Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How Unimportant Is The Most Improved Player Award?

Goran Dragic was named the NBA's Most Improved Player on Wednesday, an "honor" that was also once claimed by NBA greats Gheorge Muresan and Bobby Simmons. The Suns guard took home the hardware easily, earning 408 voter points votes, compared to 158 for second-place Lance Stephenson and 155 for third-place Anthony Davis. (Hilariously, one voter made a bit of a mistake.)

Dragic had a great season, leading the surprising Suns to the cusp of the playoffs. But the MIP* doesn't really do justice to The Dragon's performance. And that's because nobody agrees what the award even awards.

*"MIP" doesn't exactly have a nice ring to it.

I'm sure that Dragic's teammate P.J. Tucker really meant this...

...but what does it actually mean to deserve the MIP? The NBA leaves the guidelines pretty ambiguous ("to honor an up-and-coming player who has made a dramatic improvement from the previous season or seasons"), and Davis and Stephenson certainly seem to fit the bill as well as Dragic.

Let's take a look at some of the arguments/questions/issues the voters probably considered:

Was Dragic markedly worse than his competitors last season? 
It doesn't seem so. Stephenson was a role player last year, whereas Davis played in just 64 games (albeit with glimpses of excellence). Dragic, meanwhile, scored a very respectable 14.7 points per game in 2012-13. So it's not like Dragic came out of nowhere, certainly not as much as Stephenson did.

Well, if he wasn't terrible last year, Dragic must have had a better season than Davis and Stephenson this year. Right? 
Again...not so much. The Pacers' late-season woes probably doomed Stephenson's case, but Davis was phenomenal this season. He again missed a chunk of games due to injury, but he was dominant in most of his 66 starts. The Brow finished fourth in player efficiency rating, behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kevin Love. (Dragic was No. 20 on that list.)

But since Davis is a star who will soon compete for MVP Awards, it would be unfair to give him the Most Improved Player.
Yeah, well, Love and Paul George -- two legitimate superstars -- have won the MIP in recent years.

The argument could go on and on, meandering this way and that. The point is that it's a dumb award with few objective criteria to consider. Awards like MVP and Rookie of the Year are great because they allow us to argue about the best players. ("Durant definitely had a better year than LeBron!") Additionally, we can consider each candidate's merit that season, without regard for previous performances and expectations.

I'm sure Dragic would trade his MIP for a spot on the All-NBA Third team in a flash. We'd all rather be recognized for excellence rather than improvement, especially if there's no consensus about what "improvement" actually entails.

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