January 6, 2014

The Value of Improvement: Email Exchanges on some of the NBA's most pressing and depressing thoughts

Let's just call it the 2-man e-weave, a stripped down online version of the popular basketball drill (the 3-man weave) except that it's done with words and not basketballs and requires only the workout of keyboard typing fingers (and the occasional workout of the mind).

Soon after I praised the Pacers possibly fielding three most-improved players on the same roster (Granger, George... and a contender for this season: Stephenson) on Twitter a couple of weeks ago I was approached by my man James Hsu with a simple yet powerful idea: "Can P-George qualify for MVP and MIP in the same season? Always improving: your Indiana Pacers! I feel like discussing what MIP or MVP would be an article in itself. We should do a Simmons-Gladwell style email exchange."

James, an NBA addict whenever he's escaping from the responsibilities of real life (and perhaps even during those responsibilities), is a regular writer on his blog and elsewhere, covering every topic from expat experiences in China to music reviews. The NBA is one of our common passions, and so I didn't take much convincing to agree to his idea.

So over the next few days, we exchanged emails about our thoughts relating to the game's most valuable and most improved players so far this season, before spiraling into the rant stratospheres. And... I'll let James take it away from here...


Hey Karan,

Happy holidays man. Hope you're doing well and you got a chance to watch some of the Christmas games tonight. The OKC Thunder definitely took care of business against the Melo-less Knicks, but I don't want to get too deep into that, for fear of getting us off-topic. (You know I can go on and on about the best team in the league...OK I'll stop!)

What I want to discuss with you today is the subject of Most Improved Player and Most Valuable Player - "MIP" and "MVP" for short. It started from something you tweeted about recently - whether Lance Stephenson could win the MIP this year. Dude just had a ridiculous game, with YET ANOTHER triple double in the books. We tweeted briefly about Granger, George and the history of the always-improving-Pacers. The Pacers are just an unbelievable team - well coached and well run as an organization.

Though the regular season is far from over, it's never too early to think about our early-season picks for MIP and MVP. So I thought it would be fun to have an email exchange with you about (1) what goes into the MIP / MVP selection process and (2) our picks for MIP / MVP.

We're going to riff off of the Simmons-Gladwell format a little bit. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And we're both Grantland nerds, so what the heck.

So let me get things started - how would you define "Most Improved Player" and "Most Valuable Player"? It's a terribly subjective measure, to be sure, but I'd like to get your perspective. If you were going to cast your vote, what goes into your thought process?


Hi James,

Merry Christmas and Happy Post Christmas Feast Coma Day.

I totally jumped at your idea of an email exchange - which isn't just an imitation of Simmons/Gladwell - it's a pure, raw, and uncut steal. STEAL. STEAL. STEAL. STEAL. Glad that I got that out of my system.

Moving on to more pressing matters.

I've long been intrigued, concerned, amused, and even sometimes angered by the definitions of MVP and MIP. But I think the beauty of the system is the very fact that each one of us has a different definition. If we all thought the same, exact, scientific way, then LeBron James would be cruising to the next five MVP awards without debate and that is certainly not the world I want to live in.

Here is my definition: the 'Most Valuable Player' is the one player whose absence would make the biggest difference in the final standings of the league. This player isn't just the best stats guy or the best player in the best team: he is a combination of all factors that effects both his team and the rest of the league more than any other player.

(If I ruled the NBA world, there would only be one consolidated MVP award given at the end of the Finals (instead of MVP/Finals MVP) to the absolute biggest game changer of the season. But that is another tangent for another day.)

Now, the Most Improved Player award gets even more complicated. It sounds simple at first: the guy who 'improves' the 'most', is the 'most improved'. If every NBA player is rated from 1-100, what player makes the biggest jump in his ratings? But historically, this award is only given to one type of improvement: of a under-25 rated guy moving to become an around 50-75 rated guy. Bobby Simmons, Boris Diaw, Hedo Turkoglu, Aaron Brooks, and Ryan Anderson are perfect examples of this. Every once in a while, a guy like Kevin Love or Paul George breaks the mould and actually 'improves' to become a All Star instead of just a decent starter.

But the award rarely looks at the maturation of an All Star into a Superstar. Of a 75-80 guy elevating his game into the 90s. In 2010-12, I believed that Kevin Durant should be considered for this type of improvement, but when a guy is so competitive in the MVP race, few voters around the league consider him to be an MIP as well.

