Leading Candidates for MIP
Who’s the most improved?
by Allen Kim | @_allenkim
Most players take at least a small step forward from one year to the next, but there are always a handful that really take a jump to the next level.
Looking to follow in Aaron Brooks’ footsteps, here are the five early top candidates to take home the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
Hibbert was tagged as a breakout candidate in preseason and he has exceeded expectations thus far.
In the offseason, Indiana’s GM, Larry Bird approached Roy with the option of choosing between Bill Russell, Bill Walton and Kevin McHale as a potential mentor. Choosing the Big Red, the two spent time together this past summer working on Hibbert’s game.
Roy was inconsistent last season due to a mixture of foul trouble, maturity, fatigue and the incompetency of coach Jim O’Brien. To prepare himself for the grueling 82-game season, Hibbert dedicated his summer to focusing on defense and working on his conditioning.
All the hard work has clearly paid off, as Roy has become a force to reckon with. He’s averaging career highs across the board with 16.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.6 blocks.
Hibbert may not be getting the full gamut of starter’s minutes, playing less than 31 minutes a game, but he’s making the most of the playing time afforded to him.
Indiana is ranked ninth in defensive efficiency, 10th in opponent’s points allowed and second in blocks per game. Roy is their defensive anchor and much of their success on the defensive side of the ball can be attributed directly to him.
What’s even more surprising is that Roy is third on the team in assists. He dishes out 3.2 dimes per game, which falls less than an assist behind the team’s starting point guard, Darren Collison.
It’s clear how much of an impact Walton has made on Hibbert’s game after only one summer together. Roy has made noticeable strides and will be in the conversation for Defensive and Most Improved Player of the Year if he keeps up this pace.
Michael Beasley, Minnesota Timberwolves
After being exiled from South Beach, Beasley was sent to Minnesota and appears to have settled in as the team’s starting small forward. Now that Beasley is a member of the Timberwolves, he has free reign to take command on the offensive side of the ball and showcase his talents to the rest of the world.
Beasley started out with solid, if unspectacular numbers through the first seven games of the season. However, in an early November game against the Sacramento Kings, Beasley exploded for a career high 42 points. Since then, Beasley has been on a scoring binge going off for at least 25 points in six straight. That streak broke the previous franchise record set nearly a decade ago by Kevin Garnett.
Through 13 games, Beasley is averaging 22.4 points on 48.9 percent shooting, up from last year’s 14.8 average of 45 percent. He has broken the 30-point barrier on three separate occasions and has reached double-digit scoring numbers in 12 out of the 13 games he’s played in. Michael is also sinking in 1.1 three-pointers per game shooting an absurd 48.3 percent shooting.
Chances are, he’ll come back down to Earth after his recent hot streak, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t maintain a 20-plus point scoring average over the course of the season.
It looks like Michael is finally living up to his No. 2 overall Draft pick status, and Minnesota, not Miami, will be the ones reaping the rewards.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
The Free Kevin Love movement has finally succeeded and even Kurt Rambis can’t keep Kevin from getting the playing time he rightfully deserves.
When Love isn’t doing awkward handshakes with his teammates, he practically inhales every rebound that goes remotely near him. Kevin is leading the league in rebounds, pulling down 13.8 per game. He has quickly supplanted Dwight Howard as the best glass cleaning big in the NBA.
Love made his stamp on the season with an eye-popping performance against the New York Knicks. He started the game slow, but went berserk in the second half on his way to 31 points and 31 rebounds.
The last time a 30/30 game was accomplished was 28 years ago by Moses Malone. Pretty esteemed company for Kevin to be in to say the least.
Minnesota is second overall in rebounds per game and Love more than doubles the next highest rebounder on the team, Darko Milicic. Kevin also has a knack for grabbing boards on the offensive side of the ball as he pulls down 4.7 offensive boards per game. His ability to create second chance opportunities has helped the Timberwolves tremendously.
If Kevin had Dwight Howard’s build and athleticism, he would undoubtedly record some Rodman-esque type rebounding numbers year in and year out. In fact, it’s not out of the question that at some point, he reaches some of the ludicrous plateaus set by the Worm.
Eric Gordon, L.A. Clippers
After a stellar rookie season, Eric hit what many consider to be a sophomore slump. His numbers more or less mirrored his first year and he didn’t take that next step forward that many were predicting.
This past summer, Gordon was a vital cog in Team USA’s dominant FIBA World Championship run. It appears that his strong play overseas has carried over to the NBA.
On the season, Eric is averaging 23.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He has broken the 20-point barrier in nine of 12 contests and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Eric has a killer instinct and he attacks the basket with reckless abandon. Look no further than his 8.8 trips to the foul line as proof of this. Gordon has ridiculous hops and is able to posterize just about anybody that gets his way. After all, he didn’t earn the nickname Air Gordon for nothing.
Gordon’s three-point shooting has regressed significantly in the early going shooting 19 percent, but with a career percentage of 36.5 from deep, it’s only a matter of time before he starts to light it up from beyond the arc. When that happens, he becomes an even bigger nightmare to guard.
Already a strong defender, Gordon has all the tools to become a perennial All-Star. While he will most likely have to wait for a certain somebody in purple and gold to retire, he’s already making a strong case this year.
Luis Scola, Houston Rockets
Luis Scola, coming off a dominating performance for Argentina during the FIBA World Championship, has taken command of the low block for the Houston Rockets.
With Yao still working his way back from injury, the Rockets will continue to lean on Scola in the low post to do most of their damage. Luis loves to turn to the scoop shot down low and has since earned the nickname the Ice-Cream Man.
For the year, Scola is averaging 22.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and nearly a steal and a block per game. All are career highs and he’s playing with tremendous confidence after his amazing play over the summer.
Scola has eight games with at least 20 points scored and four games with 16 rebounds. He has become Mr. Consistent for the Rockets, and with or without Yao Ming, Scola will continue to be a focal point of their offense in the paint.
The Argentinean has a relentless motor and he vigorously works on both ends of the court. He has a high basketball IQ and plays an efficient game.
If Luis ends up winning the award, he’ll be the oldest player to have won it.