The Most Improved (Point Guard) Conundrum

This time last year, days before the NBA season was set to start, no one in Vegas or anywhere else penciled in Victor Oladipo as an All-Star and Most Improved Player awardee. Up to that point, Oladipo had been an above average shooting guard whose consistency ebbed and flowed. Playing next to Russell Westbrook  in 2016-17, he deferred a lot. He hadn’t yet passed the eye test. It was hard to see Oladipo as anything but a number two or number three option.

But replacing Paul George started with the summer work and getting his body right and working on his shot. He started the season for the Pacers with an intensity and hunger that had been absent from his Orlando days and his one year cup of coffee with the Thunder. Suddenly, Oladipo was the star, the number one option, the reason the Pacers were in the playoffs. He took his game to another level, shocking many.

There’s an old saying. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. For most of the league it is true. But for a few, they spent all summer making sure 2018-19 is going to be nothing like the season before.

The possible and the probables for Most Improved include some point guards. But expectations have to be tempered. The last point guard to win it was Goran Dragic when he was with Phoenix in 2013-14. Since the 1999-00 season when Jalen Rose won Most Improved, only 4 winners have been point guards (Gilbert Arenas, Monta Elllis, Aaron Brooks, Goran Dragic). Or put it like this, point guards have a 74% chance of not winning Most Improved.

The Most Improved point guard winners ran a game on us.

Gilbert Arenas looked like a sure bet Hall of Famer until he couldn’t control his impulses and his career couldn’t or wouldn’t align with maturity. The Monta Ellis trade to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut jump started the Warriors dynasty. Ellis would play five more seasons before being out the league.  Aaron Brooks has been a journeyman and played last season with the Timberwolves. Goran Dragic was an All-Star last season with the Heat. None of the four are Hall of Fame players.

The point guard position is so important to a franchise that talent is mined on draft day. Why didn’t Steph Curry win Most Improved? His rookie year was 17.5 points, 43% three-pointers, 5.9 assists. The next year, 18.6 points, 44% three-pointers, 5.8 assists. Not much difference. His career low was in 2011-12 and that was because of injury. Since then, nothing but 20+ppg seasons and always 40%+ from three. His improvement was from good to elite.

But to win Most Improved the leap is from unforgettable to borderline All-Star.

The point guards who want to make that leap have a lot of room for improvement, mostly shooting the ball with more efficiency in 2018-19.

2017-18

Lonzo Ball (Lakers). 10.2 points. 36%. 30% three-pointers. Offensive Rating: 97

De’Aaron Fox (Kings). 11.6 points. 41%. 30% three-pointers. Offensive Rating: 94

Dennis Smith, Jr. (Mavericks). 15.2 points. 39.5%. 31% three-pointers. Offensive Rating: 93

Frank Ntilikina (Knicks). 5.9 points. 36%. 31% three pointers. Offensive Rating: 89

Kris Dunn (Bulls). 13.4 points. 42%. 32% three pointers. Offensive Rating: 96.

The point guard position is funneled through the Steph Curry prism and not the Rajon Rondo get my teammates the ball mantra. To be on the list of good point guards you have to make threes and hover close to the 20 ppg mark.

When Dragic won the award his numbers were impressive. 20.3 points. 50.5%. 40.8% from three. Offensive Rating: 119.  His improvement from the year before: +5.6 points, +.62% field goals, +.89% three-pointers, +10 offensive rating. 

That is what it’s going to take for a point guard to win Most Improved in 2019. In other words, don’t hold your breath unless Ben Simmons has a jump shot.