Report: Rocket's Aaron Brooks to be named NBA's Most Improved Player

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nba_brooks_250.jpgIt is the most nebulous of all the NBA post-season awards, the hardest to define and usually the one where the worst choice is made — Most Improved Player. All too often it goes to a guy who didn’t really get better as much as finally got his chance, then played about the same as always with a lot more minutes.

Meet Aaron Brooks. He is your NBA most improved player this year, the Houston Chronicle is reporting.

He is a guy who made a massive jump in minutes this season. But he’s also a guy who saw his per-minute and efficiency stats improve this season, something that usually decreases (or at best stays flat) when there is a huge jump in minutes.

A few weeks ago, the insanely well-respected people at Basketball-Reference.com (including by me) all but said voting for Brooks was a mistake. They ran the statistical breakdown of how much players outperformed what should be their statistical expectations, and they came up with Kevin Durant as your MIP (with Luke Ridnour second and Quentin Richardson third).

Brooks came in at 106.

Believe it or not, Brooks has actually played a bit below his expectation. Now, I know the argument: Brooks has managed to maintain his efficiency while increasing his minutes by about 10 per game. That’s true, but that does not mean that Brooks has actually improved. There are two possibilities:

1) Brooks should have seen a decrease in efficiency given an increase in his minutes, and the fact that he has been able to maintain that efficiency is evidence of improvement. 2) Brooks has not improved beyond what we would expect from a player his age, and his per game numbers are up simply because of an increase in minutes played.

Quite frankly, there is no way to prove whether (1) or (2) is correct. I tend to believe that the answer is a combination of the two, but more (2) than (1). Regardless, the fact that we can argue this point should make it clear that Durant should be the winner, as we are certain that Durant has shown remarkable improvement.

I’d have no problem with Durant as MIP, although my guess (based on things like this) is that most media voters threw him out of the running here because he is in the MVP running. That is not fair. There is no reason that a guy making the leap to superstardom can’t be the guy who improves the most. Heck, there’s no reason the league’s best player couldn’t be the guy who improved the most.

But lets not just throw Brooks under the bus. I think B-R was just a little dismissive of what he did this season. His minutes jumped 10 per game — that often means a decrease in efficiency — but his eFG% jumped from 47.6 percent to 51.1 percent, his True Shooting Percentage jumped from 52.1 percent to 54.9 percent, three-point shooting improved, his points per minute improved, his assists per minute improved.

These are not little things. Brooks did improve this season, and the fact that players his age (this was his third season, he is now 25) should improve to me does not negate those factors. I would not have voted for Brooks for MIP, but to suggest this was a terrible miscarriage of justice is just overstating the case. The guy did actually improve. That’s better than some years.

Report: Heat complained to ‘highest levels of the league office’ about favorable calls for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker

Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker (15) is congratulated by Jeremy Lin (7) after making a basket against the Sacramento Kings in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. The Hornets won 127-122 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The Heat and Hornets are clearly tiring of each other, six games of testiness culminating with Game 7 today.

One particular battle line being drawn is over Jeremy Lin (6.3) and Kemba Walker (5.5), who lead players in this series in free-throw attempts per game.

Marc Stein:

ESPN sources say that one of the factors that ramped up the tension between the teams stems from Miami complaints to the highest levels of the league office after Game 4 about what the Heat deemed to be favorable officiating for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker.

Lin and Walker relentlessly driven to the basket. That’s why they’ve attempted so many free throws. If Miami wants to keep them off the line, trap them harder on the perimeter.

That said, this is part of playoff gamesmanship. If the Heat plant a seed with referees – through the league office or otherwise – that Lin and Walker are drawing too many fouls, maybe that affects a call today. With the margins so narrow, every little bit helps.

Watch LaMarcus Aldridge drop 38 on Thunder

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Oklahoma City has more than a few adjustments to make after a brutal defensive effort in Game 1 of their series against San Antonio, but at the top of the list is sticking with LaMarcus Aldridge on defense.

He was killing them from the midrange, and more than half of his looks were uncontested — the Thunder know he can knock down that shot, right?

It was a fantastic performance from Aldridge; we’ll see if he faces tougher defense in Game 2.

NBA: Trail Blazers scored after uncalled illegal screen by Trail Blazers in final minutes

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Should we be preparing for Game 7 of the Trail Blazers-Clippers series today?

If the officials had called the final minutes of the last game correctly, maybe.

Portland won Game 6 to take the series 4-2, but a missed call a key missed call helped clinch.

With 1:45 left, Mason Plumlee got away with offensively fouling Jamal Crawford, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Plumlee (POR) sets the screen on Crawford (LAC) without giving him room to avoid the contact.

A correct call would’ve meant a Trail Blazers turnover. Instead, Damian Lillard ended the possession with two made free throws.

Portland’s advantage when the Clippers began intentionally fouling: two.

Would the Clippers have won if the refs called Plumlee’s offensive foul? Impossible to say. The final 1:45 could’ve played out much differently.

But this missed call, the only error in the Last Two Minute Report, certainly boosted the Trail Blazers’ odds.

Four Things to Watch in two Game 7s Sunday

during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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It’s what the playoffs are all about — win or go home Game 7s. Pressure, drama, unlikely stars Sunday is going to have it all. Here are a few things to watch:

1) Can Miami’s jump shooters have another hot game? Dwyane Wade got the headlines (and he earned them) for his Game 6 performance (everyone except purple shirt guy was impressed), but the real key for the Heat to force a Game 7 was they were hitting their jumpers — or at least enough of them. In their three losses, Miami shot 33.7 percent from 3 feet out to the arc, but in Game 6 the Heat shot 43.5 percent in that range, plus knocked down eight threes. The Hornets have packed the paint all series, when the Heat hit their jumpers they win. It’s that simple.

2) Does Kemba Walker have one more big game in him? Walker was fantastic in Game 6 (37 points), and he’s been very good in the Hornets’ victories. He’s going to penetrate and get some shots inside eight feet, but will he be able to finish? And, more importantly, will he hit his threes when they pack the paint on him? If Walker has a huge game, Charlotte very likely moves on.

3) Is Toronto too far into their own head? No team has more pressure on them to advance out of the first round than Toronto after two previous years of getting bounced in the first round, and they will feel that weight at home in Game 7 against Indiana. Will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan step up with big games in the biggest moments of their careers, or will they succumb to the moment and the Pacers defense? For all the Xs and Os that do matter in this game, how the Raptors handle the pressure will be key.

4) Can the Pacers again get a few quality minutes when Paul George sits? In the Pacers comfortable Game 6 win, George got a rest in the second quarter and the Pacers were +5 while he sat. That was a huge step up from Game 5, where the Pacers were -18 when he was out for less than 7 minutes. If Indiana — by playing some starters such as Myles Turner — doesn’t have a huge bench drop off when George rests a few minutes their odds of winning go way up. We know Paul George can handle the moment.