On Ryan Anderson’s Potential – Do “Most Improved Players” keep Improving?

Published: July 11, 2012

Mason takes a look at the recent history of the Most Improved Player award and the production of those who have won it, the most recent of whom being the Hornets’ newest forward, Ryan Anderson.

In the 2011-12 NBA season, Ryan Anderson won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. Personally, I always take this award with a grain of salt, because the league’s true “most improved player” rarely actually wins it. This claim is not meant to be a knock to Anderson; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The “Most Improved Player” tends to be a player who has already showed his potential and ability, and then during the season in which he wins the award, capitalizes on an overdue uptick in playing time. Even Hedo Turkoglu, a  player who appeared to be a very deserving winner based on his vast improvement in the 2007-08 season, may have only truly won the award because of a significant dip in efficiency in the 2006-07 season as compared to the two before that. There will always be exceptions (such as Bobby Simmons in 2004-05), but more often than not, the award is given not to the most improved player, but instead to the most talented player with the largest increase in opportunity to showcase that talent.

Hornets fans, especially those who were not very familiar with Anderson previously, should take comfort in this explanation of the award; simply put, this means that most winners typically aren’t “flukes”, or flashes in the pan. Of the few that could be labeled as such, there are variables that separate them from the others which we can use to determine into which category Anderson falls. To help us figure this out, I have listed each winner of this award since 2000 in addition to a few key statistics to compare them.

*Click here to view the table*

(non-beta version of that table here)


  1. Large percentage increases (20% or higher) in a player’s PER between the year before and year of his MIP award seem to indicate an unsustainable performance spike. Since 2000, the average career PER for the seven players with a 20% or greater jump between those two seasons was 15.91. Out of the five remaining whose PER increased by less than 20%, their average career PER is almost 4 full points higher at 19.66. While PER slightly favors players with higher usage rates, it doesn’t give any special treatment based on how many minutes per game a player receives, so this would seem to be valuable data. In fact, the only reason the first group of players has an average career PER above the league average is because of Tracy McGrady’s PER increase from 20 to 24.5, leading to his inclusion in that group. Ryan Anderson’s PER % Increase – 11.6% 
  2. Players with PERs above the league average (15.0) the year before they won the Most Improved Player award tend to have far better careers than those below the league average. This concept is fairly intuitive; if a player starts off as an above average player even before winning this award, we should probably assume that said player is in fact above average. Five out of the past twelve MIP award winners posted below-average PERs during the season before they won the award; their combined average career PER is 14.34. Conversely, the seven award winners whose PERs were above the league average in that season have a combined average career PER of 19.71. Ryan Anderson’s PER the season before his MIP Award year – 19.0 
  3. Players who win the Most Improved Player Award at a younger age (23 or under) are more likely to go on to better careers than those who win it later in life. The data for this assumption is not quite as conclusive as the first two points, but it’s still strong enough to mention. Eight of the past twelve MIP award winners were 23 or younger, and this group has a combined average career PER of 18.80; the combined average career PER of the other four is just 14.83. Ryan Anderson’s MIP award age – 23 

So, to recap: Anderson was already a well above-average player before he won the Most Improved Player award, didn’t experience an abnormal increase in efficiency during his award-winning season, and only turned 24 after the 2011-12 regular season came to an end. All three of those factors appear to indicate that Ryan Anderson has very little chance of experiencing any kind of serious regression in New Orleans, and should be a very effective player throughout the life of his four year, $34 million contract with the Hornets.


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