Thursday, March 24, 2011

No, no, no: DeMar DeRozan is not the MIP

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During the Raptors’ blowout loss at the hands of the Nuggets, I listened in disbelief as the commentators - Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong - made the case that DeMar DeRozan should be in the running for the Most Improved Player (MIP) award. Now, I’ve already written about this in the past, but the fact that this idea is still out there means that I need to keep addressing this topic.

The argument for DeRozan as the MIP

During the game, the stat used to back up this argument was...drumroll...PPG increase from last season. Here were the names that they included on the graphic that popped up onto the screen:
  • Nick Young, +9.1
  • DeMar DeRozan, +8.0
  • Kevin Love, +6.3
  • LaMarcus Aldridge, +4.3
  • Kris Humphries, +1.7

Way to go guys! While some of the players on that list have clearly improved (Humphries, Love, and Aldridge - although all three had previously been average to above-average players in the past), we’ve already run into this argument before with Aaron Brooks: an increase in PPG means relatively little. PPG in itself is useless; consider the formula: total points scored/games played. To raise your PPG average, you can:
  • score a lot of points
  • play fewer games
  • play more minutes/game
  • some combination of the above

First of all, the Yay! Points! theory states that scoring points - without regard to efficiency - is overrated in basketball. Second of all, the obvious flaw with PPG is that players who don’t play many minutes each game will have smaller PPG averages. If a player greatly increases their minutes per game from one season to the next, that player can stand to increase his PPG substantially without even improving their scoring on a per minute basis. Doesn’t it seem a little odd that a player can be in contention for the Most Improved Player without actually improving? And remember: with PPG, we're only looking at points - nothing about rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, turnovers, and fouls. Suffice it to say, I find this kind of analysis incredibly lacking.

The real story

With that in mind, let’s examine some more useful stats for the five players above. We'll start with Nick Young, who - according to Matt Devlin, Jack Armstrong, and whoever is responsible for coming up with lists on Raptors' broadcasts - should be considered near the top of the list of MIP candidates:

Really? Nick Young?!? Well, he certainly has improved...the only problem is that he is still quite terrible. Last year his WP48 was a very negative -0.077; this year, his WP48 so far has been a much more moderately negative -0.011. He has increased his all aspects of his scoring - shots attempts, efficiency from the field, free throw attempts, and free throw accuracy - but not by enough to offset the holes is his game (although those too have improved across the board). So, upon further review, I suppose you could consider Nick Young for MIP; however, I have a bit of a problem recognizing someone who is still costing his team wins.

Moving on, let's look at the second player on the dubious list - DeMar DeRozan:

Oh dear - DeRozan may have increased his PPG average, but not only is he not playing better than last season, he's actually playing worse! His WP48 last year was barely positive at 0.013, and this year his WP48 is barely negative, at -0.012. DeRozan's shooting accuracy from the field has decreased by a decent amount, and this decrease in efficiency is compounded by an increased shooting tendency. The one area of his shooting that has improved this year is his free throw shooting; there he has increased both his percentages and his attempts. Unfortunately, his free throw shooting isn't enough to make up from his bad shooting from the floor. He's also rebounding less, and - with the increase in touches - has seen his turnovers increase. While his assists are up from last year, they are still quite low. But at least he's fouling a lot less than he was last year. DeRozan for MIP? Most certainly not.

Now let's take a look at a real MIP candidate - the man I picked to win both the media MIP and the Wins Produced MIP before the start of the season - Kevin Love:

If you haven't been paying attention lately, Kevin Love has been destroying the league, despite having some of the worst teammates of the past 30 years. Last year, his one relative weakness was his shooting efficiency; this year he's shooting the lights out. His steals - and especially blocks, given that he spends a lot of time at centre - are low, but he's been performing so well everywhere else that it doesn't matter. In fact, other than the steals and blocks, he's improved across the board! For going from amazing to legendary, there is no doubt in my mind that Kevin Love is this year's MIP.

