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Kevin Love and the 15 Most Improved Players in the NBA

Rich KurtzmanSenior Analyst IJanuary 19, 2011

Kevin Love and the 15 Most Improved Players in the NBA

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    Kevin Love is a candidate for MVP, not just MIP.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Kevin Love loves the ball.

    Love has been downright dominating down low, and he owns nearly every rebounding statistic in the NBA.

    The forward-center is No. 1 in the NBA in offensive (204), defensive (455) and total rebounds (659), rebounds per game (15.7) and rebounds per 48 minutes (20.3).

    It doesn't matter whether or not Love is the biggest man on the court; his energy is always high and he works the rim for rebounds relentlessly.

    He's so dominant that he leads the league in double-doubles (37) by four over the next closest competitor, and he's worked on scoring the ball, increasing his points by 7.2 per contest.

    Overall, Kevin Love is basically the lone bright spot on an otherwise-terrible Timberwolves team, and without him they may have only half of their 10 wins.

    If Love were lucky enough to play on a better team, he'd be getting lots of love from the national media and may even be in the MVP race.

    Instead, Love has to take the lead in the Most Improved Player debate, and there are many more young basketballers pushing him for MIP this season.

    This is a look at the top 15 competitors for the award at the halfway point of the 2010-11 season.

15. J.J. Hickson

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (8.5-11.1), RPG (4.9-5.8)

    In the post-LeBron era in Cleveland, second-year forward J.J. Hickson has been a single positive on an otherwise abysmal team.

    He's developing into a solid NBA player with a motor that never stops. He's pesky around the rim and grabs rebounds well.

    Hickson still needs to work on his post game and overall point production, but he's already on his way to being a beast for the Cavs.

14. Shannon Brown

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (8.1-10), FG% (42.7-44.8), FT% (81.8-91.0)

    Shannon Brown has played quite efficiently, shooting a high percentage from the floor, maximizing all 18.7 minutes per game he's allowed.

    Brown's always been one of the most athletic players on the court, but he also shoots well from all over the hardwood.

    He's increased his three-point percentage from 32.8 to 40.9 this season, and in the process has emerged as a definite three-point threat.

    And with Kobe Bryant slowly declining, the Los Angeles Lakers' future of the shooting guard position seems in solid standing, to be sure.

13. Serge Ibaka

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (6-3-9.8), BPG (1.3-2.2), RPG (5.4-6.6), FT% (63-74.7)

    With stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the team, it's difficult for anyone else to get a piece of the spotlight.

    But Ibaka was selected by Durant to share the Sports Illustrated cover with him before the season began and he has embraced the confidence it brought.

    Ibaka, in his second year in the league, has emerged as a growing forward-center.

    His 56.6 shooting percentage from the field and his 86 total blocks both rank at No. 5 in the NBA this season. Ibaka should be getting more recognition now and will be getting more in the future.

12. JaVale McGee

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (6.4-9.1), RPG (4-8.1), FG% (50.8-55), BPG (1.7-2.6)

    JaVale McGee may be on one of the worst teams in the NBA with the Wizards, but he's quickly blossoming into a wonderful young center in Washington.

    McGee's offensive rebounds per game (3.3) are good for eighth in the NBA, and he's No. 2 in blocks per game and No. 1 in total blocks with 98.

    While McGee had almost identical production in his first two years in Washington, his play has been magical as the main Wizard this season, for sure.

    McGee represents one of the few of a once-dying breed of true centers that seems to have found its resurgence with Blake Griffin and Love as well.

11. Paul Millsap

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (11.6-17.6), RPG (6.8-8), FT% (69.3-76.1), FG % (53.8-54.7)

    Paul Millsap is enjoying a good season as a professional basketballer and his points per game are a career-high.

    Still, the improvement numbers are a bit deceiving because Millsap had a down year last season after enjoying a year in the middle of the two in 2008-09.

    But Millsap has been valuable to his Jazz team, playing as the third best on his squad and filling that role quite well.

    Millsap averages 34.4 minutes per game, is No. 8 in the NBA in FG percentage and No. 18 in the league in efficiency (21.74).

10. Arron Afflalo

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (8.8-12.8), RPG (3.1-3.8), APG (1.7-2.3), FT% (73.5-85.1), FG% (46.5-51.5)

    Arron Afflalo is likely the least-known player on this list, which automatically hurts his case.

    What hurts it more is the fact that he plays with a multitude of more known and popular players on the Nuggets.

    Still, Afflalo should be known as one of the better shooters in the game at No. 18 in both field goal and three-point percentage and his fundamental shot just continues to improve.

    On top of being a great shooting threat, Afflalo possesses an unstoppable work ethic, energy and motor.

    As long as he continues to progress on the court, Afflalo will be a future star as his confidence continues to grow and he has even shown a bit of swagger.

    Lastly, Afflalo is great around the hoop, arguably the best defender on Denver's team. He's a player that doesn't mind leading by example.

9. Raymond Felton

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (12.1-17.9), APG (5.6-8.8), FT% (76.3-86.4), Minutes (33-38.8)

    Raymond Felton has taken the burden of playing the starting point guard position for the Knicks in stride, and he works well in Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense.

    At sixth in the Eastern Conference, New York has been a pleasant surprise and Felton has meshed well with Amar'e Stoudemire and the other Knickerbockers.

    What's most impressive is the young point guard's ability to score the basketball, and although his shooting percentage has dropped a bit this season (45.9 to 44.6), Felton is averaging a career-high 17.9 points per game.


8. Roy Hibbert

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (11.7-12.7), RPG (5.7-8.1), APG (2-2.4), BPG (1.6-1.8)

    Hibbert doesn't get much media love because he plays on the constantly inconsistent Indiana Pacers.

