Sunday, April 6, 2014

The arbitrary award - a statistical look at the MIP candidates (Part I)

Of all the NBA season awards, voting the most improved player seems to be the worst defined one. The reason therefore is that improvement can happen on so many levels (for those of you that are interested in a good read about the different ways to look at it, check out this article by Rob Mahoney). It is also complicated to keep your eye on the complete picture, as you have to look at two or more years at the same time.
To give at least a data-based picture of potential candidates, I will use the data from Basketball-Reference. The focus will be on minutes independent data, as in my opinion improvement has to be more than just an increase in minutes played. Today, I will present the candidates and in part II (hopefully tomorrow) I will take a closer look at what they improved. Feel free to let me know where you agree or disagree (my dear hypothetical reader)

Filtering for candidates
To be a potential iMIP (imho MIP) candidate, players have to fulfill the following minutes/games criteria:
- Play at least 8 minutes per game in at least 41 games in 2012-13 (henceforth called 2013)
- Play at least 18 minutes per game in at least 41 games in 2013-14 (henceforth called 2014)
This means (more or less) that the player was last year at least a borderline rotation guy and is this season at least a 7th man (second player coming from the bench) and not only playing in garbage time.
Furthermore, I use Player efficiency rating (PER) to summarize the qualities of a player. There are certainly disadvantages to PER, but its advantage is that it is pace and playing time adjusted. The thresholds for a player to be available are:
- increased his PER in 2014 at least by 3
- has a PER in 2014 that is at least 15
I am aware that 3 is an arbitrary threshold, but I picked it on the impression that enough players surpassed it. A PER above 15 on the other hand means simply that your performance in 2014 is 'measured' as above average. It's a feel-good story if you improved from being a bench warmer to rotation guy, but it's not necessarily iMIP material. This gives us the following picture:
click image to enlarge

Player that did not pass the filter
I guess the omission of Lance 'Born Ready' Stephenson is where I will get the most imaginary hate mail from my imaginary audience. I want to point out that I didn't realize this until the image was finished. Don't hate the player, hate the - actually, just don't hate. To summarize pros and cons:
- neither February nor March were very kind to him.
- a part of Born Ready's skill set result most probably in 'intangibles' (or 'tangibles that are not included in PER')
- a part of Born Ready's appeal for voters is most probably sheer swagger and flashyness
- his own coach accuses him of rebound-stealing
- Born Ready's PER improvement from year to year is impressive (5.5, 7.0, 11.8, 14.9)
- it would in any case be quite ironic if a player that is called Born Ready gets the award for most improved player

Players that I filtered out myself (based on a mix of further stats and 'healthy subjectivity') 1. The obvious Yo-yo's: My favorite German that I've never met personally (here with my second favorite German I've never met personally) and Kris 'I'm slowly recovering from my failed marriage' Humphries had both simply off-seasons in 2013
2. The non-obvious Yo-yo's: Even though both of them are Feel-Good stories, both had similar statistical seasons earlier in their career. Feel free to compare 2011/12 Nets Gerald Green with 2014 Suns Green and 2010/11 Bobcats D.J. Augustin with 2014 Bulls Augustin. I have not seen enough games of the Bulls or the Suns (6 hours time difference...), but I would guess that being a fearless gunner makes a much more appealing storyline when you are on a winning team.

This leaves the following tiers of candidates for iMIP, for which I will present more stats (hopefully) tomorrow:
- borderline candidates: Brandon Knight (resurrected from the death!), Alec Burks and Marcus 'the second twin' Morris. All three of them have in common that they are third-year players with relative normal PER growth curves (I would guess)
- 'He wears 11=ff=Markieff' Morris (that's how you can separate them): the second Morris twin is definitely exceeding expectations for a third year player
- Pops' pupils: Not to take anything away from them, but both Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli are this years exhibit A and B for 'Greg Popovich should win Coach of the year every single year'
- 'Starters becoming All-Stars': A group containing DeMar DeRozan, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas & Paul George, who won the award already last year. Paul George would have been in a 'Starter to Superstar' tier if it weren't for a prolonged shooting slump.
- 'The brow and the beast': Here is Zach Lowe's take on Anthony Davis. The thing DeMarcus Williams now needs to improve the most: Mental stability
- The 'Brandan Wright might be a glitch in the PER matrix' tier: more on this and everything else iMIP related tomorrow

Have a nice day everybody,


  1. It's absurd to leave out Augustin - whatever your rationalization.

    PER 11.1 to 17.1

    TS .527 to .576

    USG 15.1 to 22

    WS 2.8 to 6.3

    AST 21.6 to 30

    TOV 16.8 to 12.4


  2. Augustin is definitely a great story and I have no problem if he is your iMIP :)
    My rationalization was that his 2010-11 season was relatively close to what he is doing now. His PER was 15.9 and his WS 6.2
    So he is in my opinion more a candidate for comeback player of the year...