Andrew Bynum finishes 4th in Most Improved Player voting

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
1:40
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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To be perfectly honest, I haven't spent much time thinking about awards season this year. The big one (MVP) seems pretty obvious (LeBron James). It's hard to argue with Gregg Popovich as Coach of the Year. If James Harden doesn't win Sixth Man honors, the world might spin off its axis. Tyson Chandler had his hooks on Defensive Player of the Year for a while -- rightly so -- and Kyrie Irving is a near-lock for Rookie of the Year. The right guys, or at worst extremely credible guys, are winning thus far, so there's really not all that much to discuss.

Save maybe one. The strangest of the postseason awards issued by the NBA is Most Improved Player, given today to Orlando Magic power forward Ryan Anderson. As my fantasy team attested, Anderson had a very good year, averaging a career high 16.1 points and shooting 39.1 percent from 3-point range, but critics will point note his advanced numbers are about what they've always been, and Anderson simply benefited from moving into the starting lineup.

Someone like Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova, who finished second, made far larger statistical improvements.

The basic problem with the M.I.P. is the context: A player can only be so good going into the year and have a legitimate shot to win. The soft bigotry of low expectations, and all that. Which brings us to Andrew Bynum, who finished tied for fourth with Detroit center Greg Monroe. Bynum has for a while been called the second best center in the league behind Dwight Howard, the only guy worth Orlando's time in a big man swap. He's also been very effective when healthy, entering the year riding a streak of four straight seasons with a PER north of 20, which Bynum pushed to five in 2011-12. I.E., he was already seen as too good to have a real shot at M.I.P.

This season, Bynum's advanced numbers weren't all that different from ones posted earlier in his career (a knock against his candidacy, maybe, but applicable to Anderson as well), but he played a much different and more difficult role. His minutes were up, along with the level of responsibility. More importantly, Bynum had never seen the double and triple teams routinely sent his way over the course of the season. Relative to earlier in his career, producing at similar statistical levels was much harder. Still, he stayed healthy, made his first All-Star team, and firmly established himself as an elite NBA player.

Last week, ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin made a strong case for Bynum as M.I.P., posing the most fundamental question: "What's more impressive: going from average to good or going from good to great?"

I'd say the latter. That only 28 of 121 voters put Bynum on their ballots indicates either people disagree, or more likely thought Drew was already too good to win, showing again why this is the goofiest of all NBA honors.

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