They’re shiny and sometimes gold. You get to keep them and hang them on your wall, and then “accidentally” bump into them when your grandma comes over, so she can say “Careful!” and then “Ooh, what’s that?,” and you can tell her about how awesome you are.
Sometimes, you get to stand up in front of other people and give speeches when you win an award. You can say motivational things like, “You the Real MVP!” and get moved to tears while everybody claps for your accomplishment.
Yeah, getting an award is usually a great thing.
But in the case of the Most Improved Player award, it’s actually kind of an insult.
It’s a backhanded compliment, like telling your girlfriend that the chicken she cooked for dinner isn’t bone-dry this time. (Even though I meant that in the nicest way possible.)
The Most Improved Player award basically says: “Hey man, you kinda sucked before, but you’re actually good now! Congratulations!”
Maybe that’s why when Blazers guard C.J. McCollum was asked about being in the Most Improved Player running, he was a little standoffish.
“I’m not most improved,” McCollum basically said. “I’ve always been good.”
And while some people probably think he’s just being another cocky athlete, I can see where he’s coming from.
I won the Most Improved Player award at basketball camp back in eighth grade. Chris Sheridan hasn’t exactly told me this, but I know it’s the reason I have this column now. Firsthand knowledge of the Most Improved game.
The trophy was cool and all, but like McCollum, I was kind of annoyed, too. I didn’t improve that much during the one-week camp, I just got used to my surroundings, made some friends and got more comfortable. Then, I started going HAM, draining threes in everyone’s eye like it was my job.
I understand what these players feel like. So, no disrespect to anyone being mentioned in these rankings.
We know you’ve all always been good players. It’s just that your coach finally believes in you, and you made a bunch of friends on your current team and went HAM, draining threes in everyone’s eye like it’s your job.
Except, it is your job. And you’re getting better at it.
And you know what? You deserve an award for that.
On to the rankings.
1. C.J. McCollum, G, Trail Blazers: Sorry, C.J. You did this to yourself. If you really don’t want to be considered among the league’s most improved, maybe you shouldn’t be averaging a career-high 21 points per game, up from 6.8 last season. Sure, his minutes are way up (35.5 from 15.7 last season), but so are his field goal percentage and per-36 numbers.
2. Draymond Green, F, Warriors: Draymond fits the “I’m not most improved, I’ve always been good,” mantra as well. He was one of the best players in the country in college at Michigan State, but was overlooked in the draft because he was a “tweener”. Whatever. As Green’s role with the Dubs has increased, so has his production. He’s aveeraging career highs in field goal percentage (46%), 3-point percentage (42%), points (14.8), boards (9.5) and assists (7.4). He also leads the NBA with seven triple-doubles.
3. Stephen Curry, G, Warriors: It’s scary that Steph keeps showing up in these rankings year after year. He was the best player in the world last season, and now he’s one of the most improved this year? Are you kidding me? Dude is like some kind of Terminator-style robot, sent from the future. Curry is shooting a career-high 51 percent from the field and knocking down 4.5 threes per game. No wonder the Dubs are 33-2.
4. Will Barton, G, Nuggets: The former Memphis standout and D-League star is finally making his way in the NBA, earning a solid rotation role with the Nuggets. He’s playing 30 minutes a night, and putting up 16.2 points and 6.1 boards per game. Portland probably wishes it still had him. Among reserves, only Ryan Anderson is averaging more points per game.
5. Kent Bazemore, F, Hawks: We always knew Bazemore was going to be good, ever since he was a first-team all-league towel waver with the Warriors. (Yep, another guy from that team.) He’s not only one of the best teammates and character guys in the league, he’s actually a very good player, too. Bazemore has earned a starting role with the Hawks this season and is knocking down threes at a 42% clip. He’s also become one of the league’s better defensive small forwards while averaging 13.2 points.