One of the frustrating things about certain regular-season awards like MVP, Most Improved, and Coach of the Year is the constantly shifting sands of the criteria used to crown the winners.
But what tends to get lost in all the noise is that the nebulous nature of these evaluations serves two critical purposes: it leaves plenty of room for interpretation, and it allows narrative to dictate the front-runners. A compelling story-line is often more important than you might expect. Some might argue that it’s overvalued, but let’s not forget that perception is reality.
The Most Improved award tends to go to a young player who’s made the transition from virtual anonymity to household name via a measurable uptick in productivity, but what this column will seek to spotlight instead is a rotating list of players who are somewhere on the spectrum, guys in their first few years in the league – some with bigger expectations attached, some with none at all.
Rather than a traditional ranking, we’ll profile a different player each month who is either over or under-performing or simply treading water. We’ll put it in the context of said player’s current or pending contract situation, team performance and/or playoff aspirations, and in general, how well they’re living up to their potential.
A good example is the Wizards’ third-year swing-man Kelly Oubre Jr. When Washington acquired him on a draft-day trade from the Hawks in 2015, nobody knew exactly what to expect. But there was plenty to be optimistic about.
At 6’7, Oubre was long, athletic and already versed in how to leverage his considerable length to pester opponents on the perimeter. What wasn’t clear, however, was whether he had much of an offensive repertoire to speak of, which has turned out to be his biggest deficit during his first two seasons in the league.