Breaking Down the Likely Candidates for NBA's 2012-13 Most Improved Player

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2012

Breaking Down the Likely Candidates for NBA's 2012-13 Most Improved Player

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    The harder one works at a particular skill, the more he is bound to improve.  The driven players of the NBA take this to heart with hopes of winning the Most Improved Player Award. 

    Ever since being established in 1985, this award has been given out to the likes of Danny Granger, Monta Ellis and Kevin Love.  Once green players, fresh out of school, just looking to make some sort of impact in the game, these men have gone on to become stars after being recognized as the league's most improved player.

    In terms of the upcoming season, this is where the true beauty of the award lies.  The fact is that literally any player can win it, because the only clear criterion is that a player's role expands from what it was the prior year.  In 2012-13, plenty of young up-and-comers and maybe even a veteran or two will find themselves in the mix for this award that, in some cases, could result in a lucrative contract. 

    Forward Ryan Anderson was crowned winner for the 2011-12 campaign and this past summer, and he signed a four-year, $36 million contract with the New Orleans Hornets.

    Yet, there can only be one winner this season and once the season is a month or so old, the true contenders will be separated from the pretenders.  Once the dust starts to settle, this small handful of players could very well raise the bar regarding what to expect from those in the running to win the NBA's Most Improved Player Award.

No. 5: Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers

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    2012-13 will only be Turner's third year in the league, but given how he was a star at Ohio State and has underachieved since being drafted second overall in 2010, this could very well be a make or break season for him. 

    In his two years in the league, the former Buckeye has struggled at shooting guard and has averaged just 8.2 points while shooting an abysmal 27 percent from long range.  Yet, with the moves Philadelphia made over the summer, 2012-13 is going to be Turner's season to waste.

    You see, the Sixers took part in the blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers and sent small forward Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets and rookie Maurice Harkless to the Orlando Magic.  In return, Philadelphia received center Andrew Bynum from the Lakers and shooting guard Jason Richardson from the Magic.  This allows Turner to move back to his natural spot at the 3 where he can stick to his strengths on the wing.

    All in all, as long as coach Doug Collins trusts Turner at small forward, the 23-year-old should be in for a good season.  He has good size at 6'7" and does a good job of creating his own shot on the perimeter.  All he has to do is drive to the basket more often, and he could finally be in for a breakout campaign.

No. 4: Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets

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    Now, to be fair, Lawson's 2011-12 season was a fine one.  He set career highs with 16.4 points and 6.6 assists per game, and he shot 36 percent from downtown while also playing some pesky defense.  Yet, his averaging 19 points in the playoffs shows that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg regarding his potential for greatness.

    Thus, don't count Lawson out in 2012-13.  He has the necessary skills to become a fine scoring point guard a la Stephon Marbury, but without the bad attitude and with a respectable effort on defense.  This season, new teammate Andre Iguodala will add another reliable target to his passing lanes and will help him reach for the stars.

    Throw in some help from Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and even JaVale McGee, and Lawson is in a prime position to improve upon last year's career season and establish new personal bests this year.  Even if the change is only by a couple of points and assists per game, it's going to be hard not to consider him for the award.

No. 3: Brandon Bass, Boston Celtics

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    Bass is going to be the full-time starting power forward for the Celtics this year and while he may seem small for the position at 6'8", 250 pounds, his determination is going to carry him to a career season.  He only averaged 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds last season, but it should be noted that Bass was a fine big man his sophomore year at LSU.  That season, he averaged 17.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.  Those numbers are reminiscent of Amar'e Stoudemire, and there's no reason to believe that Bass can't duplicate them on the NBA level.

    More importantly, Bass is in a great position to do well because he has an amazing point guard in Rajon Rondo getting him the ball.  Once he and Rondo build more of a rapport with each other, he'll be able to use his fine jump shot and strong upper body to become a threat both from mid-range and under the basket.

    If he can learn to balance the scoring with playing tough defense, then his results could speak for themselves.

No. 2: Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns

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    After a season and a half with the Houston Rockets, Dragic gets to return to the team with whom he started his career, this time as the starting point guard. 

    Though he was an electrifying presence in Houston last year filling in for the injured Kyle Lowry, Dragic has some big shoes to fill in 2012-13.  Currently under contract for four years and $30 million, he is set to replace two-time MVP Steve Nash, who is now with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Though fans could have a hard time adjusting to life without Nash, Dragic's skill set is perfect for coach Alvin Gentry's fast-paced offense and in the blink of an eye, they should welcome him with open arms. 

    Over the last two months of last season, he averaged 16.9 points, 7.5 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting a respectable 37 percent from three-point range.  He was born to play in an offensive system and seeing as how the Suns just missed the playoffs last season, Dragic could very well be the one to lead the team to the postseason.

    On top of that, Dragic has some fine go-to guys on the roster with him, like shooter Michael Beasley and former Rockets teammate Luis Scola, not to mention dominating center Marcin Gortat.  In a system that puts a heavy emphasis on passing the ball and taking shots from long range, it seems almost impossible for Dragic to not have a career season.

No. 1: Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

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    Afflalo was sent to the Magic from Denver as part of the Dwight Howard trade, and in 2011-12 he established himself as a reliable shooting guard with a nice touch from beyond the arc. 

    In 62 games, the former UCLA Bruin flourished in coach George Karl's team style of play and averaged a career high 15.2 points per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.  With him and then-Denver teammate Al Harrington now in Orlando, Afflalo needs to use his time to shine like the diamond in the rough that he is.

    Now that Dwight Howard is out of the picture in Orlando, Afflalo is in a perfect position to become the team's new star.  He can make jump shots from practically anywhere on the court, be it a mid-range jumper or a three-point attempt, and he also never hesitates to drive hard to the basket.  He may have to compete for some scoring chances with teammate and point guard Jameer Nelson, as well as the aforementioned Harrington, but he is the most consistent scorer out of all three and is thus the best choice to step up as the star.

    Should he answer the bell and put up amazing numbers for the Magic, one thing will be certain.  The Orlando Magic may be a bad team, but Afflalo's commitment to improving his game in spite of that makes him beyond worthy of the Most Improved Player Award.