Improvements this year were about as frequent as Bobcats losses. It seems like each team has a player who would be completely qualified for this award, sometimes even two.
In this crowded field, it's really just a decision between the voters at the end of the year. There's no clear frontrunner, and it can, will and should be anyone's game.
Here are the top 10 players, in my opinion, that should be competing for the Most Improved Player Award.
James Harden: Seen a huge increase in production this year. Don't feel bad mentioning him because he's going to be walking home with another trophy this year anyway...
DeMarcus Cousins: Heard his name brought up by a couple of different people at NBA.com, but I really don't see why. His attitude got his coach fired in the beginning of the year, and his numbers seem like rookie-sophomore growth rather than an actual dramatic improvement.
Al Harrington: While he has stepped up his game this year and has become a major contributor for the Denver Nuggets, Al hasn't really improved so much as he's found his former groove. Most of his contributions still come from scoring, and it hasn't even been a career year in that category for Al.
Josh Smith: There's a huge difference between improvement and a career year. Josh had a career year.
Roy Hibbert: Becoming an All-Star and some of the intangibles were his biggest accomplishments of the year. Statistically, Roy has had two back-to-back similar seasons. He's a great center in this league, but his game hasn't changed all that much from last year to this one.
2010-2011 Stats: 9.4 PPG, 1.3 APG, 7.5 RPG, 27.8 MPG, 80 GP, 48 GS
2011-2012 Stats: 15.5 PPG, 2.3 APG, 9.7 RPG, 31.6 MPG, 65 GP, 65 GS
This is a situation were the improvement could be contributed to rookie-sophomore growth. Greg has done a lot to step up his game this year and has become a leader for the Pistons franchise. This leadership has yet to translate to wins for Greg, and he may receive more consideration for this award next year if he can reach his full potential and become the Blake Griffin/Kevin Love guy for a Pistons team desperate to rebuild.
If he continues to improve, this award could be his next year. This year, it's just too crowded of a field.
2010-2011 Stats: 5.2 PPG, 2.0 APG, 1.5 RPG, 13.8 MPG, 70 GP, 7 GS
2011-2012 Stats: 12.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2.4 RPG, 33.2 MPG, 65 GP, 65 GS
This improvement really started happening last season at the start of the playoffs. With the failing Mike Bibby out of the picture, Teague started to flourish as the starting point guard.
This year, he really started to come alive again, putting up twice as many points and assists each game. While these numbers are very impressive, a lot of it could be contributed to his increase of minutes played and faith in the player rather than an actual change or improvement in his skill set. With more minutes came an even number of assists, and 4.9 is not a lot for a starting point guard.
2010-2011 Stats: 7.4 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.8 RPG, 17.6 MPG, 70 GP, 5 GS
2011-2012 Stats: 11.8 PPG, 5.2 APG, 2.5 RPG, 26.4 MPG, 65 GP, 27 GS
I haven't seen a whole lot of Goran Dragic this year, but the numbers don't lie. He's become a solid option at either guard position for the Rockets, who were battling for playoff spots all year. He's been great when Lowry's been out and has become the player that the Rockets wanted when they let go of Aaron Brooks. He's become a solid player for a great team that just barely slipped out of the playoffs.
2010-2011 Stats: 5.1 PPG, 0.3 APG, 1.9 RPG, 11.5 MPG, 8 GP, 0 GS
2011-2012 Stats: 9.2 PPG, 1.3 APG, 3.5 RPG, 23.4 MPG, 64 GP, 36 GS
Another fine example of what the MIP award is all about. Someone who comes into the season one player and ends up a completely different player. Green was a bench flop who had played 28 games in two seasons in Cleveland and San Antonio. Now, he's a solid rotation player, and at times, a starter for the best team in the Western Conference this year.
It's not arguable that he's shown major improvements this season, and not including him on a list like this is a disgrace. In the MIP debates, people have left out some key names, but Green better at least get a couple of votes.
2010-2011 Stats: 11.3 PPG, 1.4 APG, 9.4 RPG, 27.8 MPG, 60 GP, 60 GS
2011-2012 Stats: 18.7 PPG, 1.4 APG, 11.8 RPG, 35.2 MPG, 54 GP, 47 GS
This one was a hard one to rank because Bynum has been an effective and solid player for years. However, he's made a tremendous jump in production this year that cannot be overlooked in terms of "Improvement."
