In the NBA, where players frequently change teams to chase an elusive championship, you would think at least one Most Improved Player (MIP) award winner would have won a championship. But in 28 years that has not happened, and this year the league’s best team currently, the Indiana Pacers, sport two previous MIP winners on their squad – Paul George and Danny Granger. They appear to have a legitimate chance of breaking the MIP championship curse.
For those who don’t know, the Most Improved Player award is handed out annually to, typically, a younger player that showed the most progression from one season to the next — like George did last year. In 28 years, the Pacers have had four MIP winners – Jalen Rose in 2000, Jermaine O’Neal in 2002, Granger in 2009 and George in 2012. With the way this season is shaping up, Lance Stephenson could soon join that group as his numbers have improved greatly since last year – 13.3 points, 5.2 assists and 6.7 rebounds – including leading the league in triple-doubles with three.
While the curse keeps MIP winners from claiming an NBA championship, it doesn’t stop them from trying. Since the award’s inception in the 1985-86 season, a total of six players have played in or been on a team that made it to the NBA Finals. Kevin Duckworth in 1990 with the Portland Trail Blazers, Kevin Johnson in 1993 with the Phoenix Suns, Jalen Rose in 2000 with Indiana, Hedo Turkoglu in 2009 with the Orlando Magic and Tracy McGrady and Boris Diaw in 2013 with the San Antonio Spurs.
The Pacers currently sport the league’s best record and remain one of the only teams who haven’t faced major injuries. With Paul George as the de facto superstar, Danny Granger has become the sixth-man sidekick. Granger was arguably the Pacers’ missing championship piece last year, and so far that’s been proven correct. Since Granger came back, the Pacers have gone 9-2 with him coming off the bench in all but one game.
Indiana is a team firing on all cylinders with a chip on their shoulder so big it takes the entire team to carry it. They have no one to fear at this point and look like a definite threat to dethrone the Miami Heat on their way to winning their first NBA Championship. Curses can be broken — just ask the Boston Red Sox — and the Pacers appear to be on their way to breaking the MIP curse this year.