Michael Beasley, Timberwolves
He went from an apparent draft lottery bust in Miami, to being the offensive answer in Minnesota, averaging 22.2 PPG and shooting at almost a 50% clip – that’s a 34% increase in scoring production from last years 14.8 PPG, while only playing an additional two minutes per contest. He is also knocking down 52% of his 3-point attempts, and has shown great accuracy with his mid range jumper. One of those mid range jumpers was a game winner over the Clippers the other day. Early on, Beasley has to be one of Shannon’s main competitors for the award.
Paul Millsap, Jazz
Millsap is helping people in Utah forgot about Carlos Boozer. Millsap has increased his scoring average by just less than 10 points per game, improving his 11.6 PPG average from last year, to 21.5 PPG this year. Over the last 20 years, there have only been three players that have won the Most Improved Award after increasing their scoring average by 10 or more points. At lot of that has to do with Millsap getting a lot of the minutes Boozer left behind. The Jazz added Al Jefferson in the off season with the idea that he would replace Boozer’s production, however, it has been Millsap that has filled the void left by Boozer’s depature. Along with Jefferson, they form a dangerous one-two punch in the post. Millsap is right there with Beasley as a favorite for this award.
Rudy Gay, Grizzlies
Rudy Gay had already arrived last year and if not for an average team record he would have gotten more All Star consideration. This year he has taken his production to a completely other level by increasing his already high scoring average of 19.6 the year before to 23.4 this year. He is also shooting the ball at a more efficient level from the field (50% FG%, 41% 3pt%). You can compare Rudy Gay’s current rise to that of another Most Improved Award winner Danny Granger when he won it in 2009 after increasing his scoring average to 25.8 from 19.6 the year before.
Others: Roy Hibbert, Pacers; Dorell Wright, Warriors; Al Thorton, Wizards; Jrue Holiday, 76ers
Most Improved Award History
History will show that a players scoring average and increase in production are the factors that catches the voters eye when choosing the winner for this award. In the last 20 years, there has only been one player to win the Most Improved with a scoring average of less than 13 PPG; that player being Isaac Austin, who averaged 9.7 PPG for the Miami Heat in 1997. The lowest scoring increase from the previous year for any player winning the award in the last 20 years was Gheorghe Muresan, who only increased his scoring averaged by 4.5 PPG. History does not seem to be in Shannon’s favor, as he is currently experiencing a marginal rise in scoring, and the lack of opportunity due to the Lakers’ immense death will make it difficult for him to capture this award.
Case for Shannon
Voters can look at Shannon’s improvement in the efficiency department, as he has increased his shooting percentages across the board. His field goal percentage has gone up from 42% last year to 50% this year; his 3-point percentage has risen from 33% to 49%, and he is knocking down his free throws 93% of the time compared to just 82% last season. However, you will have to ask voters to look a little deeper than just numbers in order to get Shannon some legitimate consideration for the Most Improved Player Award.
While his scoring numbers don’t increase considerably from the previous season (10.7 PPG this year vs. 8.1 PPG last year) the play displayed on the court does. Compared to last year, when Shannon’s shot was often erratic, he has seen a vast improvement in his shooting abilities. You won’t find prettier rotation on the ball and better mechanics on the team other than maybe Kobe Bryant.
You might want to look at not just last year, but his whole career when considering possible winners for this award, as he spent much of his career on the bench of bad teams while his status as an NBA player was always in doubt. Most of Shannon’s competitors are high draft picks with greater expectations, so, in my opinion they shouldn’t get as much consideration for the award, just because they have been able to reach the level of play that many had already expected of them. Shannon is a player that has worked hard on improving his game every year, while persevering obstacles and doubt. It has truly paid off, as he is now a major contributor on a championship contending team.