Peruse the past 28 recipients of the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, and you might notice something of a common thread. With only a handful of notable exceptions (Hedo Turkoglu in 2007-08, for example), most received the accolade after no more than three or four years in the league.
Gerald Green might be poised to puncture that narrative.
The Phoenix Suns’ high-flying swingman is undoubtedly having the best season in this, his seventh year in the NBA. He was selected out of high school by the Boston Celtics with the 18th overall pick in the 2005 draft.
Note the glaring gap between 2009 and 2011, when Green was biding his time in the Russian Professional Basketball League before being waived by the Foshan Dralions of the Chinese Basketball Association after less than two months on the roster.
Green would be back stateside later that year, attending and being promptly cut from the Los Angeles Lakers' training camp ahead of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
After a brief stint with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, the Lakers' D-League affiliate, Green was signed by the New Jersey Nets for the remainder of the season, after which he inked a three-year deal with the Indiana Pacers.
Following a lackluster first year with Indiana, he was traded—along with Miles Plumlee and a future first-round pick—to the Suns in exchange for veteran forward Luis Scola.
Ten stops in nine seasons across three different continents later, Green, it seems, has finally found a home in Phoenix.
In his first year with the Suns, he has started 46 of the team’s 76 games, just four shy of the 50 starts he compiled in all six previous NBA seasons combined.
So much of NBA success can be attributed to good timing, and with Phoenix, a team few expected would be anywhere near as good as it has been, Green has flourished.
With their potent mix of athleticism, youth and veteran talent, the Suns have emerged as a potential team of the future well worth keeping eyes on in the seasons ahead. Sixth-year point guard Goran Dragic is already a star, and fourth-year pro Eric Bledsoe may be as well, provided he stays healthy.
A more easily pleased personality might take stock of this career trajectory and conclude mission accomplished.
Humbled, perhaps, by his unique journey to—and through, and out of and back to—the NBA, Green isn’t about to rest on the laurels of his breakout year, as he relayed to The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro:
I still feel like I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to prove. I still have so much that could get better. I could get better at my ball-handling. I could get better at my defense. I could get stronger. I feel like my decision-making could get better. My pick-and-roll could be better. I’m blessed to have the season we’re having but to me, if we don’t make the playoffs, this season means nothing to me.
It’s that kind of attention to detail that’s helped vault Green squarely into the MIP conversation, where he’ll be pitted against a slew of equally deserving, and in some cases more recognizable, competition.
Take Anthony Davis, the once-in-a-generation, soon-to-be superstar who has turned his second year with the New Orleans Pelicans into his own personal coming-out party.
Both would be worthy candidates, of course. But with the exception of Paul George a season ago, the league has generally eschewed giving the award to established All-Stars. Or, in Davis' case, potential MVP candidates for years to come.
Indeed, viewed from a public relations perspective, giving the award to Green would not only be a tangible acknowledgment of his own personal growth and development; it would also give future NBA veterans—some of whom may have experienced a comparably tumultuous early career—hope that no career, no matter how meandering, is beyond salvaging.
Is Gerald Green the most improved player in the NBA?
As far as production, it's hard to imagine Green's ceiling being much higher than what he's exhibited this year. Still, given where he's been, his numbers are at once impressive in isolation and reflective of his greater journey.
Here’s Keith Schlosser of SB Nation’s Ridiculous Upside, who made a similar case, albeit specifically concerning the impact of a potential Green MIP on the NBA’s D-League in particular, in a post penned back in March:
In essence, Green represents much of what makes the D-League so great. Though his immaturity may have been what had gotten him there in the first place, Green made the best of his second chance. He's matured. For all that he's done, had to endure, and prove, Green may be the minor league's most deserving alumni of a major NBA award to date. Earning himself an "M.I.P" award would certainly say it all for a player like himself.
Awarding Green the Most Improved Player Award amounts, in part, to a tacit acknowledgement that just because your path to NBA relevance took a few twists and turns shouldn’t make it any less impressive.
If anything, Green’s story is exactly what the NBA is looking for: A journey as unpredictable and globally influenced as the game itself.
Some NBA.com media stats are subscription only. All stats courtesy of NBA.com and current as of April 5 unless otherwise noted.