One of the most difficult awards to predict each year is the Most Improved Player award. But inevitably, every year, there are a handful of players around the league who make a sudden and dramatic leap forward in the quality of their play. Often, these are players who have always had potential, but in their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th seasons, suddenly figure things out and hit a different gear. Recent examples include last year's winner, Aaron Brooks, and the winner the year before that, Danny Granger. Sometimes the award goes to someone who finds himself on a new team or in new system that is better suited to his talents, and he flourishes. A recent example is Hedu Turkoglu in 2007-2008. Channing Frye was a good example last year, even though he didn't win the award. And sometimes it's just a case of finally getting playing time (the classic example is Jermaine O'Neal after Portland traded him to the Pacers).
One of the reasons I bring this up is that there are an unusually large number of current and former Blazers who fit the profile of players poised to potentially make a dramatic leap forward this season. That doesn't mean they will, of course, but it means we shouldn't be shocked if they do and if we end up seeing their names in the conversation for most improved player.
Among the current roster, I think the most obvious candidates are Nic Batum and Greg Oden. If either player can put together a full season playing at or above the level they played last year when healthy, they should both be in the running. If either shows significant improvement over last season, which is entirely possible, he may well be the front runner for the award.
Jerryd Bayless also fits the profile. If he can become a more consistent perimeter shooter while incrementally improving the other aspects of his game, his name may well be in the conversation. As a second year player, Wesley Matthews is also a possibility. Finally, though this will be his fifth season, LaMarcus Aldridge has all the tools to put up numbers far more impressive than he's put up to date. If something finally "clicks," he may be able to kick his game up a gear.
Among former Blazers, both Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw find themselves in new systems where they will likely get more playing time and be counted on to do new things. As both are still young and have room to improve, both fit the profile of an MIP candidate. So too will Rudy Fernandez if he is traded -- as he is expected to be -- prior to the start of the season. If Fernandez is traded to Chicago, for instance, he might even get a chance to start and benefit from playing off of Derrick Rose.
In surveying the rest of the league, the following players strike me as other potential MIP candidates (though there are many): Stephen Curry (GSW), Paul Millsap (Utah, now a starter), Russel Westbrook and Jeff Green (OKC, playing on team USA), Robin Lopez (PHX), and Jrue Holiday (PHI, probably a starter).
What are you predictions? Who will win the MIP award in 2010-11?