Most Improved Player Rankings: Week 11

The race for Most Improved Player just got real.

Like “Boyz n the Hood” real. “Shawshank Redemption” real. “Snooki and J-Woww” real.

Guys are getting serious about winning this award, so the competition has gotten tougher than wildebeest mating season.

Kemba Walker, Omer Asik, Serge Ibaka, Larry Sanders and George Hill all have had breakout seasons, yet none of them were able to crack the top five in this week’s rankings.

Instead, Greivis Vasquez (14.1 ppg, 9.1 apg) and J.R. Smith (16.8 ppg, 3 apg, 5rpg) stand firmly in their way. Smith crashed the rankings after a 12-game stretch in which he pretended he was John Starks circa 1994. (Details on the next page).

Walker may have the biggest gripe about being left off of the list. He has out-improved Stephen Curry, who is shooting a career-low 43 percent from the field and has put up similar numbers before. Walker also is the primary reason Charlotte has won any games this season. He is averaging 20 points, 5.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds in Bobcats wins and has put up some pretty big stat lines in close losses.

But Curry is coming off 29 points and seven assists in Denver on Sunday, and the Warriors have a decent shot at home court advantage in the playoffs for the first time since TMC was still running. Plus, they have done it in a West so rugged you’d think John Wayne was coaching the Clippers.

And then there’s Nikola Vucevic.

Last week, I admitted I had a man-crush on Vucevic, who has come out of nowhere and started playing like Moses Malone. When the Magic acquired Vucevic from Philadelphia as part of the Dwight Howard trade, most NBA experts thought he was just a throw-in. Today, you could argue that Vucevic-for-Howard alone might be a steal.

Their numbers are comparable (Vucevic is averaging 11 ppg, 11 rpg; Howard 17 and 12), and their salaries are not. Howard will make a cap-strapping $19.5 million this season, while Vucevic will bring in $1.8 million. Throw in Howard’s back issues, and you can make a legitimate argument that  you would rather roll with Nikola for the next four or five seasons. Don’t forget that Vucevic surpassed Howard and Shaquille O’Neal for the franchise record for rebounds in a game after he ripped down 29 against Miami on New Year’s Eve.

So as it stands now, Vucevic is in a dead heat with front-runner Jrue Holiday, who has become an All-Star caliber point guard despite playing for the lousy Sixers. But anyone – even someone from outside the top five – could emerge and take the crown.

Count out no wildebeest. Not even Snooki.

On to the rankings.


  1. Magicfan says

    Nikola’s put up about 13.2 rebounds to go along with 12.8 points on over 54% from the field in nearly 35 minutes per game while dishing out almost as many assists as turnovers since the beginning of December.

  2. stepxxxxz says

    Yeah, this seems close to right. I think maybe Larry Sanders still needs to stay on, but its hard to knock any of these guys off. In a sense David lee is vastly improved, but he was good already, its just he is totaly new guy on defense. And defense doesnt really show up on stat sheets. I wonder if there isnt a case to made for Kenneth Faried, too. He has improved in all phases of the game, especially defense. I might get rid of JR Smith, who is still a guy not to be counted on in the clutch, and put in Sanders. Otherwise, great list.

    • says

      “Close to right?” I’ll take it! The one thing I will say…JR has hit two game-winners this year, so how is he not reliable in the clutch? I like Larry Sanders, but just couldn’t get him into the Top 5. You’re right, defense is harder to take into account, but I’ve still been trying to do so. Faried is another good suggestion, but not quite enough statistically (12 and 10 vs 10 and 8 last year). Keep the suggestions coming though. I like it.

    • stepxxxxz says

      wish Id remembered Davis. Very true, he’s playing the way everyone thought he would when he came into the league.

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