DeMar DeRozan has made a pretty serious leap this season. At 24 years old and in his fifth go-‘round of the league, DeRozan not only made his first NBA All-Star team, but he’s been the top scorer on what is officially the first playoff team he’s ever played for.

DeRozan is not the Raptors’ best player, as much as the 22.8 points stand out more than any other player’s statistics on the team. Kyle Lowry is this team’s best player, acting as the engine on both ends of the floor and the avatar for the entire team’s story and attitude this season. If you’re an advanced stats fan, you can make the case that Amir Johnson is right there with Lowry, though his contributions are obviously less superficial (screen setting, help defense, etc).

But not being the best player on the team doesn’t mean DeRozan hasn’t been incredibly important to the Raptors’ unlikely rise. After all, the trade of Rudy Gay left DeRozan as the offensive alpha and one of the dozen most relied upon offensive players in the NBA. DeRozan has answered that call, improving marginally in several areas and improving significantly in one particular area.

Marginal Improvements
Shot mix and getting to the line – Simply by adjusting the type of shots he’s taken, DeRozan has improved his true shooting percentage this season despite his field goal percentage actually decreasing. Even though his 29.9 percent mark from long range leaves plenty to be desired, it’s still a shot that is worth 0.9 points on average, something long twos would have to fall at a 45 percent clip to do. More importantly, DeRozan has bullied his way to the rim, leading to a career-high 7.9 free throw attempts per game, good for seventh in the NBA. Considering the mid-range heavy game he plays, that’s incredibly impressive, and it speaks to the work he’s done to get stronger (he’s also getting blocked far less often than in years past and producing more And-1s).

Rebounding – DeRozan still isn’t an elite rebounder for a wing – he ranks 26th in rebound rate among qualified guards and guard-forwards this season, behind teammates Lowry and Terrence Ross – but it’s an area he’s improved on for the second straight season. He showed great potential as a rookie and while he hasn’t quite got back to that level yet, the additional half-rebound a game he’s pulling down isn’t nothing.

Steals and blocks – DeRozan has made slight gains in both steal rate and block rate, speaking to his modest improvements as a defender.

Defense – DeRozan is probably still, at best, an average defender, but it’s an area he’s clearly done a great deal of work. An analysis of his defensive improvements and shortcomings would require its own post, but Synergy data shows that DeRozan is on the right path, particularly as an isolation defender, where he somehow ranks first in the NBA this season. That should be all you need to make you take these Synergy defensive classifications with a grain of salt, but his improvement in isolation situations and guarding pick-and-roll ball handlers is clear, as his ability to chase players on the move. Some of this has to do with the help around him (hi, Amir) and drawing the lower-usage wing assignment in most cases, but there are real improvements underneath all of that, too.

Play Type 2011-12 PPP 2012-13 PPP 2013-14 PPP 2011-12 Rank 2012-13 Rank 2013-14 Rank
Isolation 1.1 0.8 0.4 318 149 1
P&R Ball Handler 0.81 0.7 0.73 126 45 58
Post-Up 1.05 1.02 1.04 253 262 234
Spot-Up 0.89 1.05 0.92 118 273 121
Off Screen 0.91 0.8 0.82 91 56 47
Hand Off 1.36 0.79 0.62 n/a 38 13

Turnovers – Ball control has always stuck out as an area where DeRozan was fairly effective but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. His handle is one of the biggest criticisms of his game, but he somehow rarely coughs the ball up despite having it in his hands plenty. You may look and see his raw turnovers up to 2.2 a game, a career-high, but this loses site of the fact that his usage rate has also increased a great deal. Overall, DeRozan turns the ball over on just 9.4 percent of the possessions he uses, representing not just a career-low but the 21st-lowest mark in the entire NBA. Among players who use at least a league-average portion of their team’s possessions, only nine players turn the ball over less than DeRozan. That’s an incredibly valuable trait to have in your primary scorer.