This season, that guy is Paul George, who sneaked into his first All Star game last season, and has sneaked into MVP talk this season. His candidacy opens up a whole Pandora's Box of questions. Could he be the first to win both the MVP and MIP award? Could he be the first to have two MIP awards in a row?


In this case, we'll give ourselves a collective pat on the back for stealing - or shall I say re-appropriating - the idea. It's another free plug for Grantland, which never fails to impress.

I think that your definition of MVP is rock solid and spot-on. Fully agree that MVP needs to be the most valuable TO THAT TEAM, but I like the way you put it - "biggest difference in the final standings of the league." The MVP needs to have a big enough impact that he's affecting the balance of power in that division, and probably the entire damn conference. He's the guy that when other teams suit up to play, they think about That Guy. Is That Guy going to dominate the game? Have we prepared sufficiently for him? Will That Guy beat us at the buzzer?

In the past I've been conflicted about making distinctions between the Most Valuable Player and the Best Player, which is why I never believed Steve Nash to be an MVP and why I was on Team Kobe instead of Team Shaq. I will add to your definition, which is that the MVP needs to get it done on both ends of the floor. Jordan did that. When Miami only had Wade, it was the same thing. And Lebron is like that now. (And this is why Nash isn't on my list.)

The best theoretical exercise, by the way, is to imagine the team without that player. Then it becomes easier to see his value. (Like the Melo-less Knicks on Christmas Day...OK, I need to nip this reference in the bud.)

The funny thing about our definitions, or anyone's definition for that matter, though, is that Lebron James is the clear-cut MVP no matter what definition we use. He is clearly the best player on the planet. He contributes in every way, on both ends of the floor. He now has that killer instinct and knows when to put his head down to get to the line. When he plays basketball it's like he's playing a video game - he can get any shot he wants on the court. And he's shooting ABSURD percentages, unreal percentages.

The runner-up, Kevin Durant, is also a statistical monster, but not to the same extent as James. And he's not as dominant defensively.

The only argument against Bron I would make is that when you compare him next to Paul George, the Pacers would struggle more without George in the lineup than the Heat would without Lebron. That's because the Pacers are offensively challenged and don't run as much - you might even pin that on the point guard. In a moment of weakness, I thought about Paul George as MVP, but he just isn't as dominant as James or Durant. He's a fantastically improving player (and we'll get to that in a sec), but not quite MVP yet.

Admittedly, I am not as well versed as you in thinking about the various ways the Most Improved Player race could play out. It's pretty human to notice the BEST players on the planet; it's quite another skill to see the biggest improvements made. Again, I think your definition makes a lot of sense, and I'm really tempted now to fire up NBA 2K so that I can start going through the virtual player rankings. The challenge, obviously, is that we don't know a lot of the time how these players are REALLY ranked on a scale of 1 to 100 while they're riding the bench or getting limited playing time. Did Kevin Love really make an astronomical jump, or was he in the right system? Would Dirk become the superstar he is today had Nellie not given him a shot?

If I think about the examples you gave, yes, players like Turk and Diaw went from unknowns to sensations over the course of a season. Basketball is about confidence, and some of these players simply were given a shot given how hard they worked on their game and a combination of coaching / team circumstance.

A recent example that comes to mind is J.J. Redick - he went from a guy who could only knock down 3s to someone who could make pull-up jumpers and even play a little D. He clearly put work into his game, and it shows. He's somebody who deserves his contract.

I'll add to your definition of MIP one more thing - any tie breaker can be resolved by the record of that player's team. In other words, he needs to help the team win in some way, and not just be vastly improved on a mediocre team. (Austin Rivers - I'm looking at you to make Most Improved Player. I'm not holding my breath, though.)

Now, to address your question about whether repeat wins is possible - if we operate under the illusion that this is a completely objective contest, then I'd say yes. If we can't give George the MVP, we can surely give him the MIP again - pretty fair, right? But realistically the MIP needs to maximize good PR for the league, and that means voters in the league will use this opportunity to highlight a particular team or new player that hasn't won the award. I mean, heck, if I had a crystal ball I'd say that Goran Dragic's chances this year are higher than George's, because of how the Suns have catapulted into the spotlight under his solid play. And for all my criticisms about Jeremy Lin, his improvement did more for the league than anybody else that year.

Now that we've discussed these definitions a bit, I need to ask - who is YOUR pick for MVP, and for MIP? This is where the fun begins.


