NBA Preview 2007-08: Most Improved Player

Who wins the Most Improved Players award? Typically it’s scorers. The winner has usually upped his scoring average by at least 7 PPG to the high teens or low 20s. The winner also tends to be a younger player, in his 2nd or 3rd season. Team success and position played have little to do with who wins this award. This award has been somewhat of a surprise the last 3 seasons, with few experts having spotted winners Simmons, Diaw and Ellis. Any player whose season has a “whoa, where did that come from” type of feel to it is going to get noticed moreso than a player who’s a favorite going in and I think that vibe helped those 3 a lot. With that in mind, don’t be too surprised if a player not on this list, say Travis Outlaw, Shawne Williams or James Singleton, walks away with the award. The way this season is starting to transpire, I found myself looking mainly at 2nd year players. The 2006 draft was a weak group and not too many rookies got a chance to show their stuff last season, but some good ones will emerge this season.

  1. LeMarcus Aldridge, Portland: After looking at the likely candidates, Aldridge seems like a strong favorite to win the MIP. He looks like he’ll possibly become the #1 scoring option for the Blazers and will be #2 at the very least. I seriously doubt he’ll match Randolph’s 23.6 and 10.1 of last year, but he won’t be too far off those numbers and that improvement should garner him the award. He’s also in a great situation for his career in Portland. His weaknesses match up well with Oden’s strengths and vice-versa. These two should form a dominant front line for the next decade or so.
  2. Andrea Bargnani, Toronto: He’s a big part of Toronto’s offense and should pump in somewhere between 15-20 PPG for the season. I have doubts about how valuable a player he can be starting at center like he’s doing to start the season. It seems that teams will eventually be able to take advantage of this obvious mismatch. But it could work with the league going smaller and quicker. Even if it doesn’t work, voters generally look at individual stats more than team success for this award and Bargnani’s number should show huge improvement.
  3. Tyrus Thomas, Chicago: I pondered making Thomas the favorite for MIP, but decided there were just too many questions about him going in. I like his future better than Bargnani’s or Aldridge’s, but he’s probably not in as good a situation as those two, at least in terms of getting the numbers necessary to win an award. I do feel he’s one of the best young players in the league and will someday be at the very least a perennial defensive POY candidate and possibly much more than that. He’s also a key player for one of the league’s better teams. I doubt the Bulls can win the East if Joe Smith logs more minutes than Thomas this season. They need Thomas to make the step up and Skiles seems to know this, as Thomas has started the first 2 games. If he can avoid foul trouble, Thomas has the potential to finish top 10 in rebounds, blocks and steals. That might be enough to make up for what’s certain to be significantly fewer PPG than Aldridge and Bargnani.
  4. Rashad McCants, Minnesota: Someone is going to get points in Minnesota and right now McCants seems likely to be the #2 guy behind Jefferson. Foye is out for at least a few weeks and probably longer. Green and Brewer aren’t starting yet, so it looks like McCants will get the first chance to be Mr. Outside to Jefferson’s Mr. Inside. McCants was a solid prospect coming out of the 2005 draft, but injured his knee midway through his rookie season. Last season he was slowed coming off the surgery, but should be ready to show his stuff this year.
  5. Damien Wilkins, Seattle: Kevin Durant isn’t going to score all the points. Lewis and Allen took almost 50 PPG with them when they left and those have to be made up somewhere. Durant will get most of that, but Wilkins is probably next in line for improvement. Wilkins career got a boost when he started draining the 3-pointer more consistently last year. As Seattle’s main gunner, he should get a lot of opportunities to fire away as teams focus on Durant and Wilcox. That should boost his PPG from 8.8 to around 15, which would put him right in the running for the award.
  6. Kyle Lowry, Memphis: He’ll probably backup either Stoudamire or, more likely, Conley for most of the season, but should run up some decent points, assists and steals numbers. Numbers tend to get exaggerated in a fast-paced offense and this will help the case of Lowry, along with teammates Gay and Warrick who also would have to be considered candidates for this award. Lowry puts up some odd numbers. He doesn’t look to score that often, but he’s very efficient when he does, because he gets to the line so often. He’s a terrific ballhawk and that will work well with the Grizzlies running and gunning. Working against him is the fact that he’s in a crowded backcourt and may not get the minutes. He is a dynamic player who seems ready to break out and such players usually find a way to get on the court.
  7. Ronnie Brewer, Utah: He won’t be a great scorer, but he should be a valuable part of a good team and he might lead the league in steals. The key for Brewer will be how much he can score. He has a rep for being a poor shooter, but that’s not entirely accurate. As a soph at Arkansas he drained the trey pretty consistently. He’s 0-11 on his career so far, but that’s hardly enough attempts to say he can’t shoot. He’ll never be Ray Allen, but if he can get his 3-pointer to drop 33% of the time, he’ll become a very valuable player on a Jazz team that’s short on gunners.
  8. Danny Granger, Indiana: Granger may not be considered eligible for the award, since he emerged as a mainstay in the Pacer rotation last season. He scored 13.9 PPG last year. This year he should be their top scorer and could come close to or exceed 20 PPG. Such an increase isn’t unheard of for previous MIP award winners, so Granger makes the list. Playing for Jim O’Brien should help Granger, as he’s one of the better shooting forwards in the league and O’Brien likes his forwards to fire away. Also in Granger’s favor is the fact he can play either forward position, which should keep him on the court whether the Pacers are playing big or small.
  9. Charlie Villanueva, Milwaukee: Villanueva never got it going in Milwaukee last season, mainly due to an injury. Eventually the Bucks are going to decide that Yi just isn’t ready and move Villanueva in at PF, PT guarantees be damned. As a starter, Villanueva should be good for something like a 17 PPG and 8 RPG at a minimum. I don’t know if that will be enough in what looks like a pretty strong field for this award, but he’s worth a mention.
  10. Andrew Bynum, LA Lakers: Bynum looked like a monster at times in the preseason. For players coming in directly from HS, the 3rd season is often the breakout year and Bynum seems ready. The Lakers obviously like him, otherwise they’d have dealt him for Jason Kidd and would have spent the summer wondering if trading their best young player was worth getting into the 2nd round of the playoffs. The problem Bynum has is he just won’t score enough points and will have to be a monster shot-blocker and rebounder to position himself for the award. Like everyone other young player involved, his chances for the award will improve dramatically if Kobe Bryant is dealt.

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