Every year, plenty of NBA players significantly step up their game. Of those who did so in 2014-15, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside and Klay Thompson stood out as the main guys who elevated their reputations around the league.
However, only Butler was able to win the league’s Most Improved Player award.
The Most Improved Player award is always one of the most difficult honors to predict, both before and during the season. Usually, more than 30 players receive at least one vote, and each voter has his own set of criteria.
Some voters look for big leaps in volume stats; others look for hikes in efficiency or on the defensive end of the court; there’s also the age-old question: should the award go to someone who went from “nothing special” to “good,” or a player who went from “good” to “great?” Many other factors also go into the equation, depending on the voter.
Well, here are some averages that might help us predict the honor’s recipient in the future.
The average Most Improved Player award-winner during the last 15 years has been 23.5 years old and averaged 36.4 minutes, 19,3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists per game. His team’s record has been 44-38.
So the MIP winner will probably be young, get a lot of minutes and put up pretty impressive stats for a slightly above-average team. Duly noted.
Now, let’s run through six of the best candidates for the award in the 2015-16 season, with statistical projections.
Mason Plumlee, Portland Trail Blazers
2014-15 per-game statistics: 21.3 minutes, 8.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, 18.0 PER, 0.158 win shares per 48 minutes
The Brooklyn Nets’ playoff hopes may have benefitted from Brook Lopez’s return from a back injury last December, but Mason Plumlee sure didn’t.
In Lopez’s eight-game absence, Plumlee started seven contests and averaged 16.6 points, 10 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 33.1 minutes per game. Lest you think he was just chucking up shots, the 25-year-old post shot 62.3 percent from the field during that stretch. He even prompted articles like this.
Once Lopez came back, Plumlee’s minutes gradually dwindled down to numbers that were not befitting for someone of his talent level—8.2 minutes per game during the playoffs.
It’s safe to say Plumlee’s draft-night move to the Trail Blazers will give him a healthy boost in minutes. In Portland, Mason will compete for playing time in the big-man rotation with Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh and Chris Kaman.
Right now, you could argue Plumlee is the best player in the Blazers’ frontcourt. It’s both an indication of how gutted the team was this summer as well as Plumlee’s talent.
Look for the athletic big to come through with a strong year in extended minutes.
Projected 2015-16 per-game statistics: 31.4 minutes, 14.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.5 blocks, 20.9 PER, 0.162 win shares per 48 minutes
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
2014-15 per-game statistics: 33.4 minutes, 15.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 14.3 PER, 0.085 win shares per 48 minutes
If there were a team made up of guys whose statistics are worse than you would think, Bradley Beal would be the headliner.
Just 15.3 points and a 14.3 player efficiency rating for a guy of Beal’s scoring ability and overall talent? Really?
Of course, Beal’s playoff scoring numbers from the last two years have been great (19.2 and 23.4 points per game, respectively), so that’s probably why his regular-season stats seem so bad.
Anyway, the former Florida standout only just turned 22 years old, so he’s still working on the consistency aspect of his game. By all indications, he’s ready to take that next step into No. 1 option territory. John Wall’s held that status in Washington for a couple of years now, but the backcourt duo could share more of a balanced workload in 2015-16.
Projected 2015-16 per-game statistics: 35.5 minutes, 20.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 19.7 PER, 0.155 win shares per 48 minutes
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
2014-15 per-game statistics: 33.4 minutes, 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks, 13.9 PER, 0.034 win shares per 48 minutes
Andrew Wiggins’ efficiency stats were really bad for someone of his ability last year, but that should change in 2015-16.
In his rookie year, “Maple Jordan” (isn’t that the sickest nickname you’ve ever heard?) shouldered a huge scoring burden for the terrible, injury-riddled Timberwolves squad, which affected his efficiency. The team’s defense was bad, so Wiggins’ numbers on that end didn’t look good, either.
To start the 2015-16 season, he should remain the team’s No. 1 scoring option, but he’ll also have some help. Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad and Kevin Martin should be completely healthy, plus Karl-Anthony Towns-Kevin Garnett-Nikola Pekovic-Gorgui Dieng isn’t a half-bad frontcourt rotation.
