Houston Rockets: Christian Wood or Kevin Porter Jr for Most Improved player

N.B. Lindberg
2019 NBA Awards Presented By Kia On TNT - Inside
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If the NBA had a most improved team award, the Houston Rockets would be in pole position to claim it. After all, it’s much easier to improve on a 23.6-percent win percentage than a 50-percent win percentage. The Rockets were a 20 win team (in an 82 game season) last year. How surprising would it be if they went out and won over 30 games?

If the Houston Rockets are going to claim the fictitious Most Improved Team award, they’re going to need some of their players to make a push for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Fortunately, the Rockets have two players that are projected to be in the mix. 

According to Vegas Insider, Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood are in the top-seven for Most Improved Player odds. Porter has the third-best odds at +900, and Wood has the seventh-best odds at +1400. While Vegas thinks that Porter has the inside track over Wood, what does history have to say? 

Houston Rockets Most Improved: Does history give Christian Wood or Kevin Porter Jr the edge in Most Improved Player

The inaugural Most Improved Player award went to Alvin Robertson in 1986 when he saw his points per game jump from 9.2 points to 17, his rebounding improve from 3.4 rebounds a game to 6.3, and his assists per game go from 3.5 to 5.5. Robertson went from borderline starter to number two option in a season to claim the first-ever MIP. 

Over the course of the past 35 seasons, what has the Most Improved Player recipient looked like the season before their breakout? What did they do in their Most Improved season? Using the traditional stats; points, rebounds, and assists per game, and the advanced stats; win shares, value over a replacement player, box plus/minus, and usage percentage, let's see what makes a player most improved.

Houston Rockets Most Improved: The Anatomy of a Most Improved Player

1. Pre-Most Improved Season

PPG: 10.9 RPG: 4.56 APG: 2.45 WS: 3.39 VORP: 0.86 BPM: -0.48 USG: 20.9%

2. Most Improved Season

PPG: 18.93 RPG: 6.48 APG: 4.05 WS: 7.82 VORP: 2.94 BPM: 2.37 USG: 24.1%

3. Difference

PPG: +8.03 RPG: +1.93 APG: +1.6 WS: +4.43 VORP: +2.08 BPM: +2.85 USG: +3.2%

Over the course of history, the average MIP recipient has gone from zero to hero. However, the course of history doesn't do a great job of capturing how voters have behaved in recent seasons.

One of the most interesting trends in Most Improved Player voting is that the average recipient has gotten significantly better. It's not that the average Most Improved season has gotten dramatically better, it's that the season before has been demonstrably better. In other words, the Most Improved player recipient has been much improved but improved far less over the course of the past 35 years.

Just using points per game, although every statistic highlighted before shows the same trend, it illustrates how the Most Improved Player recipient has, on average, slowly become a far better player the season before their "Most Improved" season. From 1986 to 1989, Most Improved players averaged 7.7 points per game in the season before their breakout, from 1990 to 1999, they averaged 9 points per game, from 2000 to 2009, they averaged 11.1 points per game, and from 2010 to 2021, they averaged 13.4 points per game. The trend has only accelerated in the past five seasons as well, with the average points per game in the season prior to their Most Improved Player award growing to 14.1 points per game from 2016 to 2021.

Now that the historical president has been set. Who has the edge between Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr?