NBA Stats Smackdown 2011: Most Improved

The last player picks I need to make for the Stats Smackdown is Most Improved Player (MIP).  For the wins produced side of things, the player needs to be within 750 minutes of what he played last year and the winner is based on the increase in wins produced, not WP48.  If you look at recent media winners, it seems to me that the winner is usually based on a jump in scoring, and of course playing for a decent team.  It’s typically a young player who makes the ‘leap’, although not usually a rookie (exceptions include Monta Ellis on the rookie front and Hedo Turkoglu on the old man front).  What they all share is a jump of around 6 points per game from the previous year.  So who to pick?

The first thing I’m doing is looking for the WP winner.  I got last year’s numbers from the usual automated stats site.  I then added 750 minutes to everyone’s total from last year, and figured out how many more wins they would have had if they had played 750 more minutes at their same level of productivity.  Then I went through and tried to decide if each person would play around that level of minutes, and if their productivity seemed reasonable.  For example, the number one guy is Trey Gilder, who put up a .757 WP48 in 5 minutes of play for Memphis last year; if he had done that for 755 minutes, he would have produced 11.8 more wins than the .08 he actually produced.  But, that seems unreasonable.  Who looks a little more likely?

Marcus Camby only played 2300 minutes last year, so he could theoretically play more, since the top guys in terms of minutes are around 3000.  But Camby is getting up there in age and he’ll be splitting time with Oden and Przybilla as long as they can stay healthy.  Oden himself is also an option, but he would have to max out at 1250 minutes to qualify.  If he stays healthy, I think he’ll play more than that; he put in 1300 minutes his rookie year only playing 60 games.

But in that same improvement range (about 5 more wins) are two interesting names: Chris Paul and Kevin Love.  They had virtually identical production and minutes played last year, at 1710 and .32 WP48.  That means they could play as many as 2450 minutes this year; Paul played more than that prior to last year, while Love did not as a rookie.  Paul produced at an insane level in 2008 and so could do even better than last year, but I think he would play too many minutes this year if healthy.  Love is tempting, especially because it’s only his third year so he could continue to improve (from .21 WP48 his rookie year to .32 last year, I think something like .36 is perfectly reasonable).  My second pick is Joakim Noah, who missed time due to injury last year but is still productive and could be improving.  I’m going to go with Love, although I’m a little worried that he’ll play too many minutes if he stays healthy.

In terms of the media, I have to pick someone who will have a jump in scoring, specifically in points per game.  The easiest way to do that is to play more minutes per game.  So I’m going to look at young players who should be starters or early off-the-bench players this year.  Noah is actually an option; he’s fairly young, the Bulls should be good this year, and if he shot more he could easily jump from 10 points per game to mid-teens.  But, I don’t think he’s going to change his style that much.  The same thing is true for Love, although he’s already at 14 ppg.  His teammate Michael Beasley is an interesting choice, because someone on that team has to shoot, but I don’t think I can pick him.  I’m tempted by Ty Lawson on the prospect of more minutes as Billups ages and general improvement, but I don’t want to try to pick a guy relying on someone else to get hurt or play less.

Instead I’m going to pin my hopes on my adopted favorite team (not my actual favorite team) and pick Robin Lopez on the Suns.  He’s the only player they have with actual size, and last year he only played 19 minutes per game.  He isn’t the dynamic scorer that Amar’e Stoudemire is, obviously, but if he plays an extra 10-15 minutes a game and goes from 6 shots a game to something closer than his per-36 minute averages, he’ll jump from averaging an 8 and 5 a game to a 14 and 8 with two blocks.  Assuming the Suns can be any good, he should get extra credit for being their sole guy in the paint.  So my MIP candidates are Robin Lopez in the media and Kevin Love for WP.

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