On the defensive end, he showed lockdown potential that should develop more as he gains experience. If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of this play on James Harden.
Wiggins is working hard to improve this summer, and the fruits of his labor will be on display during the 2015-16 season.
Projected 2015-16 per-game statistics: 36.3 minutes, 21.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.7 blocks, 19.6 PER, 0.135 win shares per 48 minutes
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
2014-15 per-game statistics: 35.7 minutes, 17.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 15.9 PER, 0.065 win shares per 48 minutes
You could argue Victor Oladipo made his leap last season, but I believe a bigger one will come in the upcoming one.
‘Dipo’s offense progressed immensely, but he’s still a solid jump shot away from being a capable No. 1 scoring option. I think we’ll find that he worked on that a lot over the summer, knowing he would play next to Elfrid Payton and his nonexistent shot in the backcourt quite a bit.
On defense, he hasn’t been quite the stud many thought he would be, but he’s still been above-average. Look for him to starts translating his physical gifts and effort into better results on that end with his gained experience.
Oladipo probably won’t win the Most Improved Player award, because his starting point is relatively high, but he’ll get some votes for big improvements in efficiency and on defense.
Projected 2015-16 per-game statistics: 35.3 minutes, 19.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, 19.6 PER, 0.148 win shares per 48 minutes
Derrick Williams, New York Knicks
2014-15 per-game statistics: 19.8 minutes, 8.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 15.9 PER, 0.065 win shares per 48 minutes
Then again, he has played for two terrible organizations (the Timberwolves and the Kings) that have struggled to utilize his gifts and have been unwilling give him big minutes that top-two picks are usually given regardless.
The Knicks organization, which he joined this summer in free agency, has struggled as of late, but it still has Phil Jackson, who is excited to use Williams in a variety of ways. The two talked about Williams’ role at a Summer League contest in July, per Marc Berman of the New York Post.
According to Williams, “They want me to play a little bit of everything—come off pick and rolls, set picks, pick and pop, stretch the floor. Phil already told me he really wants me to be everywhere on the court. Not just in the corner or elbow—being able to do multiple things at one time, doing a little bit of everything.”
Williams is extremely athletic, has solid shooting range for a power forward and also has the dribbling ability and body control of many perimeter players. He’s also exploded in random games.
20-year-old rookie Kristaps Porzingis isn’t ready to start yet, so the Knicks are best-served to give him a bench role and give Derrick Williams most of the starting reps in 2015-16. He fits nicely next to new center Robin Lopez, who’s a strong interior defender and screener, two things Williams isn’t known for.
With more rhythm and the confidence that a team actually wants his services, the draft disappointment will flash some of the potential he showed when the Timberwolves drafted him so high.
Projected 2015-16 per-game statistics: 29.4 minutes, 14.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 16.8 PER, 0.110 win shares per 48 minutes
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
2014-15 per-game statistics: 26.2 minutes, 12.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.2 blocks, 20.6 PER, 0.189 win shares per 48 minutes
Projected 2015-16 per-game statistics: 31.4 minutes, 17.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.7 blocks, 20. PER, 0.110 win shares per 48 minutes
Jonas Valanciunas lacks consistency. Unfortunately, that’s what separates good players from stars.
The Lithuanian center, who was working toward a four-year, $60 million-plus extension with Toronto Monday, per Marc Stein, has shown improvement in each of his three NBA seasons, and the next two steps are becoming more reliable on the defensive end and also more relentless on the offensive end.
Amir Johnson is out as the team’s starting power forward, with Patrick Patterson in. Patterson is a stretch 4, which means more space inside for Valanciunas to use. New backup center Bismack Biyombo should thoroughly demonstrate the importance of defensive effort in Raptors practice.
Valanciunas has the size (7’0″, 255 pounds) and skill to wear out his matchup on both ends of the floor, and I believe he gets closer to doing that in 2015-16.
Note: All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com