The NBA D-League handed out its Most Improved Player award on Wednesday afternoon to Kenny Hayes of the Maine Red Claws. Considering the 'D' in D-League stands for development, it would seem that MIP is probably the most important award considering it's meant to showcase a player who has done exactly what players are supposed to do when deciding to embark on a season in the NBA's official minor league.
In that regard, Ridiculous Upside believes the coaches voting on the award got it wrong. This isn't to say that Hayes didn't improve, but it seemed his spike in numbers -- from 7.1 points in 19 minutes last season to 17.1 in 33 minutes this season -- had as much to do with the sharpshooter being able to get into a rhythm with more court time as opposed to an overall improvement in his game. The preceding sentence is actually a compliment of sorts as I believe Hayes was already a decent player last season, but was the beneficiary of more playing time this year under new head coach Dave Leitao.
When looking at improved players, however, it seemed to your's truly that there were a few other candidates that deserved consideration over Hayes: my top candidate would have been Tulsa 66ers power forward Marcus Lewis, the man I mentioned in my own end-of-season awards, but Erie BayHawks big man Kyle Goldcamp and Springfield Armor guard Jerry Smith also deserved mention as players that have improved immensely since first entering the Development League.
Anyway, among the brilliant brain trust I reference in regards to matters like this, the majority of D-League coaches seemed to agree with me. Not everyone was willing to go on record with their assessment of the award, but Goldcamp's coach -- jumpin' Jay Larranaga -- was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions related to the Most Improved category.
"If I'm not mistaken, each year the MIP has gone to a returning D-League player who showed significant improvement and development from the previous season and, given our unbalanced schedule and short season, this makes sense to me," Larranaga said. "Players like Kenny Hayes, Marcus Lewis and Kyle Goldcamp all fall into this category and as the 'Development' League I think it is important that we recognize players that have benefited from a long term commitment to our league's emphasis on player development."
Coaches weren't allowed to vote for their own players, but it seems as though Larranaga might've put Goldcamp at the top of his ballot had that been an option.
"I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to coach Kyle for the past 2 seasons. He's a great teammate who only cares about winning and works as hard as he can to get the most out of his God-given ability," Larranaga said. "To watch him grow and develop from an open tryout player into one of the top frontcourt players in the league was truly inspiring for me ... and a testament to the kind of person and player he is."
Goldcamp was actually a popular name when I polled people around the league that have watched as much D-League basketball as myself. After publishing my awards, the following email ended up in my inbox from someone that's been around the D-League longer than I've even been following it.
I will tell you an interesting name for Most Improved because I would argue that as a Pan-Am player, it was obvious Marcus Lewis was going to be a star. I do understand your reasoning, though, and based on your criteria, no argument can be made. But what about Erie's Kyle Goldcamp? I think he is an interesting name and came out nowhere for them.
So obviously Goldcamp had his fans ... and with good reason, too, considering he made the BayHawks as an open tryout player prior to the 2009-10 season and ended up with an NBA training camp invite with the Cleveland Cavaliers just a few seasons later. The Gannon alum went from averaging 3.3 points and 3.0 rebounds as a part-time starter to 14 points and 8.4 rebounds while playing less than 30 minutes for Larranaga's squad this season.
Now that Goldcamp's accomplishments have been noted, let's look back at my thought-process when I handed the award to Lewis -- another open tryout player that's busted his butt to get to this point in his career -- last week.
This was, without a doubt, the easiest award to hand out. Lewis, playing his third season in Tulsa after entering the league as a local tryout player, was remarkable this season for the team owned by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 6-foot-8 power forward averaged 15.1 points and 12.7 rebounds in 46 games for the 66ers this season after averaging 7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds last season. Considering he's only 25, there's still a good chance Lewis could continue to develop, too, ultimately becoming the best success story in the D-League.
In a league where the dirty work rarely gets noticed -- and the big men are more of an afterthought than anything else -- it would've been nice to see one of the big guys that does the little things be honored as the Most Improved Player.