The Key Improvement
The biggest improvement to DeRozan’s game has been, without question, his playmaking ability. 16 players averaged 18-3.5-2.5 like DeRozan did last season; this year he’s up to 22-4-4, joined by only James Harden, Steph Curry, Kevin Love, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Those are random cut-off points, sure, but there are very few players in the NBA who score, rebound and facilitate like DeRozan has.

And this was largely unexpected. In each year of his career, DeRozan had taken small steps forward in assist rate, from 4.9 percent as a rookie to 12 percent last season. This year, that number exploded to 19 percent, a mark that sits him just outside the top-50 in the league, with primarily point guards, superstars and Josh McRoberts ahead of him. He’s still not an elite playmaker, but he’s gone from being appreciably below-average to being comfortably above-average from the wing. Think his 22.8 points a game are nice? He’s also generating an additional 10 per game via assists, per Basketball Reference’s advanced play-by-play logs.

How impressive is a jump from 12 percent to 19 percent in terms of assist rate? Since 2000-01, there have been 235 player seasons where a qualified player had an assist rate between 11 percent and 13 percent. Only 27 of those also had a season with an assist rate higher than 18 percent, with most declining to the 12-percent range rather than improving from it; Andre Iguodala, Richard Jefferson, James Harden, Kevin Love and Josh Smith are the only other players to have made the jump in a single season. Players simply don’t make that kind of a playmaking improvement in one year.

Does He Have a Chance?
Well yes, sure he does. Unfortunately, there are some other players who have made a significant jump this season as well, some of whom either started from an even lesser-known place or have had their breakout become a key storyline of the season, or both.

To try and find (and compare) MIP candidates, I developed a really simply formula called Improvement Metric that just uses box score stats. It won’t include much defense or team context, but since voters almost surely look at box score averages to help guide their vote, it can give us an idea of who they may look at and how they stack up.

IM = 2013-14 ((PPG+RPG+APG+SPG+BPG-TOPG-FGA)/MPG*36) / 2012-13 ((PPG+RPG+APG+SPG+BPG-TOPG-FGA)/MPG*36)

Put more simply, we summed all of the counting stats, subtracted turnovers and field goal attempts as proxy for efficiency and then put it on a per-minute basis. Scores were compared between years, showing a percentage improvement.

Running that simple formula, here are the 2013-14 leaders by “IM” or “additional statistical contribution.” (Note: players had to qualify in both 2012-13 and 2013-14, and Anthony Davis was left out due to a discrepancy between BRef’s qualification standard and NBA.com’s.)

Player 12-13 Score 13-14 Score IP Usg Inc
Marco Belinelli 6.56 10.76 164.0 0.4
Markieff Morris 10.77 14.73 136.8 3.5
Bismack Biyombo 12.40 16.85 135.9 -0.5
DeMar DeRozan 8.73 11.72 134.2 3.9
Lance Stephenson 9.49 12.68 133.6 4.2
D.J. Augustin 8.27 11.03 133.3 6.8
Draymond Green 10.21 13.54 132.6 0.9
Randy Foye 6.96 9.18 131.8 0.2
DeAndre Jordan 16.31 20.99 128.7 -3.8
Terrence Ross 6.14 7.85 127.8 -0.8
Brandon Knight 8.11 10.36 127.7 4
DeMarcus Cousins 17.70 22.28 125.8 4.2
Arron Afflalo 7.90 9.93 125.7 0.7
Jodie Meeks 7.27 9.03 124.2 2.3
Damian Lillard 10.26 12.70 123.8 1.1
Rudy Gay 9.96 12.28 123.3 0.5
Joe Johnson 7.26 8.94 123.2 0.4
Jamal Crawford 8.11 9.98 123.1 1.2
Ty Lawson 12.66 15.54 122.7 0.4
P.J. Tucker 10.12 12.35 122.1 1.5
Stephen Curry 13.85 16.62 119.9 1.7
Isaiah Thomas 11.24 13.47 119.9 3.4
Wesley Matthews 8.69 10.35 119.1 0.4
Kyle Singler 7.59 9.00 118.6 -1.6
Nicolas Batum 12.25 14.48 118.2 -1.7
Robin Lopez 13.29 15.56 117.0 -6.2
Mario Chalmers 10.17 11.84 116.4 1.2
Marcus Morris 9.45 10.96 116.0 1
Jae Crowder 8.95 10.25 114.6 -1.7