It's always less complicated - for me, at least - to pick MVP than MIP. There can only be one 'best' player, but improvements are made by many players in many different ways every year.

We're only two months into the regular season, and we've already had a bunch of pretty legit '2-month MVP' contenders.

It seems like LeBron will be a contender until he pretty much can't run anymore or till he decides to retire early due to hairline-embarrassment issues (that headband seems to be getting bigger every season). Even at cruise control (by this Himalayan high standards), he is the league's most efficient player, averages close to 25-7-7, and shoots at an insane 59.5 percent. Then there's Chris Paul (Written pre-injury). When it comes to point guards, I'm not saying that he's number one. Oh, I'm sorry I lied: he's number one, two, three, four, and five. Paul plays like the point guard I create for myself on NBA 2K14 (it's always a point guard), putting up points-assists double-doubles on a nightly basis, exploding to the basket when required, shooting at a high-percentage, and taking the game to a whole other level at clutch time. Our original muse for this email exchange, Paul George, has been the best player for one of the league's best teams and has become one of the league's most rounded players. Offensively, he's still several steps behind those other star forwards like LeBron, Durant, and Melo, but he makes up for it with elite perimeter defense. And then, there's the man in the middle of the league's most surprising squad, the Trailblazers LaMarcus Aldridge, who might just be the NBA's best power forward this season.

But if I have to choose my MVP at this point, it would be Kevin Durant. The Thunder are one of the league's three best teams, and Durant, very much like LeBron, has mastered the art of dominance while still in cruise-control. KD is leading the league in scoring while averaging a career-high in boards (8), assists (4.8), and three-point percentage (42.4). It's not a easy decision, but KD wins the race for me in a very close call. With Westbrook out for the next couple of months, expect OKC's record to stutter a little, but also expect for Durant to raise his game even higher to keep his squad at an elite level. You grant me one player for one do-or-die championship game this season, and I'll choose Durant. For now.

Now, we can enter the hazy and unpredictable world of the 'best improvers'. And each player isn't just a candidate, he's a whole different way of defining the 'Most Improved Player' award itself. Should it be WHO-THE-HELL-ARE-THEY-?I? guys? Tony Wroten, the sophomore who scored 91 points last season - TOTAL - but is already averaging nearly 14 ppg this time around for Philly. Miles Plumlee had 13 points and 22 rebounds ALL SEASON while playing Roy Hibbert's backup in Indiana. He's been a revelation in Phoenix this year and is averaging 9.7 and 9.1 points/boards per game. Evan Turner, Lance Stephenson, and Aaron Afflalo have all taken major steps up into the elite category, and if I had to choose between them, I'd take Stephenson on the factor that he plays for a truly successful squad. And oh yeah, don't forget about Anthony Davis, whose surging season was paused only by an injury.

Opportunity paves the way for success. And no player has used opportunity better than my 2-month MIP, Eric Bledsoe. Last season, Bledsoe averaged 8.5 points, 3.1 assists and three rebounds in 20.4 minutes per game playing backup to Chris Paul. The Suns took a risk by making him their franchise centerpiece, and Bledsoe has responded admirably, raising his numbers to 18.9 points, 6.0 assists and 4.3 boards in 33.5 minutes per game. The Suns, who were expected by many to be the worst team in the West, are actually standing at sixth place, above the Warriors, Mavericks, Nuggets, Lakers, and Grizzlies.

Who would be your picks? And do you think there are any other names that neither of us are considering contenders yet that can step up over the next four months?


Damn. Lebron's headband is looking positively HUGE. Do you think he has a private factory in China that manufactures these monstrosities for him? Maybe they do predictive analysis on his hairline and manufacture a million of them in advance, Bruce Wayne-style. I wouldn't put it past him.

Digression aside, I'm excited that you picked my man Kevin Durant as the MVP. Durant is straight up killin' it and the Thunder are nearly perfect at home, one snafu to the Toronto Craptors notwithstanding. As much as I am a Durant fanboy (and I unequivocally AM a Thunder homer/apologist in every sense of the word), I have to give the award to Lebron. You could make a strong argument either way, but the tiebreaker for me is that Lebron is still the better passer and a more versatile defender. Part of defensive excellence is the fact that he's thrust into the role - the Heat are all-small ball, all the time, and he's guarding 3s and 4s on a nightly basis. But nobody does the "get a stop/rebound, outlet pass, leak out for an alley-oop dunk" better than Lebron. Although these days, Durant barely touches the net on a lot of those jump shots, it looks so scorchingly beautiful.

