The Basketball Prospectus blog ran its second annual Internet Basketball Awards, in which they invite readers of the blog to fill out a ballot for the awards the media votes on to see where the fans differ from (read: are smarter than) the media. The online ballot included lists of 15 to 20 eligible players where it was feasible to prevent voters from having to write-in their candidates manually. I was shocked to find that Kevin Love was omitted from the list of Most Improved Player candidates, particularly when he was included as eligible for MVP voting. In the article reporting the results of the poll, lead blogger Kevin Pelton offered this explanation:
So ... the actual winner of this award, Kevin Love, showed up only as a write-in option on the IBBA ballot. Blame that on me. I considered Love, but felt his "improvement" was largely a matter of playing time and role and didn't have a good feel for how the actual voting would go. In fairness to Love, he certainly developed his game with the addition of a three-point shot and improvement as a go-to scorer, but his Most Improved Player award is still largely a testament to the fact that people still don't trust per-minute statistics. Love got his name written in enough times to finish ahead of several players who were actually listed, but Rose--whose improvement was much clearer across the board--ends up winning a second IBBA. (Lucky him!)
As I've written before (and wrote again in this email), this is a load of crap. Love made some serious improvements irrespective of (in some case, in spite of) his increased playing time. I often sense anti-Minnesota sentiment among non-Minnesota NBA fans, bloggers, and media members, be it because we wasted KG's prime, prevented Rubio from coming over, employ David Kahn, have an unfit NBA city and climate, or just have generally sucked for 7 seasons now. It bothers me when this bias is extended beyond its reach, most recently to try to disparage Kevin Love for being recognized for his admirable production. When this bias has crossed into the normally level-headed stat community, it's time to take a stand. Below the fold is my open email sent to Kevin Pelton, challenging his assertion that Love isn't among the 10 most worthy Most Improved Player Award candidates.
You're right that the media was wrongly motivated to vote for him primarily by his jump in per-game stats, which was indeed aided greatly by an increase in playing time. But just as they were wrong for using the wrong methods to assess his improvement, you were equally wrong for failing to look past those methods and use the ones that you ought to know to use, which would have shown that he did improve, just not in the way the media thought. They didn't do their homework, and neither did you.
What makes it worse is that so many of the other MIP candidates the media gave us were such better candidates for you to have used to make a statement by leaving them off the ballot. Dorell Wright upped his PER by 0.5 but dropped in WS/48 from .137 to .088. Why did he make your ballot, other than the fact that he doubled his minutes/game? LaMarcus Aldridge has been a media darling all year for his perceived improvements. Granted, his role changed, which you discount but I don't. But if we're going by the criteria you purport to have, we can disregard Aldridge's role change and the extra minutes/game he took on this year, and we're left with 0.4% higher usage rate than his second highest season, 1.5% better True Shooting from his second best season, and absolutely no change in any of his other stats, resulting in a fairly unimpressive jump to a career high of .166 WS/48 from .155. Love's corresponding leaps were bigger across the board while also improving his Reb% from being second best in the league his first two years to being the best and the highest single-season mark since the lockout season, or Rodman before that. How about Kyle Lowry, whose newfound 3 point shooting offset his dip in free throw drawing rate, but was otherwise the same player as always (+1.0 PER, +.04 WS/48) but for the fact that he moved in on struggling Aaron Brooks' playing time? I could go on.
Wolves fans have had nothing to be happy about this season other than Kevin Love's improvement. But then any time he receives recognition for his performance, the Kevin Love backlash reared its head. Based on November through January performance, Love was indisputably a more worthy All-Star candidate than LaMarcus Aldridge, whose first 6 weeks of the season were extremely mediocre. But revisionist historians are calling Love over Aldridge one of the biggest snubs of all time. The anti-Love backlash kicked in as Love became the MIP front-runner, with many again favoring Aldridge. I thought you'd be level-headed enough to stay above it, but it appears to have gotten to you too.
I'm not saying Love improved the most. Derrick Rose's improvement was greater among 3rd year players in their early 20s (a group I think shouldn't really be eligible), and I think the improvements of Tyson Chandler and Tony Allen, to name a few veterans, were more unexpected. But to single Love out to be stricken from the ballot seems hypocritically inconsistent or indicative of a lack of research. He belonged on the list, and his omission no doubt warped the voting results.