Plenty of names on the list make sense. Markieff Morris and Lance Stephenson have had some MIP love thrown their way; DeAndre Jordan, Terrence Ross, Brandon Knight, DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Lillard are improving with experience; and Marco Belinelli, D.J. Augustin and Randy Foye are having solid bounce-back seasons. There’s also seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson, who improved from being a six-time All-Star. Bismack Biyombo seems out of place, and a couple of names are missing, so it’s not perfect by any means, but it seems a fair proxy to start with.

The Likely Candidates (in no particular order)
Anthony Davis – He’ll probably win, having transitioned from impressive rookie to superstar. Personally, I hate giving the award to sophomores since this kind of progression is expected, but this represents a pretty extreme case.

Goran Dragic – His scoring average has jumped 5.8 points without much of a minutes increase, he’s getting to the line more and hitting more threes and his PER has exploded, plus he’s leading a surprise team to a potential playoff spot. If Davis is No. 1, Dragic is probably 1B publicly.

Lance Stephenson – The most highly-publicized case of a breakout player having a major impact early this season, it’s certainly possible that the negativity around the Pacers of late will hurt his case.

Gerald Green – He’s proof that I need to loosen the qualification requirements in the future, and he’s firmly in the top-five in buzz for the award. He kind of did this in 2011-12, too, but over just 31 games, so this year has been a real statement given where he was in 2012-13 and before 2011.

Isaiah Thomas – As great as he’s been, his actual performance didn’t change nearly as much as his workload did. He’s improved, to be sure, but he was always pretty good and struggles to stand out given his competition here.

Markieff Morris – He’s probably the winner using that IP formula, and he’s been a core piece of the aforementioned rise of the Suns. However, any chance he had to win the award will probably be cannibalized by the two teammates on this list.

DeAndre Jordan – He’s gone from being a valuable piece to perhaps the best rebounder in the NBA (he’s neck-and-neck with Andre Drummond) and has been able to see a rise in minutes for the first time since 2010-11 thanks to a steady foul rate and improved play. Still can’t hit a damn free throw, though.

Draymond Green – Green’s impact on the Warriors may be too below-the-surface to get him the appropriate love here (he’s also a sophomore), but rest assured his leap has made a big difference as Harrison Barnes backslid and David Lee missed time.

Kyle Lowry – You thought I’d slight my guy without a mention? Like with some others, the minor issue here is that Lowry has always been pretty good, and the jump from pretty good to very good is less noticeable. Ast%, PER, TS%, FG%, 3FG%, they’re all up, and the turnover rate is way down. Looking at things in the aggregate, Lowry probably has a really solid case – no player in the NBA has made a bigger jump by BRef’s Win Shares metric than Lowry this year, nearly doubling his 2012-13 total (5.6) with 10.8 this year.

DeMar DeRozan– Of course, this article was about DeRozan, not Lowry. It’s possible that, like with the Suns, they may cannibalize votes from each other. Given the names and resumes on this list, it’s unlikely that DeRozan has a shot at the award – his improvements may be too marginal in many areas rather than extreme in a single area. Still, even if DeRozan doesn’t become the first Raptors player to win an individual award since Vince Carter was the Rookie of the Year in 1998-99, that shouldn’t negate the fact that DeRozan has taken a big step forward this season. He’s a key reason this team has gotten where it has and a great deal will be placed on his much-improved shoulders come playoff time.

