Tracy McGrady. Zach Randolph. Monta Ellis. Kevin Love. Paul George. At one time or another, these were some of the most feared scorers and players in the NBA. However, these players have something else in common; all of them won the Most Improved Player award. This year, the Suns have four serious candidates for this honor, but which one truly deserves to be the Most Improved Player in 2014? The answer may surprise you…
This season, Plumlee saw his points per game increase by a factor of 9, and he posted career-bests in nearly every statistical category. Plumlee nearly doubled his Player Efficiency Rating, and he started 79 games after playing in just 14 the year before. So, is Plumlee the most improved player? Probably not. While Plumlee saw his numbers increase massively, he also played more than six-times the amount of minutes he did the year before. It’s not entirely fair to say that a player showed improvement, when you take into account that they posted relatively similar statistics per minute from one year to the next.
Now, Gerald Green saw a nice increase in scoring, going from 7.0 points per game to 15.8, but again, this was more a function of his increased minutes, rather than anything else. When he played for the New Jersey Nets (yes, it was still New Jersey then), Green averaged thirteen points per game, while playing 25.2 minutes per game. This year green averaged 15.8 points per game, but he did it in nearly 30 minutes per game. Overall, Green didn’t really improve that much; he was given more minutes and a greater opportunity.
Markieff Morris’ scoring increased by 5.6 points per game, and he also showed improvement in his rebounding and assist numbers. However, Markieff Morris improved the most in another area: Shot selection. Markieff Morris shot nearly eight percent better than he did the previous season, all while taking less three-point attempts and getting to the free-throw line more. Morris is a great candidate for this award, and he is probably the player that deserves it the most, but unfortunately, each player who won this award in the last 14 seasons was a starter (and started at least 50 games), while Morris did not start a single game in 2014. Name recognition is definitely a large part of this award, and it’s apparent that Markieff Morris doesn’t quite have the name recognition just yet.
Dragic increased his scoring by 5.6 points per game, but he only saw an extra 1.6 minutes per game, which means that he showed improvement, rather than just playing more. Additionally, Dragic increased his shooting percentage by nearly six percent, and his three-point percentage went up by nearly nine percent. Dragic started 75 games and had career-highs in points, rebounds, shooting percentage, and three-point percentage, all while leading the Suns to a 48-34 record.
My favorite statistic to look at when talking about a player’s improvement is Player Efficiency Rating, which is a Hollinger Statistic. Dragic posted a PER of 21.43 this season, which was 3.40 points higher than his previous career-best. When Kevin Love won the award in 2011, he also posted a career high in PER, which was an increase from his previous best by 3.57. When Ryan Anderson won the next year, his PER had gone up by 2.14 points from the previous year, and when Paul George won last season, he posted a career high in Player Efficiency Rating. I think you get the point.
While the Suns have four potential candidates for this award in 2014, I really think that Goran Dragic is the most likely candidate to win the award. In fact, ESPN recently surveyed 212 sportswriters on who they thought deserved the award and who they thought would receive the award, and in both instances, Goran Dragic was the winner and Gerald Green received third. Markieff Morris received votes in both categories, but he ultimately fell far short of a spot on the top three, and Miles Plumlee was only mentioned once in the “who do you think should win” category. Overall, I think there is an extremely good chance that a Suns’ player will be taking home this award, and that player will certainly have earned it.