Who will win the NBA Most Improved Player award?

When handicapping the NBA MIP award, I always like to look at the player’s original draft position. Here’s a table with the last 20 winners of the MIP award. Take a look:

Notice anything? Only one MIP winner in the last 16 years (Tracy McGrady) was drafted in the first 12 picks.

It appears that the voters don’t just look at overall improvement, they also take into account unexpected improvement.

Looking at TrueHoop’s list of MIP candidates that received more than one vote from a panel of voters, here are draft positions for each player: Kevin Durant (2), Andrew Bogut (1), Corey Brewer (7), Joakim Noah (9), Josh Smith (17), Russell Westbrook (4), Aaron Brooks (26), Anderson Varejao (30), Channing Frye (8), Al Horford (3), Andray Blatche (49) and Zach Randolph (19).

Can we safely cross Durant, Bogut, Noah, Westbrook, Frye and Horford off the list?

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Andray Blatche tries fruitlessly to get a triple-double [video]

Truth About It has video from the Wizards-Nets game — yeah, nobody else was watching it — in which Andray Blatche was thisclose to a triple-double. All he needed was one more rebound. Hilarity ensues.

(Blatche is the Wizard with the headband. Watch his reaction as he tries to get his 10th rebound.)

Look at the Wizards!

The Washington Wizards are 3-1 since trading Antawn Jamison to Cleveland. They beat Minnesota, Denver and Chicago at home and lost to Toronto by five on the road.

How are the Wizards pulling this off without four (Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood) of their best players?

First, Andray Blatche is playing like an All-Star. In the last four games, he has averaged a healthy 25-10, and is shooting 59% from the field. Is he likely to keep this up? No, but 18-8 is certainly possible.

Al Thornton is averaging 16-4 (and shooting 53%) in three games since coming over to the Wizards as part of the Jamison trade. Those numbers seem reasonable if he starts getting starter’s minutes with Josh Howard sidelined.

Two guys that came over last summer — Randy Foye and Mike Miller — have each come up with big games during this four-game span. Miller drained all five of this threes in a 17-point effort against the Timberwolves and Foye is averaging 15 points and 7.5 assists in the last two games. In the one game where neither player cracked double figures (vs. DEN), the now-injured Howard posted 20 points on 8-11 shooting from the field. Miller has been one of the most efficient shooting guards this season, while Foye has been either feast (14p, 5a, 44% shooting as a starter) or famine (6p, 1a, 39% shooting as a reserve), depending on whether or not he’s in the starting lineup.

Truthfully, the Wizards are probably just sneaking up on a few teams. The Nuggets were coming off a big road win against Cleveland the night before and were outscored 34-15 in the fourth quarter by the well-rested Wizards. The Raptors were also coming off a road game the night before. (Granted, it was against the Nets, but still.) Chicago? Well, they don’t have an excuse.

The Wizards upcoming schedule should be telling. Now that they’ve bit a few teams in the butt, it shouldn’t be difficult for Memphis, New York, New Jersey and Milwaukee (twice) to get up for this new-look Washington team.

Are they going to make the playoffs? Hell no. But they might spoil a few other postseason runs.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

2008 NBA Preview: #16 Washington Wizards

Offseason Movement: The Wizards big move this offseason was to re-sign Gilbert Arenas to a huge contract (six years, $111 million). By doing so, they were able to keep their core of Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison together. It was a risky signing for the team given all the problems he has had with his balky knee.
Keep Your Eye On: Gilbert’s knee
Simply stated, if the Wizards can keep Arenas, Jamison and Butler healthy, they’re probably a playoff team. If they lose any one of those players for an extended period of time, they’ll struggle to make the postseason.
The Big Question: Was the Arenas signing the best thing for the Wizards?
One school of thought would to let Arenas and Jamison go (via free agency or trade) and build around the much more affordable Butler. But he’s 28, and by the time the Wizards were “rebuilt,” he’d be past his prime. The Wizards pretty much had to sign Arenas and Jamison and hope that another player or two (Andray Blatche, Nick Young, JaVale McGee, etc.) can emerge as a quality starter or role player. The Wizards aren’t going to have any salary cap room for a while, so they may be regretting this summer’s moves in two or three years when they’re still a .500 team and in cap hell.
Outlook: If all goes well, the Wizards will be safely in the playoffs. They’ll eventually lose in the first or second round. If a star gets injured for any length of time, they’ll miss the playoffs. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

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