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Nikola Vucevic in thick of Most Improved Player race

With the season coming to a close, the NBA's awards season is picking up full steam.

Magic fans will be paying close attention this year even with a 20-61 record and possibly the worst record in the league. Nikola Vucevic is one of the major candidates for the Most Improved Player award. His candidacy has been picking up steam as he continues to pour in double doubles and rack up incredible statistics.

In the eight games since returning from his concussion, Vucevic is averaging 18.1 points and 15.5 rebounds per game. That includes more than five offensive rebounds per game. He has stepped his game up, recording two of his four 20-20 games in that stretch.

These performances are just part of the reasons why Vucevic is considered one of the favorites, along with Paul George and Jrue Holiday (two All Stars, mind you), for the award. For David Aldridge of NBA.com, Vucevic is the choice:

But Vucevic gets the nod for doubling his points and rebounds over his rookie season in Philadelphia. Traded south as part of the Dwight Howard-Andrew Bynum-Andre Iguodala four-team deal, Vucevic is second in the league in rebounding (11.9 rpg, behind only Howard) and is shooting 51.7 percent for the otherwise woeful Magic. Vucevic grabbed a season-high 29 boards with 20 points for the Magic against Miami in December, and has 44 double-doubles, tied for third in the league.

Vucevic is averaging 13.0 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game. Numbers are clearly not as gaudy as his numbers of late. But considering he averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in nearly half the playing time last year, Vucevic's jump this year is pretty astounding.

This is not just a case of a player getting more playing time and seeing his numbers jump. This is a case of a player performing at a much higher level. Take a look at his per-36 and advanced numbers:

Year P/36 R/36 PER O.Reb.%
2012 12.5 10.9 14.3 12.0
2013 14.1 12.9 17.7 12.1

Vucevic has been a vastly improved player and is certainly worthy of consideration for the award. All his numbers have increased, particularly his raw numbers which is a product of playing time in many ways. The thing that may keep him from winning as many commentators have stated is his team's record. A player on a 20-win team is not likely to win these awards.

The Magic have a rich history of players winning this award and so maybe it is worth comparing Vucevic to how those players "improved" at least statistically. Orlando has had five winners of the award including Ryan Anderson last year.

Player Year PPG %Change APG/RPG %Change PER %Change
Scott Skiles 1991 17.2 123.4% 8.4 APG 75% 17.8 34.8%
Darrell Armstrong 1999 13.8 50.0% 6.7 APG 36.7% 22.2 41.4%
Tracy McGrady 2001 26.8 74.0% 7.5 RPG 19.0% 24.9 24.5%
Hedo Turkoglu 2008 19.5 46.6% 5.0 APG 56.3% 17.8 25.4%
Ryan Anderson 2012 16.1 51.9% 7.7 RPG 40.0% 21.2 11.6%
Nikola Vucevic 2013 13.0 136.4% 11.9 RPG 147.9% 17.7 23.8%

Comparing Vucevic's numbers to Magic winners of Most Improved Player Award, it is clear that he would be a strong candidate. His numbers have improved similarly to those that have previously won the award. Skiles even won it while playing for a losing team in 1991 as he turned in a career year that season.

And, as stated previously, Vucevic's performance is not solely a product of increased playing time — although his raw numbers certainly display the kind of sharp bump you would expect for someone getting increased playing time.

The award will simply come down to the voters. Vucevic though is worthy of the honor.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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