Kevin Durant for most improved player?

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I’ve never really quite gotten behind the Most Improved Player award or the 6th Man of the Year award. Two guys can be playing on teams that are just as good, put up the exact same numbers, play the exact same amount of minutes, and play defense just as well as the other one. But if one of those guys comes off the bench, he’s eligible for an award and the other guy isn’t. Likewise, if one guy had a bad year the year before, he becomes eligible for an award that the other guy won’t be. (I suppose you could say all of this about the rookie of the year award as well, but every NBA player is a rookie at some point.)

One thing about the Most Improved Player award is that it’s never quite clear what exactly “most improved” means in the context of the award. Is it about raw improvement, or improvement relative to what the player did the season before? (In other words, is a player going from 5 points per game to 12 points per game more impressive than a player going from 10 points per game to 19 points per game?) Can a player be considered “too good” to win a most improved player award? Is that right? 
Some very smart people have been asking the following question: why shouldn’t Kevin Durant win the Most Improved Player award? The award has generally gone to a solid or relatively unknown player who becomes a key contributor for their team, not a star who becomes a superstar. Having said that, I highly doubt that any player has improved as much as Kevin Durant has this season.
Durant’s scoring average is up four points per game this season. He averages a rebound more than he did last season. His PER has gone up a full six points this year. Before the season, raw and adjusted +/- numbers showed Durant to be somewhat of a liability. This season, Durant is among the league leaders in both metrics, a completely unprecedented improvement. (I can’t get over how ridiculous this was. When an advanced metric questioned Durant’s value, Durant broke the stat and made it difficult to ever take at face value again. It’s like how Jordan used to break the spirit of anyone who ever questioned him, but for the twitter generation.) 
Eddy Rivera has a handy little spreadsheet that shows Durant’s statistical improvement in comparison with some other candidates for the MIP award, and the numbers look good for Durant. And Durant’s improvement has been about more than just numbers. His defense is worlds improved. He’s matured into a leader on an unlikely 50-win team. He’s well on his way to becoming a crunch-time assassin when his teammates manage to get the ball into his hands. He’s a legit top-five MVP candidate at 21 years old.
I understand that the NBA likes to spread its awards out and recognize players who normally wouldn’t get late-season publicity. And I doubt Durant will care that much (read: at all) about not being considered for an MIP trophy. But wouldn’t it be something to give out the Most Improved Player award to the player who actually made the biggest improvement this season? 

Legend: LeBron James gained seven pounds during game

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Remember when LeBron James was getting back injections and missing weeks?

Now, at age 33 and in his 15th season, LeBron might play all 82 games for the first time in his career. And that’s while playing 37 minutes per game at a superstar level.

How did LeBron reverse what appeared to be declining athleticism and durability? Brian Windhorst of ESPN has a fantastically detailed article, focusing on LeBron’s personal biomechanist, Donnie Raimon, a former Navy SEAL.


James is known to personally spend seven figures a year caring for his body, and Raimon is part of that tab. So are personal chefs and masseuses. He also gets private treatments with liquid nitrogen to help reduce inflammation. James’ home facilities rival those of professional teams. In his home in Akron, James has a fully outfitted workout gym, hot and cold tubs and a hyperbaric chamber.

LeBron views that as investment. He’s earning $33,285,709 from the Cavaliers this season, and even at his age, he can command any contract from any team next summer. The path to LeBron maximizing his earnings is playing elite basketball as long as possible. The expenses incurred are a kick in the bucket.

In this excellent article – worth reading in full – Windhorst goes on an unbelievable tangent.


And the topper: the time James gained seven pounds during an Eastern Conference finals game.

Some Miami Heat teammates saw the scale and attest to it in amazement. James himself just shrugs and calls it “weird as hell.” The truly wild part is that it was from 271 pounds to 278 pounds, though James is much lighter these days.

Was LeBron wearing different clothes for each weigh-in? Did the scale malfunction during one?

It’s hard enough to come up with plausible explanations for the reading to increase by seven pounds. It’s far more difficult to believe LeBron actually gained seven pounds during a game.

But this story still contributes to the idea of LeBron’s body as otherworldly.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue taking leave of absence

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Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue left Cleveland’s win over the Bulls yesterday due to illness. He has also missed time in other games, shootarounds and practice due to the illness.

Apparently, he reached a breaking point.

Cavaliers release:

From Tyronn Lue:

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.

I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.

While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team. I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards.

I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”

From Koby Altman:

“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues.”

Hopefully, Lue gets through these issues and returns to the bench. My thoughts are with him.

This has been a trying season for Lue and the Cavs. Rumors have swirled about his job security, as Cleveland (40-29) has stumbled to third in the Eastern Conference. He was part of a shouting match with LeBron James on the bench (though an assistant coach might be have been LeBron’s target). Lue has had public disputes with Isaiah Thomas and J.R. Smith. And many took Kyrie Irving‘s praise of Celtics coach Brad Stevens as a shot at Lue.

All that stress does Lue’s health no favors.

Him stepping away is evidently for the best. A competitor like him wouldn’t have done so unless that was absolutely clear.

But this also leaves the Cavaliers in a tough place. They’re already trying to change so much on the fly after a busy trade-deadline day upended the roster. Adjusting to a new coach – associate head coach Larry Drew – only adds to the chaos.

Drew has previous head-coaching experience, with the Bucks and Hawks. So, that should help.

But Cleveland needs major work defensively and developing cohesion before the playoffs. The goal is beating the Warriors, but even winning the East looks dicey, especially given the Raptors’ emergence.

Lue’s health comes first, and hopefully time off helps him. Unfortunately, this situation also exacerbates other issues in Cleveland.

NBA, referees argue on Twitter

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As tension rises, players and coaches are taking it out on the officials. The NBA releases daily two-minute reports assessing calls late in close games. The referees’ union keeps complaining about that practice.

It all boiled over to a rare show of the league publicly calling a National Basketball Referees Association claim “not accurate:”

The NBRA is doing its members no favors with all these attempts to defend the process behind incorrect calls. People want correct calls and calls that favor their team. There’s nothing referees can do about the latter. They should focus on the former.

The inbound took longer than five seconds. It should have been a violation. The end.

Want to curry favor? Advocate for the NBA adopting the technology necessary to get these calls right. There’s no reason, in the year 2018, five-second calls should be determined by a referee tracking time with arm waves while watching for other calls. Nobody expects refs to count out the shot clock. Other timed calls – including three-second violations – should be handled with digital timers.

Instead, the referees union picks these lame public fights. The league’s response only increases the off-putting pettiness all around.

Nobody wants to root for referees. This is not going to turn mass opinion.

Watch Justin Timberlake drain half-court shot, a couple of three pointers

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Justin Timberlake is filthy.

At least in this NBA video he is.

Maybe the world’s biggest performer right now — and part owner of the Memphis Grizzlies — swung by the Washington Wizards practice facility and drained a few shots like it was nothing. The man can’t stop the feeling.

We see you, JT 👀 (repost @justintimberlake & @washwizards)

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