    But Hibbert should be given his due because he's worked hard on his defensive rebounding, increasing his production from 3.5 to 5.6 this season.

    And really, Hibbert has been gradually growing every part of his game and is one of the better young centers in the NBA today.

7. Dorell Wright

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (7.1-16.6), RPG (3.3-5.8), APG (1.3-2.9), MPG (20.8-38.7), 3PT% (38.9-42.0)

    Wright has been an important and valuable asset to a young and much-improved Golden State team.

    The forward has been a Warrior, starting all 40 games for his squad, and his 38.7 minutes per game are seventh in the NBA.

    Wright's play has been worthwhile with all the playing time, as his career-high 16.6 points per game are more than double what he scored last season (or any other year, for that matter).

    And his favored way to put up points is by busting three-point buckets and he's No. 1 in the NBA in three-point makes (106) and No. 2 in attempts (254).

    Wright's also increased his blocks per game from 0.4 to 0.8 and his steals from 0.7 to 1.4.


6. Jrue Holliday

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (8-14.7), APG (3.8-6.6), RPG (2.6-3.9), FG% (44.2-45.1)

    Like other players on this list, Holliday has embraced a starting role despite it being so early in his career.

    Holliday has shouldered the responsibility of scoring for his 76ers, and he's scored three fewer points this season than he did in 71 games last year (587-584).

    And Holliday has honed his point guard craft as well, nearly doubling his assists per game to 6.6 and upping his steals from 1.1 to 1.3.

5. Michael Beasley

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (14.8-20.9), FG% (45-46.9), 3PT% (27.5-43.9)

    Beasley is simply a beast.

    He's enjoyed a definite resurgence with his move to Minnesota, as he and Love comprise one of the best frontcourts in the game.

    At No. 11 in field goals made (310), Beasley's points per game are up nearly six this season. His most shocking improvement has been his fantastic shooting from behind the arc (up to 43.9 percent).

    Beasley is a big man who can score both inside and out, which makes him more dangerous as a dual-threat.

    Still, Beasley's rebounding has dropped from 6.4 to 5.8 this season and he's got to grab more boards with that 6'9" frame.


4. Derrick Rose

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Key Improvements:  PPG (20.8-24.5), APG (6-8.1), RPG (3.8-4.7), 3PT% (26.7-37.6)

    Derrick Rose is the truth and this young man is playing completely out of his mind.

    Currently, Rose is seventh in the NBA in scoring, eighth in assists (324) and he's even enjoyed a triple-double this season.

    Rose has transitioned from a great baller to a legitimate superstar this season.

    He was always a good passer, but he's become better. Rose has crafted his offensive game as well, adding a legitimate three-point shot to his repertoire with hard work this offseason. And his off-the-dribble game is off the chain.

    Rose is a high-flier and he's electrifying when he starts taking the ball to the hoop because he has the ups to dunk on almost anybody.

    The thing that may hurt Rose's case for the MIP is the fact that he's playing so well that he has to be considered in the running as the NBA's MVP.

3. Russell Westbrook

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (16.1-22.4), APG (8-8.4), SPG (1.3-1.9), RPG (4.9-5.1)

    In Oklahoma City, the big name is usually Kevin Durant.

    But his running mate, Russell Westbrook, has been making lots of Thunder of his own.

    Westbrook gained much confidence this summer during the FIBA World Championships and hasn't looked back.

    He's increased his point production by 6.3 while perfecting his all-around game and has literally improved in every stat category this season besides turnovers (3.27 to 3.71).

    Westbrook is a wonderful basketball player—he possesses the size to overpower nearly every other point guard in the NBA, but he's also quick enough to beat them off the dribble or run them out of the gym.

    He's a dynamic and intelligent player but his three-point shooting is his weakness, so he's limited his attempts greatly this year.

    Westbrook is ninth in the NBA in double-doubles (9), sixth in assists (343), 13th in points per game (22.4), third in steals (79) and he's had two triple-doubles.

2. Eric Gordon

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (16.9-23.9), APG (3-4.6), SPG (1.1-1.3), FG% (44.9-46.7)

    Eric Gordon, much like Westbrook, has fed off of the confidence he gained while playing with Team USA this summer.

    Gordon is playing lights-out and he can shoot lights out, too. His shooting percentage was already very good to start this season and he's worked to shoot even more efficiently—proving he has a high basketball IQ.

    Gordon is a highly athletic 2-guard. He loves to take opponents off the dribble and throw down monstrous dunks, and he can also spot-up and knock down three-pointers (34.0 percent).

    Like all the other players at the top of this list, Gordon has improved his all-around game and he's definitely pushing Love for MIP.

1. Kevin Love

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Key Improvements: PPG (14-21.2), RPG (11-15.7), FG% (45-46.6), FT% (81.5-87.3), 3PT% (33.3-44.4)

    Besides everything that was mentioned in the first slide of this piece, Love is No. 1 in the NBA in efficiency ranking (28.98).

    If his team were somewhere in the middle of the pack of the Western Conference, Love would be getting love as the midseason MVP.

    But alas, he might not even make the All-Star game, which would be an absolute travesty.

     

    Shocking Stat: Love is the first player to average 20 points and 15 rebounds since Moses Malone in 1982-83.

     

    Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being the CSU Rams Examiner, Kurtzman is a Denver Nuggets, Denver Broncos and NBA Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com, the Colorado/Utah Regional Correspondent for stadiumjourney.com and a weekly contributor to milehighhoops.com.

    Rich also heads up PR for K-Biz and Beezy, a Colorado-based rap group.

    Please follow Rich Kurtzman on Facebook.

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