Color me conflicted, but I still have to go with Lebron James as my MVP, with the SLIGHT edge over Kevin Durant. If you asked me 2 days from now, that could change. Regardless, I think it's a win-win for basketball fans to see such exciting play.

Now, the Chris Paul for MVP argument is interesting. Has there been a better point guard than Paul in the last half-decade? I think not. He's definitely got ice water in his veins, as evidenced by the Clippers-Blazers game yesterday. I don't think anyone on the planet does the pick-and-roll, herky-jerky dribble, stop-on-a-dime and pop-the-midrange-J-in-your-face better than CP3. That was a tough loss for the Clippers, but Paul sure put Damian Lillard in his place! He's not willing to concede the best point guard title to anyone else, yet. But as long as Lebron and Durant are breathing, Chris Paul would have to be #3 for me.

Let's agree to disagree on Aldridge. I'll take K-Love over L.A. any day of the week. Aldridge has a tendency to disappear and rely too much on that jump shot. Truth be told, the MVP award usually belongs to someone who is a guard and can control the game with the ball in his hands. So it's harder to make the argument for a power forward who doesn't dominate the ball.

In terms of MVP dark horses, I'm not seeing anybody else who's qualified. Maybe K-Love if they make the playoffs. As far as I'm concerned, though, it comes down to a horse race between James and Durant.

As for Most Improved Player, my pick is Reggie Jackson. R-Jax looked positively lost last season, especially in the playoffs, but he's made big strides this year. He's now averaging 12.4 points, 3.8 boards, 3.4 assists with nearly a steal a game. It's not just about the numbers for him, though. Jackson's been a steadying presence as a super-sub and capitalized on his value with Westbrook out early in the season. It's gotten to the point where I don't feel as devastated if Russ sits out a game. The one deficiency for Jackson is his 3 point shooting, but he's shown a lot of savvy in getting to the basket and picking his spots. Point guard is a challenging position to play; even more so when you have an MVP like Durant on the wing. So in terms of his value in running the team and contributing to the Thunder's amazing record, I'll give the nod to Jackson.

My runner-ups for MIP are Jeremy Lin and Andre Drummond. Lin is shooting the lights out on the long ball AND finishing near the basket. He's also top 10 in attempted drives to the basket. Basically Lin has been rock solid, and a perfect sixth man, WHEN HE'S BEEN ABLE TO STAY ON THE FLOOR. In light of Beverley's offensive...struggles, Lin plays a key role for the Rockets. I can't conceivably give him the nod over Jackson, though, simply due to durability issues. The Great Asian Hope is actually living up to his reputation!

As for Drummond - he's just been a beast, averaging 13.1 points, 12.5 boards and 1.6 blocks a game. The free throws are still as atrocious as ever, but you can't argue with his torrid 61.3% field goal percentage, or the 31-point, 19-rebounds, 6-steals, 2-blocks masterpiece against Philly. I guess we can always give him the Most Improved Player award after he starts making a couple of freebies. This also begs the question: who's been the worst free throw shooter to ever make an All-Star team? I can think of another Piston, Ben Wallace, but Wallace was an all-world defender, whereas Drummond most definitely is not. Still, I really like this kid for his basketball ability and for gracing the Internet with one of the better feel-good stories of the year. Hey, I never said I was impartial!

Drummond and Davis pose an interesting question - do second-year pros deserve to win "Most Improved"? I agree with you that Davis has been spectacular this season and is living up to his billing. He's one of the ONLY reasons to watch the Pelicans, unless you're one of the 7 people in the Tyreke Evans fan club. And can we just go ahead now and call Austin Rivers one of the biggest lottery busts in recent history? Anyways, back on topic...I would be more inclined to give MIP nods to players who are in their 3rd year or longer. With the young guys, they're barely hitting 20 years of age and they should be improving.

Having said that, I like your Bledsoe pick a lot. I expected him to crash and burn this year, and he's proven haters like me wrong. As mentioned before, I'll add Dragic to the list of MIP candidates. I don't really have any other "dark horse" contenders - we're well into the season, and all candidates should have emerged by now. Well, OK, I'll add a BORDERLINE CANDIDATE to the discussion - Xavier Henry. He belongs to the distinguished category of "super-athletic 2-guard playing in the shadow of Kobe Bryant," and is heir apparent to Shannon Brown. All jokes aside, I'm interested to see if Henry gets better as the season goes on. It's not easy to shine when you play with Swaggy P, the black hole of the universe.


