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Baseline Awards: Sixers' Jrue Holiday most improved player -- by far

By Matt Moore | NBA writer
Jrue Holiday is the MIP so far. (Getty Images)

No award causes more consternation among voters and media types than the Most Improved Player Award. MVP draws the most attention and the debates are often vigorous, but at least people understand the candidates. Rookie of the Year -- same; Sixth Man -- same. But Most Improved player is vexing for all sorts of reason.

At least we all agree that the MVP Award should exist. The other awards, they all make sense. But there are some that don't even know if MIP should exist, because we don't know how to define it. What is improved? Is it the player who improved the most? Is it the player who improved the most to a significant level? Is it based on per-minute production? Earning minutes?

(Note: The word "valuable" in "Most Valuable Player" has the same booby traps intentionally built-in, but that's part of what makes it fun. Most Improved lends itself to either laziness or an admission of the impossibility of adequate selection.)

Here's an example of how messed up this gets. If a player goes from scrub to starter, that's obviously a bigger jump than between superster to elite superstar. But does the superstar's jump mean more? In concrete terms, does Kevin Durant going from the second best player in the league to the 1B to LeBron's 1A mean more thanJrue Holiday going from a C-level player to an A-level player?

It gets complicated, it gets messy, and when that happens, scribes get twitchy. Half of them don't want to talk about it because it's not sexy enough, and the other half don't want to talk about it because it makes their brains hurt trying to figure out.

But here are some things about the Most Improved Player award race, anyway.

The runaway leader is Jrue Holiday, and this should not be a conversation. The fact that so few media members have him as the lead in their midseason rankings is kind of absurd. He clears the typical limitations, like being a sophomore, or just having a minutes increase. (He's up 4.4 minutes per game, but he was arleady at 33.8.)

It's not just the numbers. But let's talk about the numbers: 19 points per game, up from 13.5; 8.9 assists up from 4.5; 46 percent from the field up from 43. His per-36 numbers reflect the same improvement. He's nearly doubled his assist per game and per-minute, while going from a below-average 14.7 PER to a stellar 19.3.

You can talk about an increased level of responsibility with Andre Iguodala now in Denver and without Andrew Bynum. But that ignores the control that Holiday has gained over the game. You can take a bigger role, but that doesn't translate into the ability to take over and manage, affect, dominate a game. Holiday's added that. He went from "is this guy ever going to get it?" to "This guy is the only one who gets it" in a season.

And on top of all that, Holiday is doing this within Doug Collins' midrange-jumper-advocate, dungeon of doom offense.

He's there. He's made the leap, and he deserves the award.

-- Corey Brewer is the guy I've been championing for runner-up, and I'm about the only one. The fact that I live in Denver and see Brewer up close and personal game-by-game gives me a lot of pause to consider my bias. But I can't help but know that the player I saw in Minnesota wasting away, the player who played spot minutes in Denver, and even the player who only had a few moments last year is not this Corey Brewer. He's come into his own. And his ablity to make a monumental impact off the bench gets lost with the oddity of Denver's phenomenal offense and the old-man-game brilliance of Andre Miller.

Brewer's a defensive gambler, but he's learned, much like Tony Allen, his closest comparison, to recover off the gamble and avoid the disaster of a missed swipe. He gets into passing lanes, and leaks out in transition better than maybe any player on the planet.

Throw in the fact that he's gone from "horrible, awful, no good shooter" to "not entirely terrible" from the perimeter (he's shooting 40 percent from the corner on 3s), which helps to space a Denver offense that lacks shooters, and you have a better candidate than anyone's giving credit for.

-- Zach Harper makes a compelling case for Blake Griffin. If we're examining elite player jumps, like Durant, we should pay attention to the small improvements Griffin has made which has made him a much better player.

His defense has ticked up considerably, both in style and effectiveness. His post-moves continue to evolve ("All he does is dunk!") and his mid-range game is coming along. Most notably the hitch in his shot is gone, and now it's a matter of tweaking, not overhauling. He's become a remarkably better player and that puts the Clippers on a different level.

-- Paul George is a popular choice, but watching him, this is the player he was last year. He's being featured more, and while earning that featured time is worth compliments, the absence of Granger in a similar role (perimeter forward) does complicate matters.

Most of this comes down to perception. George was considered good last year, he's been great this year (hence the All-Star appearance), but not elite. I'm not surprised at George's performance as I am with Holiday's.

-- Greivis Vasquez has the strongest case for runner-up to Holiday, despite my affection for Brewer's more subtle maneuvering. New Orleans' Vasquez is the beneficiary, to be honest, of most of us being stunned at him being so much better than what evidence would suggest he could be. Even coaches and scouts marvel at a player who does so much with so little in the way of physical advantages.

