It 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.