Most Improved Player Rankings: Week 16

Much like President’s Day or Halloween, the All-Star break is a time for reflection.

It’s a time when loved ones gather ’round to watch the greatest basketball players on Earth take part in an exhibition not bound by trivialities such as defense or traveling violations.

And much like President’s Day or Halloween, you find yourself sharing good cheer with your fellow men and thinking towards the future.

Merry President’s Day, everyone.

With that spirit in mind, here are a few predictions for the second half of the NBA season:

1. Danny Granger’s return might hurt Paul George’s chances of winning Most Improved Player.

Ever since Granger went down, George has taken over as Indiana’s alpha dog. But that could change once Granger returns to the lineup.

Without Granger, the Pacers needed George to step up and deliver, and he has, putting up 17.6 points, 4.0 assists and 7.8 boards per game.  If Granger comes back and tries to take over, a power struggle could ensue, and that’s never a good thing. (Just ask the Lakers.) It might be best for the Pacers if Granger checks himself down, falls back into a defense-and-rebounding type of role, and lets George do his thing.  At least for the rest of this season.

Will that happen? Who knows. If it doesn’t, both George and the Pacers could suffer.

2. The Sixers’ hopelessness could hurt Jrue Holiday’s MIP chances.

The Sixers have been so uninspiring and blah this season that it’s hard to believe that they are going to pick themselves up and get back into the playoff chase. The seventh-place Celtics are 7-2 A.R. (After Rondo), and KG and Pierce don’t look like they are going to allow that team to miss the playoffs.

Milwaukee is just 26-25 but has more talent than the Sixers do. If Philadelphia doesn’t find its groove soon, it could be staring down the barrel of a meaningless stretch run. That can’t be good for anyone’s game, even Holiday’s, who has put the team on his back, Greg Jennings-in-Madden-style, all season long.

3. A big second half could vault any of about 57 guys to the Most Improved Player Award.

Because of the one-and-done rule in college and the breadth of young players in the NBA, this award is about as wide-open as Dwight Howard at the 3-point line. (I still can’t believe he drilled that three in the All-Star Game.)

There are any number of candidates – from Larry Sanders to J.J. Hickson to Tristan Thompson to Jimmy Butler to David Lee to Robin Lopez – who haven’t gotten enough pub in this spot. But a big second half could lift one of them to the podium, carrying home the Gheorge Muresan Memorial Trophy. (Sorry, I just think Muresan’s likeness needs to be on a trophy.)

This award is, after all, about improvement, and nothing says “improved” like a couple of monster games down the stretch.

4. When it’s all said and done, Nikola Vucevic will win the award.

That’s my feeling right now. Vucevic has had the right combination of complete obscurity, monster performances (the 29-rebound game in December) and consistency needed to win the award.

It’s still anybody’s game, but Vucevic sits in the driver’s seat as we speak.

On to the rankings.

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