Call me a very far Asian cousin, but I get absolutely thrilled whenever Linsanity makes it's brief spurts of return. Maybe it's the unbelievable underdog story. Maybe it's the fact that his best 2 weeks of his - or anyone else's career - came when he was wearing the jersey of my favourite team. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for exciting, fearless point guards. But Lin is always fun to watch, and I'd love to see him win the Most Improved Player award. That said, I wouldn't be putting my money on it: Lin's improvement just hasn't been as dramatic as some of the other contenders we mentioned.

By the way, I'm definitely one of the 7 living people in the Tyreke Evans fanclub, the world's most exclusive group that includes Evans, Evans mom, four groupies who met him during his rookie season in Sacramento, and me.

It seems that the MVP candidates for us are most or less in the same closed group, led by the likes of Durant, LeBron, CP3, and Paul George. But MIP - just as I'd expected - opened up a whole different universe of possibilities. Bledsoe, Jackson, Henry, Lin, Drummond, Davis, Wroten, Turner, Afflalo, Stephenson, Plumlee, and several more that I'm sure we may have missed. Let's just live with the reality that you can rarely get a majority consensus for a favourite here.

Which is why I find last year's MIP campaign by Paul George so startling. George seemed to be the MIP favourite through the course of last season, and it wasn't even close. George's ascend from a decent, underrated starter to an All Star and borderline superstar in less than a year was the very definition of improvement. During Linsanity in 2012, Jeremy improved from being Landry Fields couch-sleeper to the NBA's Player of the Week, a far more dramatic improvement, but his story flattened down to an average pace after that incredible high. George seemed to carry his 'improvement momentum' all season in 2012-13 and seems to be carrying it again this year.

So maybe, we can forever look at George's 2012-13 model to define what the ever-elusive 'most improved' really means. Maybe, we can choose all future improvers on his mould (even if their improvements aren't as dramatic). By this definition, maybe, his own teammate, Lance Stephenson has a real shot.


Just for fun, I put together some statistical comparisons of Paul George from last season.

First, we can look at his transition from reserve to full-time starter last season, and associated per-game averages:

Season FG% 3P% Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers
2011-12 0.44 0.385 12.1 5.6 2.4 1.6 0.6 1.8
2012-13 0.419 0.362 17.4 7.6 4.1 1.8 0.6 2.9

A 5-point, 2-rebound, 1.7-assist jump is nothing to sneeze at. George had his turnover problems last year, but was able to adjust mid-season with more experience and better coaching.

What's more revealing about his improvement during the 2012-13 season is splitting the 79 games he played into 3 groups:

Season FG% 3P% Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers
2012-13 First 25 games 0.3998 0.3889 16.4 6.88 3.68 1.32 0.76 2.48
2012-13 Next 25 games 0.4245 0.3482 19.12 8.64 4.12 2.24 0.56 3.24
2012-13 Last 29 games 0.4047 0.3206 16.86 7.41 4.55 1.86 0.62 3.1

The mid-season is where George really started to hit his stride. The rebounds, assists, steals all saw significant increases. Turnovers became more of a problem, probably as a result of defenses keying in more strongly to his dribble penetration. By the the last third of the season, however, he reined in his turnovers. The last third of the regular season also saw his scoring, rebound and shooting percentages dip, but he still kept them higher than how he started the first 25 games. George was also very durable - only missing 3 games all season and averaged nearly 38 minutes per game, while starting each game. Given all of these factors, I'd say that his consistent improvement and gaudy averages definitely warrant the Most Improved Player honors!

As if that wasn't enough, take a look at George's last season vs. the first 29 games of this season:

Season FG% 3P% Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers
2012-13 0.419 0.362 17.4 7.6 4.1 1.8 0.6 2.9
2013-14 (29 games) 0.475 0.412 23.9 5.8 3.6 2.1 0.3 2.6

Can you say UNREAL? The rebounding and assists are down, but there's a HUGE gain in FG%, 3P% and points per game. And turnovers are down despite a much higher usage rating this season. This guy is special and a compelling case for the dual MVP/MIP award if there ever was one.