Season 3FG% FTA/gm PPG PER TS% Usg% Rb% Ast% TO% WS WS/48min Team +/- Effect
2009-10 0.25 2.5 8.6 12.5 55.4 18.1 7.9 4.9 9.4 2.3 0.066 -7.2
2010-11 0.096 4.9 17.2 14.5 53 23.2 6.5 8.6 9.8 3.2 0.055 -3.3
2011-12 0.261 5.3 16.7 12.8 50.3 25 5.6 10.8 10.5 2.5 0.054 3.9
2012-13 0.283 5.2 18.1 14.7 52.3 24.2 6.3 12 9.6 4.7 0.075 -1.9
2013-14 0.299 7.9 22.8 18.4 53 28.1 6.6 19 9.4 8.5 0.142 1.4

  • jakdripr

    His improvements have been impressive, especially the assists because that actually happened over the course of the season(which I rarely ever see from a 5th year player). He still has improvements to make(becoming more efficient at scoring, his defence), but if he can become a solid 20, 5 and 5 guy night in and night out I don’t think anyone could be upset at that.

    I don’t think he has a shot at winning though, not with the type of season Dragic is having. Although with stephenson likely out of the running due to the pacers drama and I doubt Davis will get it since he’s a #1 draft pick I could see Derozan potentially giving Dragic a run for his money.

  • HogyG

    I think he has a real shot for most improved this season. He still has facets of his game to develop as you pointed out, but the way he continues to improve every year makes me excited to see the type of player he’ll become by the time his contract year comes up!

  • Matty R

    My favourite to win it this year is Gerald Green. Not only is he a part of the renaissance Phoenix suns, but his story of coming in and out of the league, and suddenly having a break out year seems to fall in line with what constitutes an MIP winner. Derozan definitely deserves a mention, and I’d expect him to finish top 4 in voting. Maybe I’m biased though, cause I’ve seen Derozan’s steady improvement over his entire career, while I don’t have the luxury of watching other players day in and day out. Voters may be more impressed with Derozan due to the lack of raptors coverage outisde of Canada.

  • Raps

    LOL Derozan ranks first in isolation defense???? Another reason why you shouldn’t take advanced stats as the primary source of info.

    • afrocarter

      Why is that a reason? Nobody is saying that this one stat proves DeRozan in a defensive guru, just that he’s good at guarding one-on-one. If you make the leap from that to “shutdown defender” that’s on you, not the numbers.

  • jjdynomite

    I think Dragic will win for the bizarroworld reason why Joe Johnson was selected for the ASG — Dragic was snubbed, so voters will look at the list and say, why don’t we give it to this prodigal son, who was traded to Houston for not much (Aaron Brooks), then released in favour of Jeremy Lin (oops on Darryl Morey’s part), and now he’s back with the Suns and killing it to the tune of 21.73 PER which is #20 overall in the entire league (everyone above him are superstars except for Brandon Wright — sample size).

    It would be nice if Kyle got a shot, but as Blake mentioned he was always pretty good and now is the man so his usage rate is a lot higher without Jose (and Rudy) around; Dragic was supposed to compete with Bledsoe for a starting spot or play off-guard (which is not his skill base) and has excelled with both Bledsoe on and off (injured) the floor.

    As for DeMar, true his spike in AST is great and an excellent sign for future returns, but I simply can’t vouch an individual honour to a SG/SF who is ranked #129 overall in 3-pointers made (tied with Casspi) with 60, at a weak .299 rate. Even Mr. Mid-Range Inefficiency himself (Rudy) has 64.

    http://espn.go.com/nba/statistics/player/_/stat/3-points/sort/threePointFieldGoalsMade
    BTW, T-Ross is tied at #19 with 153 3PM at — in a synchronistical parallel — a .399 clip. So give it to Dragic this season, and perhaps T-Ross for next year’s MIP?

    • 2damkule

      or, dragic will win it because he’s been really f’n good all year – well over & above what any reasonable pundit could have predicted – his team, despite all odds, is in the hunt for a playoff spot in the West (after being picked to have one – if not the – worst records in the league), and when the team’s 2nd best player went down with injury, dragic picked his game up even more & carried them? or, because his improved play has resulted (directly or indirectly) in bledsoe having a career year, and two of his teammates being in the running for this award as well?

