Orlando Magic: Ranking the Magic's Most Improved Player Candidates

Joshua J Vannuccini@@jjvannucciniSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 21, 2013

Orlando Magic: Ranking the Magic's Most Improved Player Candidates

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    Witnessing the Dwight Howard trade saga over the past two or so seasons was painful for Orlando fans. Seeing their franchise star leave for another team for a second time was even worse.

    However, their current roster has a plethora of young, promising players who have performed past their expectations. With an increased amount of pressure and responsibility, the following guys have answered the call and placed themselves in position to take home the Most Improved Player award.

J.J. Redick, G

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    2011-12 Statistics: 11.6 points, 2.5 assists, 42.5% FG, 41.8% 3P, 27.2 MPG

    2012-13 Statistics: 14.6 points, 4.5 assists, 44.8% FG, 38.5% 3P, 31 MPG

    There were high hopes for Redick when he was drafted, yet he has not developed into the multi-dimensional player many thought he would. However, his ball-handling and distributing has improved this season, shedding light on the possibility of Redick becoming a combo-guard.

    As a starter in four games for Orlando this year, he averages 13.3 points and 5.5 assists, albeit on 40 percent shooting (26.7 from beyond the arc) and with three turnovers in 33 minutes. Off the bench, his statistics improve to 14.8 points, 4.4 assists, 45.6 FG%, 39.2 3P% and 1.9 turnovers in 30.8 minutes.

    While most players would prefer to be in the starting lineup, it would seem existing as a reserve benefits Redick. His numbers don't jump off the page in terms of improvement, but there is enough to consider his placement in the voting. He can continue at his current pace to improve his standing.

    It is evident Redick's numbers are skewed by his slow start, as he has averaged 15.6 points and 3.6 assists with just 1.2 turnovers in 30.3 minutes. In addition, he has almost inducted himself into the 50-40-90 club of shooting percentages for the month. He trails due to his 48.1 percent from the field, which nonetheless remains high.

    As aforementioned, if the 6'4" guard can keep up his current pace, his name will be more consistently mentioned when it comes to the award voting.

Arron Afflalo, G

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    2011-12 Statistics: 15.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 47.1% FG, 39.8% 3P, 79.8% FT

    2012-13 Statistics: 17.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 44.8% FG, 34.6% 3P, 85.5% FT

    Much like his backcourt mate Redick, Afflalo has played well yet also had trouble to begin the season. One could undoubtedly attribute this to a higher responsibility and shifting from a role player in Denver, to the second option on a struggling team.

    After a mediocre November through which Afflalo posted 14.7 points on 42.2 percent, he has improved (no pun intended) to 19.1 points on 46.1 shooting. As of today that would place him fourth in scoring from the shooting guard position, and trailing Dwyane Wade by just a single point for first place in the East.

    Afflalo is one of the better two-way guards in the league, but remains underrated. His selection as the NBA's Most Improved Player would certainly boost his popularity, yet his numbers must remain at their current pace for it to happen. 

    His averages from last season and this year are too similar to receive attention for the award, however, leading the conference in scoring from his position would certainly do the trick.

Glen Davis, F

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    2011-12 Statistics: 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 42.1% FG, 23.4 MPG

    2012-13 Statistics: 15.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 45.5% FG, 31.9 MPG

    Glen Davis is undoubtedly regarded as one of the favorites to win the MIP award. His play this season has been solid, and has kept the Magic afloat. In wins, Orlando gets 18.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 49.7 percent shooting from Davis. In losses, his numbers drop to 13.5, 7.3 and 41.6 percent.

    It is clear Davis is the center of the Magic's success and is instrumental to winning games. The team was 12-13 before he was sidelined with a shoulder injury, and they went 1-10 in his absence. This stretch included a 10-game losing streak and has since gone 1-3 now Davis is back.

    Orlando's loss to Dallas on the 20th of January had a positive vibe, as Davis returned to form with 24 points, six rebounds and six assists on 62.5 percent. It is games like these that merits Davis' mention in conversations surrounding the award.

    Yet the one glaring smudge of his resume for such an accolade is his experience. Davis is in his sixth year  and has been widely expected for an outburst of talent since his arrival in Orlando. After backing up Kevin Garnett in Boston for his first four years in the league, he now has the chance to be a central player.

    While one could argue fellow teammate Hedo Turkoglu won the award in his eighth year, Davis has always been able to contribute at this capacity. He never had the opportunity in Boston to fully express it, but did so in bursts whenever Garnett was out, most memorably with this game-winner over the Magic in the playoffs. 

    Much like James Harden, Davis' skill level has not improved, he just has a chance to show it now.

Nikola Vucevic, C

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    2011-12 Statistics: 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 45% FG, 15.9 MPG

    2012-13 Statistics: 11.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 51.7% FG, 32.3 MPG

    Much like Davis, Vucevic has been a catalyst for success in Orlando. Acquired in the deal that sent Dwight Howard to LA, Vucevic was made the starting center for the Magic. After being drafted 16th in the first round in 2011, he couldn't find consistent playing time with Philadelphia.

    He has, however, been given ample opportunity this season and has not disappointed.

    In similar fashion to the rest of his teammates, Vucevic had a slow start to the season, averaging 9.5 points and 7.9 rebounds in 28.1 minutes. His consistent play has forced coach Jacque Vaughn to increase his court time, and his numbers have made him an underrated favorite to take home the Most Improved Player award.

    This month, he is posting a double-double of 14.4 points and 13.3 rebounds, accompanied by 1.1 blocks and a 55.9 shooting percentage. It is clear Vucevic has developed a comfort zone within the team and surrounding his place as the team's starting big man.

    As aforementioned, coach Vaughn has boosted his PT to 37.7 minutes a game. Vucevic is committing 3.8 fouls in this time, which would rank second in the league. However when you consider Dwight Howard, perhaps the most physical big man in the game, commits 3.6 fouls in 35.6 minutes, Vucevic's numbers in this area are not as alarming as one would initially interpret.

    His role with the team is clearly defined, and Vucevic is guaranteed consistent playing time.

    Therefore, his chances of continuing to play at this level remain consistent. In addition, his popularity in terms of taking home the award will elevate, as Vucevic slowly makes a name for himself as one of NBA's best centers.