Professional sports are all about achievements and improvements. MVP awards, DPOY, ROY, 6th Man, and Most Improved awards are handed out every year. Naturally, we often overlook the underachievers. I thought it might be fun to give them their own spotlight for a change, even if they don’t want or deserve it at this point. Here are my candidates for the “Least Improved Player” award.
Isaiah Thomas was the man in Boston last season. He was third in the NBA in points per game and was putting up historical 4th quarter numbers in crunch time. When he was included in a trade package to Cleveland in exchange for Kyrie Irving, there were high expectations for his performance alongside LeBron James.
Of course, Thomas’ hip injury hindered his performance in more ways than one. However, the chemistry in Cleveland was never found. Thomas proved to be a negative locker room presence after remaining bitter about the Irving trade and his decreased role on the Cavaliers roster. At the trade deadline he was traded to the Lakers where he played a still less than significant 6th man role for the rebuilding team.
Above are Thomas’ stats from his last season as Boston, as well as his total stats for this year and his splits for each team he was a part of over the course of this season. He only played 32 games this year, and averaged 13.7 less points per game this season in 7 less minutes on the court. His field goal percentage is also noticeably down.
While much of this can be attributed to injury, Thomas had a season ending surgery to help with that for next year, a bad attitude and lack of adjustment led to a steep decline in his level of play.
For Lopez, we are taking his overall stats from his years with the Nets compared to his lone season so far with the Lakers. Overall, Lopez is averaging far less minutes than he ever did in Brooklyn, but he has not been the same caliber player in Los Angeles even with limited playing time. Just watching him he doesn’t seem as dynamic. The Lakers are debatably a better team than the Brooklyn team Lopez was on, but he just isn’t making that same impact anymore. He is average 5 points less per game than his Brooklyn/New Jersey average and 3 rebounds fewer, something you don’t want to see from your starting center. His limited minutes have shown some upside, such as less turnovers and higher 3 point and effective field goal percentage; but overall he has lost a lot of luster that got him an All-Star berth in 2013.
In one of the craziest off-seasons we remember, Carmelo Anthony was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a second round draft pick shortly after the Thunder had acquired Paul George. The ‘OK3’ was considered the NBA’s newest super-team after the addition of the two All-Star players. The team hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, however, and Melo is getting perhaps the biggest load of criticism and scrutiny for it.
Carmelo Anthony single handedly sold tickets to Knicks games with his sharpshooting and controversial one-on-one offensive play. His antics earned him 10 All-Star selections and have launched him up to the top of the NBA’s greatest scoring lists. The Thunder were hoping for that scoring punch to fit within their system revolving around other heavy ball-handlers in Paul George and Russell Westbrook, and the result has not been as pretty as designed.
Melo averaged career lows in points, assists, and field goal percentage this season. His usage rate was expected to go down considerably playing alongside two other All-Stars, but while his usage took a hit so did his efficiency. The Thunder endured a very frustrating season in which they hoped for a little more than what they got from Melo.
We never want to see players underachieve, as sports fans we are obligated to root for all athletes unless they’re playing against our favorite teams. However, we can also agree that sometimes players just don’t play up to their potential.
So with that, who goes home with the “Least Improved Player” award?
Featured Photo Source: si.com
Other Photo Sources: losangeles.cbslocal.com, lakernation.com, bleacherreport.com
All statistic photos taken from basketball-reference.com