With Rajon Rondo's injury, Vasquez leads the league among active players in assists per game and assist percentage. This is a player who when drafted had questions like "Is he an NBA player?" and now he's taken a starting role for a team with very little talent and become arguably their second-best player.

Vasquez is crafty, smart, and efficient, and his work deserves the recognition of a runner' up bid.


-- Last but not least, Milwaukee's Larry Sanders needs to be included on the list. It's always good to see a young big man develop, but Sanders has become something else. He's on track to become a top defensive center in this league within the next four years.

He's a blocks machine, but that stat is often empty. In truth, he's mastered the art of protecting the rim, managing rotations and containing penetration while not allowing his man easy scores routinely. This is the hardest thing in the NBA to do right now in a half-court set and Sanders is elite at it.

All this for a kid who looked lost two years ago. Young players get better! Surprise!

AWARDS WATCH



MVP
1. Kevin Durant, Thunder: The man's on an inhuman offensive streak.
2. LeBron James, Heat: Slips to 1B after Durant's unbelievable week. Needed to close out Boston and put the nails in their coffin.
3. Carmelo Anthony, Knicks: That sound you hear is Anthony making another 3.
4. Chris Paul, Clippers: Injuries and his penchant for saving himself will likely derail his last, best chance at MVP.

6th Man of the Year
1. Jamal Crawford, Clippers: Big reason the Clippers haven't bottomed out without CP3, though he missed a big shot late vs. Portland.
2. Carl Landry, Warriors: Why is no one talking more about this guy's contributions?
3. Amir Johnson, Raptors: The Raptors' only hope is that Johnson's effort can keep them in the playoff race.
4. Kevin Martin, Thunder: Again, why is no one noticing how good he's been? His defense has even been pretty good.
5. Jarrett Jack, Warriors: Crafty and willing to take over in big spots for a young team.

Defensive Player Of the Year
1. Andre Iguodala, Nuggets: You'll know more about why he's my pick later this week.
2. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies: Probably the best pick and roll big in the league, tough enough to post, quick enough to play in space. A monster.
2. Andrei Kirilenko, Timberwolves: Take out AK's defense and the Wolves are a nightmarish disaster.
4. Larry Sanders, Bucks: Turns out the Larry Sanders' show is a block party.
5. Tyson Chandler, Knicks: Chandler would be higher were the Knicks' defense not suddenly so mediocre. It's not because of his Chandler, but fair or not, his expectation is to hold it.

Rookie of the Year
1. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers: This thing is getting closer, but he's made some big plays again in the past week. Can he avoid the rookie wall?
2. Bradley Beal, Wizards: You can point to Beal as a big reason the Wizards are suddenly not only competitive but downright good.
3. Andre Drummond, Pistons: A monster in limited minutes. If Frank gives him the minutes, he could make a push to win this thing, amazingly.
4. Antony Davis, Hornets: Still looking like the best player, long-term.
5. Jared Sullinger, Celtics: Has legitimately earned his starting spot for the Celtics. He's been great in his very specific role for the Celtics.

Most Improved Player (see above)
1. Jrue Holiday, Sixers
2. Greivis Vasquez, Hornets
3. Corey Brewer, Nuggets
4. Brook Lopez, Nets
5. Larry Sanders, Bucks

Executive of the Year
1. Bob Myers, Warriors: Incredible balance on this roster, and they're about to get Bogut back.
2. Danny Ferry, Hawks: This is a tough team with a strong identity, movable parts and cap space. What more do you want?
3. Daryl Morey, Rockets: Swung for the fences and hit. That deserves credit.
4. Billy King, Nets: Someone's gotta get credit for the team's success.
5. Glen Grunwald, Knicks: Let's face it, this is the best Knicks team since Ewing.

Coach of the Year
1. Scott Brooks, Thunder: I've thought long and hard about this, and I don't see any way around it. He lost James Harden and the team got better. He's developed good players and made veterans fit. This team is incredible. Brooks is more a part of it than people will admit because of Durant's brilliance.
2. Mark Jackson, Warriors: Brought a team together around several concepts that are hard sells for its personnel and made it work. The young guys are playing like vets and the vets aren't big-timing anyone. Masterful job.
3. Mike Woodson, Knicks: His late game stuff has been surprisingly good, even with the isolations. He's also managed to make this team better than numbers would indicate.
4. Gregg Popovich, Spurs: Look who's back. Again.
5. Vinny Del Negro, Clippers: Stop looking at us like that.

 
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