In its 28 years of existence, the National Basketball Association’s Most Improved Player of the Year award has never been given to the same person twice. That could all change this year. Indiana Pacers guard/forward Paul George might be the lucky double-honoree.
In the lockout shortened 2011-2012 season, his second season in the NBA out of Fresno State, George averaged 12.1 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, 1.6 steals per game, with good shooting percentages. He blew past those benchmarks in his third year and first full non-lockout season as a starter. He bumped his scoring up more than five points to 17.4 per game to go with 7.6 RPG, 4.1 assists per game, and 1.8 steals per game. That leap earned him the most-improved award and his first All-Star nod. If he were to take a similar leap this season, he could win it again.
And he just might make that leap. Eight games in, George is the leader on both ends of the court for the 8-0 Pacers, the only undefeated team in the NBA. They boast a league-best defense, conceding just 84.5 points per game – and George is responsible for shutting down opposing teams’ biggest threats. George hasn’t just matched his improvements from previous seasons to this year; he has gone above and beyond. He has improved more this season, so far, than his previous two seasons. He is fifth in the NBA in scoring with 24.9 points per game, is pulling in a career high 7.8 RPG’s, 3.6 APG, and 1.5 steals per game; he boasts as well career-high shooting percentages from the field (.479; previous high was .453 in rookie season), from three-point range (.404; previous high was .385 in sophomore season) and from the free throw line (.846; previous high was .807 last season).
Voters might stick with tradition and skip George this year. But no-one else (numerically speaking)comes close to George in terms of overall improvement to their 2013-2014 game. All awards aside, his real impact has come as a floor general for the leading team in the NBA. He is their main ball-handler, their main option on offense, and is assigned the hardest covers on the team. With a profile like that and the stats to back it up, George doesn’t much need any official recognition: the reality of his game speaks for itself.