Pacers' George blossoms into a Most Improved favorite
If he keeps up his current pace, Amanda, then you're going to be right -- he'll be a favorite for the award. Right now he's at the top of my list because of the growth he has shown already over the course of the season. The Pacers went 10-11 while struggling to score over the first six weeks in Granger's absence. Along the way they've turned themselves into the NBA's top defensive team, with the 22-year-old George providing leadership on the perimeter. He has also emerged as a go-to scorer and turned himself into a prospective All-Star this season while leading the Pacers to a 16-5 record since that bad start.
Last Friday, in a win against the visiting Rockets, the 6-foot-8 George scored 31 points while adding six rebounds, five steals and exceptional defense on James Harden (who went 5-for-17). "I've never really seen a defender like Paul,'' Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
Your question inspired me to assemble the candidates for Most Improved. It's a list of impressive performers, and the next five names are going to have a chance to overtake George over the second half of the season:
It stinks, Doug. It isn't their fault, but then, is it ever the fans' fault? It is such a disappointing conclusion to the run of the Maloofs, who started out so strong. The combination of problems for their other businesses and the mistakes they've made in their management of the Kings, who are known throughout the league for lacking in leadership and accountability, has led to this sad end for Sacramento.
When they were losing the Western Conference finals in seven games to Robert Horry's Lakers just 11 seasons ago, you could not have convinced anyone that it was doomed to end this way. The Maloofs were ranked among the best owners in the league then, and the Kings' fan base was as loud as any in sports. The Maloofs have lost their reputation and the fans have lost their team, and at this point there isn't anything anyone can do to change any of it.
In those cases, Mike, the new team president usually brings in a coach of his own choosing. But it would be an unnecessary mistake in this case. This team was never going to make the playoffs, and there isn't a coach alive (or dead) who could have turned the Raptors into a winner this season. Toronto has been rebuilding throughout Casey's two years and injuries have limited his access to leading scorer Andrea Bargnani. For those reasons they should not be quick to throw away the investment they've made in him. He is a highly experienced coach who was crucial to the Mavericks' 2010-11 championship, and they should continue trying to build an identity through Casey -- regardless of how ownership deals with Colangelo.
It's an interesting idea, Josh, and I can see where you're going: Let 18-year-olds into the NBA as long as they spend their early years in the D-League. I would think the D-League would need to make enormous gains before such a rule could be established. It would have to be a fully established farm system that engaged every NBA owner with the same kind of exclusive access, which is to say that each NBA franchise would operate its own minor-league team in the D-League.
If the D-League were respected as a workshop for young players to become NBA stars, as the minor leagues are for prospects in baseball, then the NBA might be convinced to lower the age and go into all-out competition with the NCAA to lure the best prospects from high school.
In the meantime, however, the NBA benefits from the exposure its future players receive from major college basketball. The NCAA tournament, in particular, enables teenagers like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to develop a larger public following and become stars before they enter the NBA. The D-League, as it currently exists, could never provide such a high platform for the best young players. But maybe, in time, the D-League will establish its own identity.
I'm on the record as agreeing with you, David. I don't think Gilbert's tirade was as damaging as the fact that he and James failed to connect during their six seasons together in Cleveland. They obviously never developed a bond in all of that time, and there is no longer any demand on LeBron to return to Cleveland to repair the relationship.
And yet, maybe he'll decide that he wants to return to the area anyway. It's where he grew up, after all. None of our guesswork amounts to much of anything, because it all comes down to this: James is the best player in the world, a status he has earned, and he alone is going to decide what is most important if he should become a free agent after next season.