And these are just the stats. As anyone that watches Paul George play can attest to, he plays with a confidence and know-how that is wiser than his age. Together with Hibbert, they form the 1-2 punch and are the defensive anchors of the team. George is a fantastic 2-way player and can lock down the opposing wing player like nobody's business.

Paul George gushing aside, I think ALL of the names you mentioned, especially Stephenson, are due for an amazing season. That's the great thing about the NBA - you never know what's around the corner. With that said, what would you say are the biggest surprises for you so far this season, either from a team or player perspective?


Here's the thing with George: I can't even pay attention to his stats when I discuss his improvements or his value. George is so much more than that. I didn't have to look at the stats to see that he has doubled his scoring over the last couple of years, or improved across the board as a passer, rebounder, and shooter from every part of the floor compared to two years ago. The Pacers feature a unselfish, deep, and defense-first squad, and George's numbers never tell the full story of the impact he has on the floor. He's their best perimeter defender and best scorer, and would probably see some of those numbers inflated even higher if he played on a different, less talented team.

But yes, I'll echo your sentiments to say that he has indeed been UNREAL, and really, one of the strongest contenders in NBA history to complete the unlikely MIP/MVP double.

George's ascension was a surprise last season, but this year, all of this seems almost destined. I'm not surprised anymore. And I won't be surprised if he goes on from here to win the MVP award and lead the Pacers to the NBA Finals with an upset over LeBron and the Heat. Not guaranteeing that it'll happen; I'm just saying that I won't be surprised.

(On a sidenote, I do have one Heat-related guarantee. I have some strong feelings about a certain Michael Paul Beasley Jr., noted NBA cancer, who has made franchises worse in every NBA stop, from Miami to Minnesota to Phoenix. Now he's back in Miami, threatening to bring his bad-luck charm and locker-room voodoo to the back-to-back champions. I know that he has been better than everyone expected, and I know that the Pat Riley - LeBron - Wade triumvirate has been watching over time, but I'm still not convinced that the voodoo is over. So here's my prediction: if the Heat don't cut Beasley before the playoffs begin, they will not make it past the Eastern Conference Finals. Book it.)

But back to surprises. I know that New York teams have been surprisingly bad and the Trailblazers have been surprisingly good, but there's a different team that's making my jaw drop these days. As I sit and write this, I watch the Phoenix Suns wrap up a win - their 19th of the season - against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Phoenix Friggin Suns, whom before the season began, I had predicted would end up at the very bottom of the West. And here they are dreaming of home court advantage in the impossibly tough Western Conference. Here was a team that was planning to clear cap space and stack up draft picks for an epic tankfest; now I'm hearing rumours that they are going to trade up instead of trading down, and aim to win in the present instead of planning for the future. One of the men in the middle of this impossible rise has been my MIP favourite Eric Bledsoe. The other has been the Slovenian Goran Dragic aka The Dragon. Much props to everyone from Miles Plumlee to Channing Frye and the Morris twins. And Jeff Hornacek is a legit COTY candidate too.

If teams could win the 'most improved' award, my vote would be split between Portland and Phoenix. And I would let those awesome Suns jerseys decide the tiebreaker.

Here's what I did next. Since my mind has been distracted by six different activities as I write this, I had to take the lazy way out instead of racking my brain and google 'opposite of improvement'. The word that popped up was 'regression'. I thumped my forehead with a "Duh!" And then, I came up with this.

MRP: Most Regressed Player - aka, the exact opposite of everything Paul George has done over the last two years. Sponsored by the carcasses of Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum.

We can't conclude this discussion on improvement without touching on the those at the opposite end of the spectrum. So gimme your top MRP candidates.


Oh! Oh! *emphatically raises hand* Most Regressed Player! This will be good. Can I name Austin Rivers or Anthony Bennett? Maybe even D-Rose?

Just kidding. I'll use the same criteria for selecting MRP as I would MIP. The MRP needs to be in the league for at least 2 full seasons. Candidate also needs to experience regression due to natural causes (read: work ethic), and not due to injury. This excludes Rose and Nash from the Hall of Shame, for now.

Here are my finalists for Most Regressed Player:
- Larry Sanders: the gaudy block numbers are gone. And dude got hurt from fighting in a nightclub...always a recipe for disaster.
- Kevin Garnett: I feel like such a jerk for listing him, but the KG we've come to know and love (hate?) is no more. The Nets desperately need him to anchor the paint but he hasn't been delivering the goods. Stick a fork in him.
- Andrew Bynum: he doesn't want to play the game of basketball anymore. It doesn't get any worse than that. As a closet Sixers fan, I feel a *little* better now that he's consistently screwed 3 teams in a row. A little petty of me, but I can't help but feel slightly vindicated given the hope he once gave the city of brotherly love.

