This is the final edition of the Most Improved Player Rankings and I—
I’m sorry … I … told myself I wasn’t going to cry. (sniffle)
It’s been an amazing run here at the Most Improved Player Rankings. We’ve talked about donut races, wildebeests, and Andy Enfield’s wife. We’ve made fun of just about every basketball announcer out there and also Jim Nantz.
But now it’s finally time to get down to the business of naming the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
This award is one of the toughest in the NBA to hand out. For a variety of reasons, there are more candidates for Most Improved Player than ever before, and it’s almost impossible to separate the top guy from candidate number 7. There are some guidelines to help you sift through the rubble, but every player on this list has passed those tests.
In the end, this award is about per-36 minute stats. It’s about impact on your team, and about monster games. Most people around the league seem to think that Paul George should win the award, but they’re wrong.
Nikola Vucevic is the Most Improved Player in the NBA.
Vucevic averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds last season while spending most of his time buried deeper than Jimmy Hoffa on Doug Collins’ bench in Philadelphia. In 2011-12, he was a non-factor, a DNP-CD specialist, a Mark Titus Club Trill member.
This season, he’s been a beast out of a parable who set the Magic’s all-time single-game rebounding record. Remember, this is a franchise that has employed both Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard.
Vucevic has put up the following lines: 30 and 20, 20 and 29, 21 and 21, 25 and 21, 17 and 19. He’s gotten better each month as the season has gone along, and now, he’s an automatic double-double machine, having posted seven straight and nine in 10 games.
Sure, George has taken over for Danny Granger and become an All-Star. And sure, the Pacers haven’t missed a beat. But he was a quality player last season. You could argue that, given the chance, he could have performed this way last season.
Not Vucevic. He wasn’t even in the same stratosphere last season. In fact, Vucevic put up only two double-doubles as a rookie and played a grand total of three minutes in the playoffs for the Sixers. This season, marquees now read, “Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic.”
There are other players whose improvement has been remarkable, and without whom these rankings would not have been nearly as entertaining.
Greivis Vasquez has come out of nowhere to become the league’s third-leading assists man. Larry Sanders has gone from benchwarmer to one of the league’s best defensive players and was even featured in last week’s issue of Sports Illustrated. Jrue Holiday went from decent point guard to All-Star, and Omer Asik went from Bulls backup to the third-best rebounder in the NBA in Houston.
If not for Vucevic’s improving prowess, all of them could have won the award. But as Green Day knew when they wrote the saddest non-Sara McLaughlin song in world history:
Nikola Vucevic was just something unpredictable. And in the end, it’s right.
I hope you had the time of your life.
On to the rankings.