Ryan Anderson wins Most Improved Player by running in place

Zach Harper —  May 4, 2012 — 4 Comments

In the interest of full disclosure, I really wanted Nikola Pekovic to win Most Improved.

This isn’t just because he’s a T’Wolf or because I’m terrified he’ll give me the guillotine if I don’t say this. I appreciate the fact that he went from being a borderline “we can’t play this guy at all” player his rookie season to the other team thanking Tebow when the rare moments Pek got into foul trouble. For some reason, I wanted the words “most” and “improved” to actually mean “most” and “improved” when we looked at Most Improved Player this season.

Ryan Anderson has won MIP because he played more minutes and took more shots this season on a playoff team. That’s it. This isn’t a jealousy thing and this isn’t a biased homer thing. Ryan Anderson was exactly as good last year as he was this year, except this year he had a different role on the team.

It’s not even that I think Pekovic deserves the honor more; it’s that I think Ryan Anderson doesn’t deserve it at all. Some people will claim Anderson helped Orlando win games and that’s why he earned the award. They’ll claim his defense was much improved and his rebounding was better. I don’t buy it. 

Ryan Anderson’s rebounding percentage went down this season but his offensive rebounding percentage went up 2.2%. There is a school of thought that team defense influences defensive rebounding, so his drop from 18.1% to 14.7% on the defensive end might not be a big deal at all. Then again, there is also a school of thought that the fact that Ryan Anderson’s 3-point chucking teammates and their long rebounds from misses could have helped his offensive rebounding numbers jump.

Regardless, when you look at his improvement against Nikola Pekovic or Ersan Ilyasova (let’s just assume Jeremy Lin didn’t play enough minutes/games), their offensive rebounding jumped 4.8% each, respectively.

Here are two screen shots of where Pek, Anderson and Ilyasova stats were last season and this season:

Here are just some of the interesting points I highlighted:

1. Look at the hikes in PER. All of the players improved but there was a much bigger progression from Pek and Ersan compared to Ryan’s improvement. Ryan Anderson jumped into a pretty nice club of having a 20 PER or better with his 21.2 after just missing it last season with a 19.0. However, Ersan jumped from 14.4 to 20.5 and Pek almost doubled his previous PER jumping from 11.2 (WELL below league average of 15.0) to a 21.4.

2. Ryan Anderson’s shooting percentages are almost identical from the 2010-11 season. He went from FG/3P/FT numbers of 43.0/39.3/81.2 to 43/9/39.3/87.7 this season. The free throw percentage is vastly improved and yet his true shooting percentage went down. Why is this? Because he took more than four shots per game and 1.6 3-pointers more per game while only shooting 1.3 more free throws each night. The increased usage in his field goals actually caused his TS% to drop because it overpowered the increase in FT%. How is that improved shooting?

3. Win Shares per 48 minutes were another spot in which Anderson didn’t improve. He had a .217 in 10-11 and it squeaked up to .219 this season. Ilyasova on the other hand went from .121 to .185 and Pek nearly quintupled his WS/48 going from 0.035 to .170. QUINTUPLED!

4. Ersan Ilyasova took a dramatic step forward in 3-point shooting. He rocked a 29.8% clip last year on 121 attempts. This season, he took 112 attempts and improved that to a ridiculous 45.5%.

5. I talked briefly about the offensive rebounding numbers of each but let’s look at the overall jumps in OREB%, DREB% and TRB%. Anderson’s numbers went from 10.8/18.1/14.5 to 13.0/14.7/13.8. Ersan went from 7.9/20.7/14.1 to 12.7/22.8/17.6. Pek went from 11.0/13.2/12.1 to 15.8/14.6/15.2. Not only did the other two guys improve more in the OREB% but they also improved in all rebounding areas.

6. Nikola Pekovic averaged 7.3 fouls per 36 minutes last season, looking completely loss on defense nearly every time down the floor. The game was simply too fast for his cement feet and slaphappy hands. He dropped that to 2.8 fouls per 36 this season, while improving his help and post defense. He went from fouling out and one (BOOZER YELL!) to staying on the court for ultimate destruction.

Now, whether you want to argue that Ryan Anderson is a better player than Ilyasova and Pek is one thing but that’s not what this award is about. It’s supposed to be the most improved player in the league and right here we’ve seen that Ryan Anderson basically treaded water while Pek and Ersan swam forward.

If you want to get into some defensive numbers, here are screen shots of what Ryan Anderson’s mySynergy numbers look like:

It doesn’t look like he improved while having nearly the same amount of defensive possessions from one year to the next. He gave up slightly more points per possession overall. His isolation defense improved drastically while his post defense and his PnR defense fell pretty far. It’s not a great way of measuring true defensive impact, but it’s a decent look at some broad strokes.

I’m fine if you wanted to give it to Ersan Ilyasova over Pek. Personally, I’d disagree but the argument is sound. You could also throw in guys like James Harden, Andrew Bynum and even Kevin Durant and Kevin Love greatly improved their games from last season to this one. Jeremy Lin is also a strong candidate if you believe he played enough minutes.

It’s not that it has to go to a Timberpup because I like the Timberpups. I think a lot of fans would readily accuse me of not pumping up this team or its players enough over the past couple years. The point is that Ryan Anderson didn’t really improve. He was this good last year and the per-minute production shows that. He simply got more minutes and more field goal attempts this year.

It’s possible I don’t know what “most” and “improved” mean at all. But from the looks of it, the voters for this award really don’t have a clue of what they’re supposed to vote for. It’s ultimately a meaningless award but if we’re going to have it then we should actually reward players that put in enough time and work to change their games for the better. We should give a head nod to the training staffs and assistant coaches that found ways to get through to their guys.

We shouldn’t look back on the award and think the voters are clueless when it comes to measuring improvement.

I’m happy for Ryan Anderson on a personal level because he’s a good guy and this will help him this summer when he’s negotiating a new contract. I just wish he had actually improved this season.

Zach Harper

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4 responses to Ryan Anderson wins Most Improved Player by running in place

  1. Cynical Jason May 5, 2012 at 11:42 am

    All of this is true. The voters of this award completely screwed the pooch this year.

  2. It was kind of funny to hear Anderson on the Scott Van Pelt show recently when he was asked about being a strong contender for the MIP award, he tried to be gracious but you can tell he wasn’t terribly excited. It is kind of a weird achievement in and of itself because winning it still doesn’t really mean you are all that great, just the most better than you were. Except as Zach points out, Anderson is not only not that great, he’s not even really better than he was, just better than people thought he was when they wrongly thought he sucked. How fired up can a guy get from being recognized for such an “achievement” when it is all in other people’s heads? They should rename this award “Most Improved Perception (for Whatever Reason)”

  3. If I actually cared about this award (or any award for that matter) I wouldn’t be livid but pretty upset. All of your arguments are valid. The voting is purely political. I honestly stopped caring about any award after ThreeSixMafia won an Academy Award/Oscar for “It’s hard out here for a pimp” and Buckcherry won a f&^*%$@# Grammy for “Crazy Bitch”. I honestly think a 14 year old writes all of Buckcherry’s lyrics.

  4. Totally agree with the article, ersan or pek definitely deserved to be the MIP

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