Sorry for being anti-climactic, but we still have two more MIP candidates to go. Next up - LaMarcus Aldridge:

For a while this season - right before the all-star break - Aldridge was killing it, and he was getting a lot of fan support in his bid to be recognized as an all-star reserve. But was it warranted? Well, Aldridge has improved, but not by much. While he's upped his FGA significantly, his shooting efficiency has only increased by a bit. His free throw percentage and FTA are up by a decent amount. The slight increases he's seen in his rebounding and steals have been wiped out by an increase in his turnovers. His blocks have shot up and his fouls are also down. The big problem is that this season, with all the injuries the Blazers have suffered at centre (Arturo blames Eduardo the Knee Fairy), Aldridge has been forced into spending more time at the five. On average, centres are more productive, which means that Aldridge sees his relative productivity decline a bit. Even still, we can see that Aldridge has improved - perhaps even enough to be considered for the MIP - but certainly nowhere near the level of improvement we've seen from Love.

In addition to being a former Raptor, this next candidate is the starting power forward on my Win Score Association fantasy league team (although I'm afraid his fantasy season will be over after this week, as it seems like I'm going to barely miss the playoffs), starting ahead of his more-celebrated former teammate Dirk Nowitzki. It's the Hump - Kris Humphries:

Kris Humphries has always been an above-average player, but he's never had a season close to this one. While he doesn't get many shots off, he's actually shooting more efficiently than Kevin Love! He's really declined with respect to free throw accuracy, free throw attempts, and steals, but the increase in shooting efficiency, rebounding, and decline in turnovers and fouls have turned him into a very productive player. Because Humphries plays in New Jersey next to Brook Lopez, almost (if not) all of his time has been spent at power forward, but I've included the average centre numbers as a comparison. Humphries is playing at a superstar level, and is certainly worthy of being compared to Love.

If you work out the change in WP48, Humphries (+0.204) has actually improved more than Love (+0.150). However, Humphries has "only" increased his total wins by 9.8, whereas Love has increased his wins by 13.6. I can see the merits of choosing either of these players, but of the two, I have to side with Love, because he's made the incredibly difficult jump from "superstar" to "legendary".

Of course, that's assuming there are no other worthy candidates for MIP. Does anyone have any other nominations they'd like to leave in the comments?

 - Devin


  1. Devin,
    First of all, your fantasy team had a heck of a season. For everyone who isn't in the league, I had a plague of center injuries and traded Marcin Gortat and Paul Pierce for Louis Scola and Chuck Hayes the week before Gortat got traded to Phoenix and started playing. You could say Devin is a shrewd GM.
    Second, I'd nominate Thaddeus Young, who has probably had the largest proportional increase in WP48; he has gone from below average to a star (if you run his numbers as a SF).

  2. Greg,

    My favourite thing about that trade is Hayes got injured, and you dropped him because you needed a centre immediately. Then I swooped in and picked him up as a free agent on the cheap while he was out :) I essentially traded Scola and $5 for Gortat and Pierce! I should've tried a little harder to pry Lowry out of your hands a bit sooner, though. But kudos to you - no one else would trade with me. Arturo tried to screw me over when I was looking to dump Carmelo, so I never made any other deals. And then, just this last week, I ended up dropping Carmelo for Trevor Booker (yes, that is how far he has fallen).

    Good call on Thaddeus Young - there's a reason I made sure I included Nick Young's first name in his image! Can you think of anyone else? DeAndre Jordan's improved, but not by that much...Derrick Rose? Gortat? How many of these players are on my fantasy team? :)

  3. haha. I think Gortat's improvement has been largely a function of increased minutes. So, he would certainly be close to the top if MIP means the player who increased their Wins Produced by the highest amount from last year. It's also possible to interpret the award as rewarding the player with the greatest proportional increase in WP, the greatest raw increase in WP48, or the greatest proportional increase in WP48. At the end of the day, Love and Humphries probably deserve it more than anyone.

    One last thought; if we're going on increase in proportional WP48, Reggie Evans has to be close to the top.

  4. Gortat actually has improved by a decent amount in Phoenix (I won't spoil it for you, but last year his WP48 was 0.158). And you're right about the various interpretations - like the MVP, MIP leaves a lot of wiggle room for debate!

    I'd think about Reggie, but the problem with him is that he's played near this level in the past. Last year he hardly played due to injuries, and undoubtedly they affected his performance. The NBA really needs to resurrect the Comeback Player of the Year award. Chris Paul, Evans, and T-Mac - and probably other players that I'm forgetting - would be in the running for that one (my money would be on Chris Paul).