The Detroit Pistons are about a third of the way through their season, so we have a good enough sample size to start evaluating their performance as a greater whole. Likewise, we can make some individual judgments based upon the data. So, let’s take at who the Pistons’ most improved player is this season.
They have a few candidates who could be considered their most improved player this season, including Andre Drummond, who is currently a front-runner for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. Drummond is having a fine season. He is arguably the best rebounder in the league, and he is only in his second season. We saw flashes of what he could do last season, but the fact that he has been able to carry his stellar play in an expanded role is promising to Detroit’s future. However, he may not be the most improved player on his team.
The league’s award seems to be a tribute to players having a breakout season, something Drummond has certainly been having, but as impressive as he has been, it is hard to say whether he has made a drastic improvement or is simply playing more minutes. His per-36 minute stats show only slight improvements. Such statistics do not account for conditioning, and we will never know if he could have performed just as well in extended minutes last season.
Regardless, his moderate improvements make the argument for Rodney Stuckey a compelling one. In terms of efficiency, Stuckey is having the best season of his career. He is shooting career-best percentages from everywhere on the floor except the free-throw line, where he typically shoots the ball very well anyway. His assist numbers are down, but he isn’t being relied upon to be a distributor. Instead, he is playing a more natural position that allows him to focus on getting to the rim and scoring.
Advanced stats-wise, Stuckey is having the second or third best season of his career, but that is because he is in a more limited role than in year’s past. In his best season, Stuckey was averaging 31.2 mpg. This year, that number is down to 27.7 mpg, which is the lowest amount of his career other than his rookie season. The fact that he is still putting up close to his career-high in overall per-game stats is telling of how well Stuckey has been playing this season.
When it is broken down solely in terms of who has improved the most from last season, a strong argument can be made for either of Drummond or Stuckey. However, when you consider who has actually improved their play more instead of who has the bigger role on the team, a measuring stick better suited for the team’s MVP, I think the case becomes quite clear.
It may not be a popular pick, but because of his steady numbers despite playing fewer minutes and his surprisingly efficient play so far this season, Rodney Stuckey is actually the Pistons’ most improved player. This should not demean the season Drummond is having right now. His progress is startling and should make every Detroit fan drool at the thought of his future, but he was just as excellent last season, only in far fewer minutes. Stuckey, on the other hand, has shown some considerable improvement and can currently be considered among the top picks for the NBA’s Sixth Man Award.