The talking-head media world is full of plenty of hot takes, terrible takes, and terrible hot takes, but this take from Nancy Lieberman of Fox Sports might be the hottest and most “thass turrable” (thank you Charles Barkley) of them all.
"If Lonzo Ball is not up for Most Improved Player in the NBA this year then, apparently, nobody has cable."@NancyLieberman drops knowledge on Lonzo's improvement this season.#WontBowDown pic.twitter.com/ChSiAFHGco
— FOXSports NewOrleans (@FOXSportsNOLA) February 22, 2020
To be Most Improved Player, one must show improvement. This much ought to be obvious. Giannis Antetokounmpo won MIP when he made his leap from awkward Greek kid to unanimous MVP candidate (more on this later this week) in 2017.
Victor Oladipo went from Oklahoma City to Indiana, made his first All-Star Game, and set the world on fire in 2018; he was rewarded with a MIP of his own.
And Pascal Siakam‘s Most Improved nod last year with the Toronto Raptors should’ve put us all on notice that the current second seed in the East would be just as good post-Kawhi Leonard with Siakam stepping into a high-profile role.
In recent years, Most Improved Player has been a coronation, the way that the league says “welcome to the big time” for players still not even entering their prime.
To include Lonzo Ball in that conversation and on that tier is laughable on its face, especially with the New Orleans Pelicans still on the outside looking in on the Western Conference playoff table—yes, Zion Williamson is great, but Ja Morant‘s Rookie of the Year campaign this year is a sign of things to come in Memphis.
Let’s start with two advanced stats in consecutive years, namely WS/48 and VORP.
Lonzo, 47 games, 2018-19: .052 WS/48, 0.9 VORP.
Lonzo, 48 games (through Feb. 22), 2019-20: .053 WS/48, 1.0 VORP.
How can this be, when Lonzo is shooting better than ever before (and yes, that’s hilarious when 40 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3 is “better than ever before”) and finally making an impact offensively?
Well, simply put, his defense has fallen off a cliff with Alvin Gentry coaching him because that’s just the kind of coach Gentry is.
Every offensive step forward for Ball has been matched by a Newtonian Third Law equal and opposite reaction in the form of a step backward defensively.
And it’s not like Ball has even been that good offensively. You’d expect a skewed-toward-offense stat like PER to show Ball taking a big step forward if his offense is rising fast enough to make up for the decline in his defense.
That is simply not the case; yes, Ball’s 12.9 PER is better than the 11.7 he posted last year, but it’s still below league average and it’s not much better than the 12.5 he posted as a rookie, when he also had—get this—.053 WS/48.
Ball hasn’t been Most Improved. He’s been consistent. Consistently bad, since a team full of guys with .053 WS/48 would be expected to win 22 games.
Most Improved Player usually goes to a guy on a good team who gooses his counting stats and makes his first All-Star Game in the process. Consider the three guys mentioned above, namely Antetokounmpo, Oladipo, and Siakam.
You know who took a big leap forward in counting stats in Year 3 and made the All-Star Game?
And I think anyone would agree that Tatum’s got a much higher ceiling than Ball if we’re looking purely at 3 years of demonstrated on-court ability weighted toward that third year’s numbers.
To suggest that Lonzo Ball has any place at the table in a Most Improved Player discussion is to behave like a casual or a drunk.
Nancy Lieberman’s argument is ludicrous, plain and simple. Lonzo Ball is not even AN improved player, never mind the Most Improved Player in the whole league.