The MIP should be one of the more intriguing award competitions to watch in 2013. Before the talent drought that plagued the NBA drafts of 2011 and 2012, the drafts of 2009 and 2010 were both deep with solid NBA prospects. Those players are ready to make an impact in 2013. That should not only make for a very entertaining season, but a lot of good Most Improved Player candidates. The profile for the winner of the Most Improved Player award is as follows:
- A young player who playing is in his 3rd or 4th season. The only player over 30 to win the award was Darrell Armstrong in ’99, who was 30 at the time. Armstrong was a late bloomer who actually was in his 4th NBA season at the time and didn’t play over 1000 minutes until he was 28. Of the 27 winners, only 5 have been over 25. So think young.
- Forwards are hot. The positional breakdown of MIP winners is 12 forwards, 9 guards and 6 centers. Forwards seem to be trending recently, having won 7 of the last 9. The last center to win was Jermaine O’Neal in ’02. The voters are thinking forwards for the MIP. That would be one explanation for the puzzling choice of Ryan Anderson over Greg Monroe last year.
- Like most awards, the MIP is driven by PPG more than any other stat. Every winner has experienced a fairly dramatic increase in PPG. The winner typically sees a jump in PPG from the low teens to the high teens. The next most likely scenario is a player who goes from very little playing time to the rotation and a PPG in the low teens. Occasionally the award goes to a player who ups his game from good, to all-star level. Danny Granger in ’09 being the most recent example.
With those three things in mind here are the players I feel are the most likely MIP winners going into the 2013 season.
- Paul George, Indiana: George is my choice as the top candidate. He seems ready to step up as Granger’s #2. He’s had a couple of promising years with some flashes of great ability. He was at 12.1 PPG last year and a jump into at least the 17-18 range seems likely. I do have some reservations though. George has a solid all-around game and will get plenty of PT. His potential on offense is decent, but he hardly has the look of a 25 PPG guy as some others on this list do. It seems more likely his career best will top out short of 20 PPG as a scorer, but he’ll remain valuable because of his other skills. I’d also like him better if his scoring had improved over the course of last season, but that wasn’t the case. Those concerns aside, George is a talented young player who is going to get increased playing time on a very good team. His PPG last year was low enough that his ceiling isn’t going to be that high in order to get noticed. I see him as the slight early favorite over Hayward to win the 2013 MIP.
- Gordon Hayward, Utah: I’ll toss other Jazz players Marvin Williams and Jeremy Evans in mix here too. The fact is the Jazz need some offense from the wing and they have plenty of candidates to provide it. Hayward seems like the most likely player to do so. He’s just 22, in his 3rd season and is coming off a year where he showed decent improvement. He has shown flashes of greatness at both Butler and in his first couple of seasons at Utah. Williams is intriguing as a candidate, because he’s getting a change of scenery. He could blossom in a new environment. Evans is an interesting prospect. A slasher who has always hit well over 60% of his shots, it wouldn’t surprise me if he busted out. He’ll have to play his way onto the court though. But Hayward is the guy to watch here. He’s the high draft pick and the guy who has flashed the most ability early in his career. He scored only 11.8 PPG last year. Should he up that to the 15-20 range, he’ll be in contention. Because he did average 15.3 PPG over the final 25 games last year, such improvement is more than likely, it is almost certain.
- A Denver Nugget: The Nuggets roster looks like a MIP award waiting to happen. This is a team that’s likely to do a lot of running and score a lot of points, so the numbers will be there. The team is loaded with good candidates. Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee are all under 25, have been very productive players and appear ready to break out at some level. I would probably give Gallinari a slight edge over the other three. He’s the scorer and seems most likely to improve his PPG enough for consideration. Another reason to like the chances of a Denver player for the MIP is this team is going to be something of a media favorite. I see them running with the Thunder and Lakers for most of the year at the top of the West. Doing this with a roster void of a superstar and a likable coach will make the Nuggets one of the stories of the year. One result of that could be an edge with the voters when the hardware gets handed out.
