The following is a list of things to take into account for Most Improved Player candidates.
1. Improved productivity: A metric called Model Estimated Value (MEV) measures a player's valuable contributions, independent of playing time or contribution to the team. As a weighted productivity metric, MEV doesn't just look at points, rebounds, and assists but takes into account the value of everything a player does on the floor - from scoring points to the number of missed shots they're responsible for to the weighted value of an offensive rebound relative to a defensive rebound - and assigns a rating to the player.
Although this number should obviously increase with more minutes (and conversely, decrease with decreased minutes) for any good player, a) not everyone improves every year and b) it serves as a good complement to the other numbers as one more piece of evidence -- though perhaps the weakest -- to support the idea that a player has indeed improved.
2. Improved contribution to team success: using a metric called "percent valuable contributions" (PVC) (or "value percentage"), we can compare the improvement in contribution to team success for every player in the WNBA. The "valuable contributions" are determined by the ratio of a player's MEV to the team's overall MEV. So PVC is therefore a measure of how much the player contributes to the team's overall production.
Of course, evaluating improved "contributions" goes beyond statistics, but this provides a way to identify a set of players who have contributed more to their team in terms of statistical production. As a "percentage" of the team's output, an improved valpct reflects either a) increased production or b) an increased role with the team (or both). So that means this number gets tricky for players who switched teams (e.g. Phoenix Mercury forward Candice Dupree in 2010) -- a player could well be vastly improved but only show a marginal difference in contribution to their team if they are surrounded by better players or have a different role.
(Note: "val pct" is different than the "percent valuable contributions" metric I used for MVP candidates, but the relative output -- ordering of players -- is almost entirely the same. I'm using it because I didn't have final PVC for players in 2009.)
3. Improved efficiency while on the floor: using a metric called "valuable contributions ratio" (VCR), we can assess a player's rate of productivity while on the floor rather than just their contribution to the team. In short, it is a metric that compares a player's contributions to the team's production to the minutes they played. More specifically, it's the ratio of a player's PVC relative to the percentage of the team's minutes they played. The league average PVC is usually right around 10% and the league average minutes percentage (the percentage of minutes a player played of the possible 40 minutes in each game) is usually just under 50%, which would equate to someone playing 20 minutes per game.
So just to think this through, if you have a player playing 25% of the team's minutes available to them (about 10 minutes per game, half of league average) and accounting for 10% of the team's overall statistical production (or PVC of 10%) we can say that the player is a really efficient in contributing to the team in limited minutes. In other words, we might say that a player making that type of impact on the floor is giving their team quality minutes even if their boxscore production only shows about 5 points and 2 rebounds per game.
It should be obvious why this is useful for looking at candidates for MIP -- for a player that didn't play much, VCR allows us to look at how well a player played while on the floor in consecutive years. It helps to separate players who have actually improved their rate of productivity on the floor from those who are just producing at the same rate in more minutes. In short, for the purposes of the MIP award, an improved VCR might be the most significant determinant - it's a real indicator of whether the player actually improved their play.
Click here for far more on VCR.
4. Minutes per game: consistent with the above criteria, minutes have to be taken into account when looking at improvement -- a player that is producing at the same rate of productivity in more minutes may not have improved at all; it's possible that they were forced into more minutes and are just putting up better averages because they have more opportunity.
5. Injuries/missed games: Obviously, if you missed a lot of games, any one of the above numbers could be affected. Since the first two numbers are ratios of a team's overall production, if you're not there you're going to have less of a contribution to overall success. With productivity and minutes, if a player missed extended time due to injury or other reasons, it's possible that a) their team kept them out while they re-adjusted or b) they never found the type of rhythm that would allow them to produce consistently.
6. Second year players: A lot of second year players tend to improve. That is because they are second year players and you would actually expect them to improve because they are more adjusted to the professional game. That doesn't eliminate second year players from the conversation, but they would have to show substantial improvement over their rookie year to be placed above a veteran who showed improvement.
7. Change of team: Often times, when a player changes teams they are used differently or complemented differently by the players around them in ways that enhance (or impede) their performance. That doesn't necessarily mean they improved, but that their situation improved. ESPN's Carolyn Peck described how that has happened with Candice Dupree.
"Candice Dupree, she didn't have a choice but to be more productive because you got more possessions with the style that Phoenix plays as compared to what Chicago plays," said Peck. "I think she has definitely held her own. But has she improved or because of the situation has part of her game been able to evolve? More of her points now are coming out of the paint for Phoenix whereas she had more of a face-up game in Chicago because Sylvia Fowles was inside."
For more details on these statistics, visit our statistics glossary.