He started in the All-Star Game. He became a more effective and reliable option than Pau Gasol. At times, he played like the best player on the Lakers. Those are things you just couldn't have said about him last year.
Then, just take a quick peek at his incredible numbers. Career highs in steals, rebounds, points and, more impressively, minutes. Bynum has stayed relatively healthy all year. He's become a franchise center for the Lakers a few years after people were ready to dismiss him as an injury bust.
2010-2011 Stats: 10.6 PPG, 0.8 APG, 5.5 RPG, 22.3 MPG, 64 GP, 14 GS
2011-2012 Stats: 15.9 PPG, 0.9 APG, 7.6 RPG, 32.0 MPG, 60 GP, 60 GS
This is the point where the list gets a little coin-flippy. All of the following players could walk away with the award if the people voting recognize their strongest qualities.
Ryan has become a machine for the Magic this season. His three-point shooting has been incredible this season, and he's really picked it up on the rebounding. However, that's the extent of Ryan Anderson's game right now.
People recognized midway through the season that he's been a one-dimensional player throughout the year. His scoring capabilities are limited, and his defensive presence is non-existent. He's still made some tremendous strides this year, though, and should get some credit for that work.
2010-2011 Stats: 1.7 PPG, 0.4 APG, 0.5 RPG, 5.2 MPG, 31 GP, 0 GS
2011-2012 Stats: 7.5 PPG, 1.4 APG, 1.8 RPG, 21.3 MPG, 63 GP, 27 GS
Why in the world is this guy not given more consideration?
He's had over a 100 percent statistical increase in every single one of the major statistical categories. He's helped out the franchise which was struggling in the beginning of the year to win games to become the fourth seed in the East. The guy has won the starting role over future Hall of Famer Ray Allen, when Ray's numbers haven't seen a huge decline at all.
One extremely impressive statistic: He did not make a three-pointer in 2010-2011. Now, he's shooting them at a 43.8 percent rate. It's incredible how much this guy has improved.
He's scoring three of four of double digits every night on a team already loaded with stars... and he's known as a defensive specialist.
If it were up to me, this guy would be hoisting the trophy. He has my vote.
2010-2011 Stats: 5.5 PPG, 0.4 APG, 3.0 RPG, 13.6 MPG, 65 GP, 11 GS
2011-2012 Stats: 13.8 PPG, 0.7 APG, 7.3 RPG, 26.9 MPG, 46 GP, 34 GS
In my mind, he gets the nod at No. 3 because of the place he was in last year, and even earlier this year. Nikola warmed the bench through several games this year while he watched Darko Milicic and Anthony Tolliver eat up his potential minutes. That must have struck a nerve, because the big man went crazy once Adelman decided to give him some playing time.
Just look at the stats here, because they're honestly just crazy. He needs to work on his defensive involvement, but if we know anything about Nikola Pekovic at this point, it's that he can make improvements to his game!
2010-2011 Stats: 9.5 PPG, 0.9 APG, 6.1 RPG, 25.1 MPG, 60 GP, 34 GS
2011-2012 Stats: 13.0 PPG, 1.2 APG, 8.8 RPG, 27.6 MPG, 60 GP, 41 GS
I know, I know. Any other year, buddy, and this would've been yours. Ersan has really picked up his game this year, and has become a solid competitor in this league. It's honestly guys like Ilyasova that are the reason for making an MIP of the year award anyway.
He's made the most solid, quality improvements than any player in the league, and he should be proud of that. A monumental shift in statistics might have done it, but when you look at his stat line, it only seems like a small jump, although he did improve in almost every statistical category, including an impressive .298-.455 three-point shooting percentage.
However, he should recognize that he probably won't be receiving a trophy for it.
2010-2011 Stats: 2.6 PPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 RPG, 9.8 MPG, 29 GP, 0 GS
2011-2012 Stats: 14.6 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.0 RPG, 26.9 MPG, 35 GP, 25 GS
Look, there just have to be some intangibles here. The guy's been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time magazine. He barely played last season, and this year, he's lead a bad team with huge potential to heights that no one imagined. You have to ignore the fact that he got injured; improvements are made to player's games, not to their health. He's lead a bad team to a solid playoff seeding. It's got to go to Lin.
Ilyasova's numbers were pretty good last year too. Pekovic and Anderson still need defensive work. Bradley's flourishing started a little late.
Lin has gone from a bench-warmer to one of the NBA's biggest stars. That's what an improvement is.