- Stephen Curry, Golden State: Curry is the player most likely to win the MIP by going from good to all-star level, like Granger did a few years ago. Curry has been very good for 3 seasons now, averaging 17.5 PPG during that time. There’s a good chance he’ll really break out this year though. Monta Ellis is gone, so he’ll have the PG role to himself. I expect the APG to increase as a result of that. He’s a very capable scorer and could easily bust past 20 PPG. The Warrior roster has another interesting MIP candidate in Klay Thompson, but I don’t see him as player Curry is.
- Jeremy Lin, Houston: The notoriety Lin received last year might hurt his MIP chances. Even if he averages the 18 PPG and 10 APG he seems capable of, Lin’s season won’t have the “out of nowhere” feel that would help a player win the MIP. Lin’s situation says he’s a great candidate though. He’s a young player who played well in low minutes and now will be getting an opportunity as a starter.
- Evan Turner, Philadelphia: I guess it would be put up or shut up time for Turner. It’s time for the former #2 overall pick and college POY to take his career in the direction of impact player or bust. Iguodala’s exit should be a good thing for Turner. I could see him sliding right into that role, or at least starting out as a poor man’s Iguodala, as the skills are similar. The problem for Turner is he just hasn’t played that well so far. While he graded out as an excellent prospect coming in, he just hasn’t adjusted that well to the pro game. He isn’t a player like George or Hayward who just needs more minutes to produce. There are legitimate questions as to whether Turner can produce with extra minutes and scoring opportunities. His scoring has been inefficient, especially from behind the arc. Turner, who will be 24 this year, is older than a lot of 3rd year players. That would also seem to hurt his chances. What he has going for him is his PPG of 9.4 from last year should be easy to improve on because he’s going to get the opportunity. We’ll see which way he goes with it. This would be a good place to mention that Turner’s teammate Jrue Holiday is also a decent MIP candidate.
- James Harden, Oklahoma City: He is something of a star already thanks to playing on a conference champ and of course, the beard. But he’s also a young player capable of stepping up his game quite a bit. He’s definitely capable of scoring 20+ PPG. Last year he was at 16.8 and he’d need to kick it up over 20 to win MIP. His biggest problem is he’s on a roster that has Durant and Westbrook already combing for 50+PPG. He may not get enough opportunities to top 20 PPG. In the very unlikely event his contract situation forces a trade to a lottery team, Harden would become the favorite for the award in my book.
- John Wall, Washington: He’s been OK, but really hasn’t stepped up as the superstar he was projected to be. His PPG has been just over 16, with poor efficiency. Derrick Rose made the big jump his 3rd season, so it isn’t totally crazy to think Wall could do the same and post a 20-10 season in points and assists. While the idea of Wall winning an MVP, as Rose did, is crazy, he could challenge for MIP with such a season. The negative is his scoring has been so inefficient that it’s hard to see his numbers making such a jump.
- Jerryd Bayless, Memphis: Bayless quietly had his best year as a 3-point shooter last year, hitting .423 while increasing his attempts by quite a bit. This tells me the improvement is probably real. He’s the 3rd guard on the Memphis roster and should get a lot of minutes at both backcourt positions. He seems primed for a breakout season as a scorer off the bench and could even challenge for 6th man of the year.
- Cole Aldrich, Oklahoma City: Aldrich hasn’t seen much PT during his 2 seasons in OKC. That should change this year as he’s going to be the backup center. I can’t say what that will mean in terms of minutes. The man he’s replacing, Nazr Mohammed, played only 11 minutes per game last year. Should Aldrich post a similar total he would have no chance of winning. There are two reasons to think Aldrich is a dark horse to bust out in 2013 and win MIP. The first is he was a pretty solid prospect coming out of Kansas in 2010 and I would expect him to do well when his chances come. The other is Thunder starting center Kendrick Perkins has been in decline for a couple of seasons now. It isn’t crazy to think the Thunder will start to look at other options if this decline continues. So there could be big minutes for Cole Aldrich. I’ll add Hasheem Thabeet’s name here also. He’s in the Thunder training camp, could make the roster and finally blossom as a defensive presence. But I feel Aldrich is the guy to watch here.