receiving the veteran’s minimum from BKL, that he was going to start playing like he was signed to do with the Wizzards? Gerald Wallace being out for Brooklyn means more opportunity for Blatche. Is he really improved, or is he just actually trying this season and playing for a contract on a salary of $854k? I don’t see improvement, I see a guy that hit rock bottom and decided to try again. And that's putting my personal bias aside for a guy that I wouldn't count on to his a jumpshot to save my life, and who can't play defense at 6'11" and 260lbs playing in his 7th season in the NBA.
JJ Hickson’s name has been floated a few times, and made the Kubatko's list, but after my previous blogs (Part 1 & Part 2: Honest Conversation about JJ) I feel JJ is at the bottom of any MIP contenders. I can certainly appreciate JJ giving his full effort every game and playing out of position, but his stats are misleading as I explained. I think JJ is in a similar boat to Blatch, but I would go with Hickson over Blatch.
While I don’t have any objection to the likes of OJ Mayo or Omer Ashik, Serge Ibaka has one of the strongest cases in my opinion. He actually improved his game. He is shooting extremely well from the perimeter, and his offense around the rim. I think his participation in the Olympics was a huge benefit, and perhaps why he’s seeing such a significant transformation to his game. He would be my top pick for MIP. A similar argument could be made for Nicholas Batum. Along with players like Batum and Harden, Ibaka is a guy that is living up to his newly signed, big contract, showing, if not introducing, broader aspects of his game. While I’m disappointed Batum hasn’t really been in consideration, which is understandable considering his shooting hasn’t been stellar, this added analysis and formula stuff just verifies why Kubatko won’t suggest the NBA use it as a means to pick the MIP.
Who's your early season pick for MIP and why?