      • jjdynomite

        Agreed 2damkule. Wouldn’t you agree it would be weird for former #1 overall pick Anthony Davis to win it? Similar to Lowry, it’s not like Davis was mediocre last year, just injured a lot and played on a bad team. Likewise, his team is currently poor (due to a shitstorm of long-term injuries to critcal Pellies like Holiday and Anderson) but Dragic’s team, in large part due to his unexpected excellence, has taken off.

    • Clown

      Clown. Don’t dismiss everything else he does well. D wade can’t shoot 3s well either but dominates other parts of the game like Demar. Make me a bicycle clown

      • jjdynomite

        I may be a clown, but you’re a retarded dumbass for comparing DeMar to D-Wade — a future Hall of Famer who has won 3 championships, Finals MVP, 10x All-Star, led the league in scoring, and was the league leader in blocked shots for a guard year-after-year, and (this is the only one I had to look up): the NBA’s all-time leader in blocks for players listed 6’4″ (193 cm).

        DeMar “dominates” in… getting to the free throw line, and making one All-Star team.

        I’m as big a Raptor fan as anyone, but you give Raptors fans a bad name.

  • Tinmann

    Wow – what a great article. Appreciate the research put into it.

    You know, I don’t think he gets the credit from Raptor Nation. We are a tough group. But I’m hoping this article opens some eyes.

    I’m just gonna highlight a few of the points you made and then I will do anything if RR can get TimW, another writer who does his research well, to address his take on them. Contrary to what he probably thinks, I like his writings, yet seldom agree and I am real curious on his take. I’ll make you my homepage.

    We always criticize his defence- but holy shit you hit us with the
    ” Synergy data shows that DeRozan is on the right path, particularly as an isolation defender, where he somehow ranks first in the NBA this season”

    Boy do we rip him on his turnovers, but you give us
    “DeRozan turns the ball over on just 9.4 percent of the possessions he uses, representing not just a career-low but the 21st-lowest mark in the entire NBA. Among players who use at least a league-average portion of their team’s possessions, only nine players turn the ball over less than DeRozan”

    While I’d like to see the shooting percentage go up, damn let’s appreciate what we do have-
    “this year he’s up to 22-4-4, joined by only James Harden, Steph Curry, Kevin Love, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.”
    or
    “Think his 22.8 points a game are nice? He’s also generating an additional 10 per game via assists”

    or this whole paragraph
    “How impressive is a jump from 12 percent to 19 percent in terms of assist rate? Since 2000-01, there have been 235 player seasons where a qualified player had an assist rate between 11 percent and 13 percent. Only 27 of those also had a season with an assist rate higher than 18 percent, with most declining to the 12-percent range rather than improving from it; Andre Iguodala, Richard Jefferson, James Harden, Kevin Love and Josh Smith are the only other players to have made the jump in a single season. Players simply don’t make that kind of a playmaking improvement in one year”

    Just to add a personal take Demar. I always knew he would be good. Have stated frequently over the years that he came out way too young, looked like a sixteen year old out there his first years. It’s not often that a player at his position takes 5 year’s to start showing his true potential, but his first 3 were spent growing from a boy to a still young man. Watch out, he is just beginning. He will be one of the best players in the league, and as the stats you have provided, he’s on the cusp of it now.

    • Tinmann

      PS
      I think the Brow gets the nod

      • Louvens Remy

        but why? he’s a number 1 pick. he should be this good. hes only gonna get better. Should he get it next year if he makes another leap? just asking because there is no clear cut ruling on what MIP even means at this point? Did Tony Parker ever get this award?

