Ryan Anderson wins MIP, defies dictionary definition of "improvement"

Where in the world is Nikola Pekovics Most Improved Player award?
Where in the world is Nikola Pekovic's Most Improved Player award?

I started writing this post by copying down some numbers from Ryan Anderson and Nikola Pekovic‘s Basketball Reference pages. As I was writing down Anderson’s, I started noticing a huge jump in some of the numbers. Had I been wrong in thinking that Anderson didn’t deserve to win the Most Improved Player award? Could I have over-estimated Pek’s improvement? His PER had taken an unheard of leap forward. His total rebounds per 36 minutes had gone up by two entire rebounds. His personal fouls had gone from an obscene 7.3 per 36 minutes to a much more manageable…wait…

I had the wrong tab open. I was looking at Nikola Pekovic’s numbers. Whoops. This needs to be argued.

Apparently, the MIP voting went Ryan Anderson, Ersan Ilyasova, then Pek. Here are some numbers, again via Basketball Reference, for Ryan Anderson (numbers from last year, this year, and the difference between the two):

Points Per 36 Min Field Goal % True Shooting % Usage Rate Total Rebounds Per 36 PER
Ryan Anderson 17.2, 18.0=0.8 .430, .439=0.8 .591, .589=-0.002 20.3, 21.2=0.9 9.0, 8.6=-0.4 19.0, 21.2=2.2

For those of you who are too lazy to read a chart (I don’t REALLY blame you), I’ll break it down: Anderson’s field goal percentage went up a minuscule amount, while his shots per game (not listed), went up drastically. While his rebounds per game climbed, his pace-adjusted rebounding numbers (TRB per 36) actually went down a little bit. His PER did climb, although not substantially.

A fairly good argument could be made that Ryan Anderson didn’t improve, his minutes just went up.

Now a look at Ersa Ilyasova’s numbers:

Points Per 36 Min Field Goal % True Shooting % Usage Rate Total Rebounds Per 36 PER
Ersan Ilyasova 13.7, 17.0=3.3 .436, .492=0.56 .516, .577=0.061 19.1, 20.1=1.0 8.7, 11.5=2.8 14.4, 20.5=6.1

Ilyasova improved drastically this season, considerably more than Anderson in every single statistical category listed here. The biggest jump we saw in Ilyasova’s numbers, per the NBA Stats Cube, were from Ilyasova’s three pointers from “above the break”, or any three pointer that wasn’t from the corner. Ilyasova’s percentage from those shots went up an incredible 19%, from 27%-46%. It’s not even like Ersan stopped taking the shots…he only took 10 fewer this season.

So Ilyasova’s numbers took a huge jump. But not as huge a jump as Pek’s. The problem with using pace-adjusted statistics to measure Pekovic’s growth is that he played decently well in 2011 when he was able to stay out of foul trouble, which was never. He couldn’t stay on the court long enough to make any kind of significant impact, committing an absurd 7.3 fouls per 36 minutes. So here are his non-pace adjusted statistics:

Points Per Game Field Goal % True Shooting % Usage Rate Total Rebounds Per Game PER
Nikola Pekovic 5.5, 13.9=8.4 .517, .564=0.47 .573, .607=0.34 19.4, 21.9=2.5 3.0, 7.4= 4.4 11.2, 21.4=10.2

Like Anderson, an opponent of Pek’s MIP campaign could make the case that Pekovic’s numbers only went up because his minutes went up. I disagree, and I would point to Pek’s PER as evidence. I mean, are you SEEING that jump? He went up DOUBLE DIGITS in his Player Efficiency Rating. That’s insane. Not only that, but getting more minutes constitutes improvement for Pek. He cut down his fouls considerably, which showed a huge improvement on the defensive end. Pek even managed to improve his rebounding this season from a pace-adjusted standpoint, which is a feat playing next to a rebound vacuum like Kevin Love.

These numbers speak for themselves pretty well. While Anderson undeniably improved his game, especially from a confidence standpoint, there is literally no statistical argument that makes him the Most Improved Player this year. If you want to make the argument that a player should be credited for improving his game from a pace-adjusted angle, Ilyasova is your MIP. If not, the incredible jump in PER and overall relevance of Nikola Pekovic should help you decide.

I’m annoyed that the MIP voters couldn’t get this one right. “Improvement” is much, much easier to measure statistically than the “Valuable” in MVP. It’s simple subtraction, take this year minus last year, and the biggest difference is the highest improvement. Am I missing something here? Seriously, I’m asking. I want to know if I am.

Of course I have a vested cheering interest. Of course I wanted to see Pekovic win. But the numbers point pretty clearly in my favor.