In the end, I'll have to go with LARRY SANDERS!! as my Most Regressed Player. He's averaging HALF of what he was averaging last season in terms of points and rebounds. The Larry Sanders block party has been permanently canceled and he's exhibiting character issues. Great timing, Larry. Plus the Bucks just...suck. I rest my case.

I'll keep my "surprises so far this season" short and sweet.

Biggest surprise player for me has been the immediate contributions of Em-Cee-Dubya, Michael Carter-Williams. I thought MCW would be at least a season away from being this good, but he's been aggressive and showing the league what "big guards" can do. I love it.

Biggest surprise team for me are the Memphis Grizzlies. They've been playing some awful, subpar ball. Marc Gasol is out of action - we get it - but they should not be this bad! Mike Miller is officially a walking corpse, Zach Randolph is lackadaisical (old age?) and nobody on the team can make a jump shot. When James Johnson has to play hero ball for your team, you know something's wrong. Plus, without Gasol, there isn't much in the way of rim protection. I hope they turn it around, but it is NOT looking good.

As for Mike Beasley, that's an incredible prediction - and one not too far off from reality, I think. When the Heat were playing without Lebron this week, my heart sank when I saw Beasley take ill-advised shots in the first quarter. He looks like he's not even trying to break a sweat. Beasley could be sinking the Heat before you know it. (Interesting side-question - who's in your All-NBA Cancer team? Beasley must be on the First Team. Most definitely First Team honors.)

I think that about wraps it up. It's been a ton of fun talking to you about MVP/MIP/MRP, and always good to get a different perspective on things. We'll definitely have to see how thing turn out for our beloved players and teams come playoff-time. I'll be rooting for "The Dragon" and Bledsoe to do well - and who knows - even more fun if they can shock somebody in the first round!


I like your MRP criteria: we can't judge a person out with injury of course (Rose, etc.) and can't really count rookies like Anthony Bennett (you have to be good first to regress; Bennett's career can only go up from here!).

I would like to jump to the defense of Larry Sanders, and not just because I feel really good about picking him up in my fantasy league before anyone else could (I had to drop an injured Brook Lopez, and then drop Andrew Bynum who was out bowling). Sanders has only played six games this season. SIX GAMES. That's not enough to qualify for me. He was at a league-leading 2.8 blocks per game last season, and in the very small number of games, is getting two blocks a game this season. I'll hold my MRP judgement on Sanders for a while.

Continuing his streak of being relevant in the league (for better the worse), I hand the MRP award to last year's 6th Man of the Year... the one and only... JR Smith. 'Smithsanity' is definitely over in New York. JR enjoyed career highs in scoring (18.1), and rebounds (5.3) last season, shooting at a fairly decent 42.2 percent. But he has regressed alarmingly in 2013-14, and you can only blame marijuana suspensions/younger brother management issues so much. Despite playing nearly the same amount of minutes as he did last season, Smith's scoring numbers have dropped to an abysmal 12.1 points per game this season, on an even more abysmal (and career low) 35.1 percent shooting from the field. I could have a host of excuses of why the Knicks suck so much this season, but the one-line answer is this: their second-option is a weird hybrid of Andrea Bargnani and JR Smith. The thrill is gone.

And hey! There is no better way to start a new year and end our email exchanges with something positive and heart-warming... Something like the All Cancer Team! Michael Beasley is of course the captain and starting combo forward. Andrew Bynum has won his way into the Center position. Tyreke Evans must be given his due for the opposite of selfless play he has displayed in Sac-Town and New Orleans over the past few years. JR Smith would fight me if I kept him off this list. And Corey Maggette would complete the unholy quintuplet, managing a way to perform worse than his skill level wherever he's played.

Oh yeah. Happy 2014!


That's an impressive looking All-Cancer Team. Add Boogie Cousins, Rudy Gay, Ben Gordon and the ghost of Steve Francis coming off the bench and then we're talking! How about Bargs too, for that trigger happy and highly questionable 3 pointer (you KNOW what I'm talkin' about!). These guys are good at sabotaging their teams, that's for sure.

I must admit that JR flew past my radar, that's how invisible he has been. Good call!

Happy new year to you as well - all the best!

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