It's been a while, but the NBA Roundtable has returned. Though Olympic basketball is the only hoops action on TV right now, three other writers and I decided to talk NBA this week.
Last season, Hedo Turkoglu had an outstanding year with the Orlando Magic and won the Most Improved Player award. But the question is now: Who will be this year's Hedo Turkoglu?
If you're an NBA junky, then at least five worthy candidates should come to mind in discussion for this year's MIP. Then again, it's not always easy because Turkoglu didn't even cross my mind this time last year as an MIP candidate.
Instead of going solo this year for my MIP predictions, three more of Bleacher Report's NBA junkies will join the conversation: Erick Blasco, Joe Willet, and TJ Zwarych.
But enough of the small talk, let's get this thing rolling...
As I mentioned before, Turkoglu didn't cross my mind as an MIP candidate last year, so I'm going to throw a surprise name out there this year.
5. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
After the Celtics acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett last summer, the only question mark heading into the season was the play of their young point guard. Rondo turned out to be better than expected, and I think he will improve even more next season.
Rondo doesn't have to score a lot for the C's, but I expect his point production to go up a bit from last season.
4. Francisco Garcia, Sacramento Kings
Garcia has always been an exceptional scorer from his days at Louisville, but now with Ron Artest out of the picture he's almost guaranteed a starting role for this upcoming season. Someone will have to take the load off Kevin Martin this year, but the only problem is his team might not be good enough for him to take the MIP award.
3. David Lee, New York Knicks
Laugh if you will, but if Lee can flourish under Mike D'Antoni's system he could have a breakout year next season. Problem is, he must earn a role as a starter.
Lee only started 10 games last season, but if he doesn't win MIP he'll definitely take home the Sixth Man of the Year trophy. And if you didn't know by now, this is my surprise name I'm throwing out there.
2. Devin Harris, New Jersey Nets
Now that Richard Jefferson is gone, Harris will have to fill the void on the offensive end. Harris has the potential to become a top-five point guard in the NBA some day, and I have the feeling that next season will be his breakout year.
And if they already haven't, the Dallas Mavericks will regret the day they traded Harris for Jason Kidd.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
Though it failed to make the playoffs last season, Portland had a pretty good season. And no disrespect to Hedo, but Aldridge should have won the award last season.
No doubt Portland will be better this year, and, if his game continues to gain polish this upcoming season, he has the chance to run away with the MIP.
NBA predictions made months before the beginning of the regular season are incredibly difficult to make with any sense of certainty—doubly so for the Most Improved Player award, often given to a player whose production has increased out of the blue and with no logical indicator.
After all, how does one explain Hedo Turkoglu’s evolution into a superstar years into his NBA career?
Still, the award also tends to tilt toward very talented young players who weren’t given many chances to play in previous years, a criteria slightly easier to predict.
So, after putting on my Nostradamus cap and trying to predict the unpredictable, I present my candidates for the 2008-09 NBA Most Improved Player.
5. Francisco Garcia, Sacramento Kings
Someone will have to replace Ron Artest’s production on the Kings, and Kevin Martin can’t do it all himself. Garcia is a long, wiry athlete with the athleticism to force turnovers on defense, and the talent to be a productive scorer. With more responsibility, and with the inside track of playing the starting wing opposite Martin, Garcia has the chance to break out.
4. Wilson Chandler, New York Knicks
Chandler didn’t play much last season, but he’s a talented, versatile scorer with an NBA body who can rebound and block shots. With Renaldo Balkman gone, Jared Jeffries offensively deficient, and Quentin Richardson perpetually injured, Chandler has a chance to step in and be a serious contributor under Mike D’Antoni.
3. Luke Ridnour, Milwaukee Bucks
Every season, a random veteran inexplicably has a career season when a new variable is added to his current situation.
Last season, Beno Udrih moved from the end of San Antonio’s bench into Sacramento’s starting lineup and produced like never before because defenses had to focus on Kevin Martin, Brad Miller, and Ron Artest, and Udrih was smart enough to know how to play off pick-and-rolls.
For the Magic, you combine extra floor spacing in Rashard Lewis, a new coach in Stan Van Gundy, and the natural progression of Dwight Howard with Hedo Turkoglu’s out-of-nowhere increase in athleticism and awareness, and—voila!—a career year for Hedo.
For Ridnour, after injuries and depleted minutes crippled his last two seasons in Seattle, a move to Milwaukee should work wonders, especially as he's primed to be the starting point guard on a team loaded with offensive weapons. Scott Skiles will get the most out of him, production-wise.
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City TBA’s
Durant did score over 20 points per game as a rookie, but his game took a dramatic increase toward the end of the year and he should only get better. Since Oklahoma City still doesn’t have too many offensive weapons, and since Durant will be force-fed playing time to accelerate his development, he’ll have every shot at averaging 30 points a game.
If he improves his strength, his rebounding numbers and defense will follow suit, and he has an unselfish nature which should lead to a fair share of assists, as well. The only thing that may keep him out of the running is the fact he’s expected to be good.
1. Nene Hillario, Denver Nuggets
He’ll produce bigtime if he ever stays healthy, but when will that be? If it’s this year, he’ll be Denver’s No. 1 post option on offense, and should be an explosive rebounder, too. If Carmelo Anthony or Allen Iverson are traded, Nene automatically becomes Denver’s second option in their free-wheeling system. It isn’t too much to expect a breakout year on the court from Nene, though it may be too much to ask him to make it through the season unscathed.