SB Nation's Most Improved Player: Kevin Durant

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Kevin Durant should, unquestionably, be the Most Improved Player of the Year. In short, he has not only risen almost every average he has by a significant margin, but he has also risen his level of game from that of a star to that of a super star. He is the first player since Michael Jordan to have 25 Points of more in 25 straight games. And he's accomplished that feat while on a highly successful team, not while hogging the ball while playing with a bunch of yardbirds.Durant has also improved his defense, going from a complete pushover to actually holding players like Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce to sub-par games later in the season.

In short, last year, Kevin Durant was a great scorer on a bad team who turned the ball over too much and had horrific defense. Now, he's a legitimate MVP candidate on a good team, and the league's leading scorer. Yeah, I'd say that's some pretty decent improvement.

— SB Nation's Thunder blog, Welcome To Loud City

2. Andrew Bogut (7 Votes)

Remember Andrew Bogut? Before this season, he seemed destined to go down in NBA History as one of those also-ran #1 Draft picks that never quite panned out. Maybe not a full-fledged Kwame Brown, but more of a Joe Smith, Kenyon Martin-type player. Good, but never mistaken for great.

Except... This year, Bogut was exactly the kind of foundational superstar you'd expect from a number one pick. He anchored the Bucks' offense with far more consistency than Brandon Jennings ever did, and more importantly, he was the catalyst for what turned out to be one of the best defensive teams in basketball this year. SB Nation's Bucks blog, Brew Hoop, outlined his expoits on defense during the year, and really, it's impossible to capture just how valuable he was. This is what we'd always expected out of Andrew Bogut, and just when the basketball world was ready to write him off, he made a leap that nobody imagined possible.

He's hurt now, so the Bucks enter the playoffs as heavy underdogs. But he'll back next season, and after this year's progression, Bogut and the Bucks will enter as one of the most promising teams in the league. That's a pretty big jump from what we would projected last year.

— Andrew Sharp, SBNation.com

3. Aaron Brooks (5 Votes)

It’s difficult to gauge, statistically, why Aaron Brooks should win the Most Improved Player award. Sure, look at his stats: they’re up from years past, and by a pretty significant margin. Scoring output is up by nearly 9 points per game, assists are up by 3 per game, three-pointers made are nearly doubled – it all looks fine and dandy from afar. But take a look at those increased minutes per game, too. Suddenly, the accompanying statistics look quite reasonable, if not merely average.

Consider, however, exactly what Brooks has had to do in order to keep those stats from being even lower. This is the first time that he has been an every-day starter, and from the opening tip of Day 1, he has been the "go-to" guy on offense, an enormous jump in responsibility. To make matters worse, the Rockets were without a reliable post presence all season long, shifting opposing defenses’ attention from the paint to the perimeter – in other words, to Brooks.

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The roster changes haven’t made things any easier on Aaron. He has been playing alongside statistical nightmare Trevor Ariza, and had to switch gears mid-season once longtime floor mate Carl Landry was swapped for Kevin Martin. Currently, there are nine players on the Rockets roster that weren’t there last season, and for a point guard, the floor general, that’s quite a difficult adjustment to make. But Brooks has done it successfully, and for that, he should be rightfully commended. On the other hand, Kevin Durant, a prime MIP candidate, has played with basically the same roster for the past three seasons, which is more than enough time to get comfortable.

That said, as Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference points out in an excellent statistical breakdown, Brooks hasn’t played to his expected value for the season. Conversely, Durant has doubled his, and from that standpoint, the Durantula should be the MIP. But remember, we’re not talking about who should get the award, but rather who will most likely win it.

Since the award’s inception in 1985, not a single winner was as established a player as Durant was entering this season. In nearly all cases, the award was given to a relatively unknown player who managed to raise his points per game from the previous season by a significant number. In that regard, who best fits the bill? Yup, it’s Aaron Brooks.

— SB Nation's Rockets blog, The Dream Shake

Least Improved? The New Jersey Nets

Really and truly, the Nets should have been better than 12-70. They lacked a bench, they had some injuries, and they endured a coaching change, but still. Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Courtney Lee were two promising second-year players, and... Well, everybody got worse. Or at least, every night, somebody was worse, and the Nets found a way to lose.

— Andrew Sharp, SBNation.com

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