The often overlooked Most Improved Player (MIP) award is considered the least impressive of the major awards, but this award includes current players and present/past all stars including Kevin Love (2010-11), Zach Randolph (03-04), Tracy McGrady (2000-01), Jermaine O'Neal (01-02) and Kevin Johnson (88-89) just to name a handful. Since its creation at the end of the '85-'86 season the MIP has given credentials to the player who worked the hardest and materialized that work into improved play/numbers on the court. Let's take a look at this years' candidates.
1. James Harden
Last year: 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists on 49% shooting in 31.4 minutes.
This year: 26.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists on 45% shooting in 38.4 minutes.
What Harden has done in helping to turnaround the Rockets franchise can not be overlooked. Yes he was an exceptional player before this year, but he went from a star to a superstar and a Franchise Player. He is a very strong candidate for this award despite being good before this season. Also he had the best game of any player this season:
2. Omer Asik
Last Year: 3.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1 block on 50% shooting in 15 minutes.
This Year: 10.5 points, 11.7 rebounds, 1.1 block on 55% shooting in 30 minutes.
Harden's teammate has done an amazing job applying his abilities with no drop off in more minutes. He is one of the NBA's top rebounders, can defend the interior of the paint, and just seems to be a classic blue collar, gritty big man. He thrives in the high octane blinding pace that the Rockets use.
3. Jrue Holiday
Last Year: 13.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.3 rebounds on 43% shooting in 34 minutes.
This Year: 19 points, 8.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds on 45% shooting in 39 minutes.
Jrue has turned himself into an all-star and perhaps the perfect compliment to Andrew Bynum. Only problem is Bynum hasn't held up his end of the problem. If he continues to improve he will be considered among the elite PGs. Gotta love what this kid can do.
4. Nikola Vucevic
Last Year: 5.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, .7 blocks on 45% shooting, 53% FT in 16 minutes.
This Year: 12.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1 block on 52% shooting, 68% FT in 32 minutes.
I think Orlando won last years Dwight Howard trade. This kid is a keeper, with amazing rebounding skills as well as elite scoring from the big man position. He will be a better version of Brook Lopez. He had 29 rebounds against the Heat earlier this year too, a staggering number.
5. Larry Sanders
Last Year: 3.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.5 blockson 46% shooting, 47% FT in 12 minutes.
This Year: 9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.2 blocks on 52% shooting, 59% FT in 26 minutes.
He is the best interior defender in the NBA now, a much improved and still improving rebounder, and a solid finisher around the rim. He is my choice for Defensive Player of the Year, and is right in the mix for MIP.
Other candidates include Greivis Vasquez, Kemba Walker, Chandler Parsons, and OJ Mayo. Of that group, Greivis has a realistic shot to win. As well as Eric Bledsoe and Robin Lopez have played I don't think they belong on the list. Comment below, who's your choice?