        • Tinman

          because he has gotten that much better –

  • Paul

    Dude, that formula.. haha. Not your finest moment. Just use percentage change in player efficiency rating per 36.
    Seems like you probably did a lot of extra work to develop a rather useless and misleading stat. I guess it could be somewhat useful in predicting the winner if the people voting for MIP look at a box score and don’t understand that 1 apg is worth more than 1 ppg. Otherwise, absolute rubbish.

    • Paul

      On second thought, maybe you rigged this formula because it overstates the value of ppg and you wanted to make a case for Derozan being MIP. Sneaky

      • BlakeMurphy

        As explained, it wasn’t meant to be a “who should win,” it was meant to give us an idea who voters may look at. And yes, PPG rules in that regard.

      • BlakeMurphy

        “It won’t include much defense or team context, but since voters almost surely look at box score averages to help guide their vote, it can give us an idea of who they may look at and how they stack up.”

        • Paul

          So to be clear. You deliberately developed a deeply flawed statistic to predict MIP winner based on the assumption that media types who vote either don’t have access to a real statistic (such as PER) or are too simple to understand such a statistic?

          • BlakeMurphy

            Yes, exactly right. You nailed it. Totally reading it right within the context in which it was discussed. Congrats.

    • afrocarter

      Yeah….I’m not sure if I’ve seen anything as arbitrary as that formula in quite some time LOL

      • BlakeMurphy

        What’s arbitrary about it? It’s the sum of boxscore stats, minus attempts and turnovers. And again, it was very clear it wasn’t meant to suggest a winner, just show guys who had made big jumps in boxscore stats.

        LOL

        • afrocarter

          Because according to your formula, points, rebounds, assists, steals etc all have the same value. So if a player goes from averaging 1 ppg to 6 ppg, according to your formula they’ve “improved” as much as a player who went from averaging 1 spg to 6 spg. Does that make sense to you?

          • BlakeMurphy

            “As explained, it wasn’t meant to be a “who should win,” it was meant to give us an idea who voters may look at. And yes, PPG rules in that regard.”

            “It won’t include much defense or team context, but since voters almost surely look at box score averages to help guide their vote, it can give us an idea of who they may look at and how they stack up.”

            As explained ad nauseam now, it is not evaluative. It was just a way to float contenders to the top of a list. I don’t know how many more times I can repeat it. I didn’t even use it to distinguish between players in the analysis that followed, it was just a list.

            • afrocarter

              Keep repeating it, man, keep repeating it! You have to admit that it was, at the very least, random. But for what it’s worth, the resulting list ended up being a decent one.

  • Louvens Remy

    This award should only be awarded for players picked outside the lottery and within the first 3 years in the league.

    • Louvens Remy

      or outside the top 10

      • Guest

        Starting for all 5 of them***

    • GetLicks

      Disagree about the player being outside the lottery. For example, let’s say Anthony Bennett comes back healthy next season and lights it up similar to the way he was before he got injured again. With all the criticism he’s endured, I think he should absolutely be allowed to be nominated.

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  • Nilanka15

    DeRozan deserves consideration, but it’s hard to look past Dragic.

    • 2damkule

      to do so would be…

      /removes sunglasses

      tragic.

      YEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWW

      wait, i think i did that wrong.

  • afrocarter

    At the end of the day, the MIP award leaves a lot to be desired because there isn’t much of a standard that can be followed (unlike, say, DPOY Award where you can look at hard stats, records, etc). For those who listen to/watch The Starters, I love it whenever Skeets goes on one of his patented MIP Award Tirades. That being said, I knew that DeRozan has stepped up his game considerably this season, but I had no idea it was to such a large degree. Kudos on the article!

  • johng_3

    My pick is Gerald Green. From D-League player to averaging 15pts a game is pretty impressive

  • B P

    I gotta disagree with you on Lowry being our best player. Yes he is the point guard and drives the offense… but DeRozan can flat out score and decently defend and that to me represents the “best” player. I also believe DeRozan has been this good since last year but you wouldn’t know it because of Gay. Most improved… maybe, I hope so, but the NBA does a poor job of delegating awards appropriately.

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