The NBA's Most Improved Player Award is always interesting. It's tough to decide which player has improved more than the rest. Is it the player who is playing the best out of those who have improved, the player who has ramped up his game the most or the player whose role or importance to his team has increased the most as a result of his improvement? It's always a tough decision to make because there are so many guys getting better each year in their own way.
Take this season, for example: One could ague that MVP candidate Kevin Durant has been the most improved player, moving from elite scorer to a capable passer, better rebounder and defender. SB Nation's Mike Prada did just that earlier this week, but while his argument stands, there is another player in the league who has taken an even greater leap.
That player, of course, is Jeremy Lin. Linsanity might have calmed down, but Lin's days as a productive NBA player have not. After bursting on the scene seemingly out of nowhere to give the Knicks life, New York hope and the NBA excitement, Lin is settling into life as a professional athlete a year after looking like anything but.
Lin’s first few games were brutal. He played wild, like a point guard version of Anthony Randolph. Against the Lakers, Jeremy went 1-for-5, with five fouls in 16 minutes. Though he recorded an impressive four steals, the constant defensive lurches made him appear more risky than productive. Lin’s dribble was high and balky, like Frankenstein as a puppeteer. Today, he gets lauded for being such a clever finisher. Back then, he would attempt simple layups…and get his shot simply blocked. Those layups may have gone in against Princeton, but NBA big men could swat them while yawning.
Ouch. How did that player become a player averaging 14.6 points, 6.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game? Even crazier, Lin is averaging nearly 27 minutes per game for New York after averaging less than 10 minutes in 29 appearances for the Warriors last season.
Yes, that's right—Lin couldn't get time with a roster that included the likes of Acie Law and since amnestied Charlie Bell but is earning starter minutes alongside Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony.
Perhaps Lin could have shown more had he been given a greater opportunity in Golden State, but it doesn't sound like he had shown anything to warrant a closer look. After working hard on his game over the offseason and realizing he was only days away from being released by the Knicks before they would have to pick up his option for the year, Lin recognized his shot when it came to him on February 4th in a game against the New Jersey Nets.
What was a mundane matchup in a condensed NBA schedule that is equal parts brilliant and brutal turned into Lin's opportunity to reintroduce himself to the league. Dropping 25 points and seven assists, Lin led the Knicks to a victory, vaulted himself into the starting lineup and helped his team reel off seven consecutive victories, becoming the biggest story in a league that pumps out front-page-worthy storylines weekly.
While he isn't an All-Star, has to learn how to cut down his turnovers and still can hone his three-point shot, he's starting for an NBA team. He isn't a fluke. Lin has proven that he belongs in the league and has earned himself the right to have an NBA career.
How can there be a better candidate for most improved player than the player who went from sleeping on his teammate's couch to dominating the news cycle while performing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, the biggest stage in the NBA?