Each season, the NBA has a boatload of promising athletes who make tremendous strides from one year to the next, all the while garnering consideration for the league's "Most Improved Player" award.
Of the last three players to win the award, both Kevin Love (2010-11) and Paul George (2012-13) were named starters at the NBA All-Star Game last month. What's more, each one stands to be a legitimate M.V.P. candidate (still far behind the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant) at the end of this season. The third player, Ryan Anderson (2011-12) was averaging close to twenty points (19.8) through 22 games this season before succumbing to an injury.
Needless to say, as evidenced by the aforementioned trio, many of the players that rise above and win the league's "M.I.P." award flourish into the NBA's stars of tomorrow.
All that said, one of this season's most deserving candidates has gone on a journey not as common for most players today. He's undergone a transformation, and has returned stronger than ever, much to the benefit of not only himself, but his new team as well.
Such a man is none other than NBA D-League alumni Gerald Green, now with the Phoenix Suns. Unlike players such as Love and George, who made natural yet efficient progressions, Green has experienced his fair share of ups and downs in the NBA (or out of it, for that matter).
Now 28 years old, it took Green quite a while to stick. Establishing staying power in the NBA wasn't about proving his skills or realizing any existent potential. Like many young guns, the swingman's play was rather erratic. There was little control, and he lacked a certain calmness. What's more, Green also lacked the necessary maturity level needed to succeed in The Association.
With much to refine, Green left the NBA (or was unofficially kicked out, seemingly with nowhere else left to go) and ventured overseas to play international ball for much of two-plus seasons.
As we mention here at RidiculousUpside.com relatively often, players can go overseas, make a respectable living, and turn out just fine without ever being seen in the NBA again. That's just the long and short of it all. It happens.
But for Green to return and another team to take a chance on him, he needed to ensure that such a risk would immediately prove to pay dividends for said team. In 2012, the Nets opted to roll the dice on Green, and he rewarded them.
Since then, the swingman received a long-term contract from the Pacers, and is now establishing himself as a stud in Phoenix. Green is averaging 15.4 on 44% from the field and 38% from deep. He's been known to explode for offensive outbursts, too, with fourteen games of 23 points or more. He's been as consistent as ever, which certainly goes a long way when taking into consideration the strides he's had to make.
Of course, his time overseas played a role as he paid his respective dues and honed many facets pertaining to his overall game and attitude. Having said that, however, the guidance he received from Coach Eric Musselman while playing in the D-League has had a major impact on his continued improvement as well.
Last month, Coach Musselman spoke with RidiculousUpside.com and discussed some of the reasons behind Green's evident growth, in addition to what makes him a special player:
Highlighting the success of [Gerald] Green, the coach asserted, "For the players, it comes down to being in the right place at the right time. It's the same thing with coaches. A lot of times, coaches will have great players, and things work out well. It's the same thing with the players. You can look at a guy like Gerald [Green] over the last three years. First, he goes to Lakers' camp. He doesn't play, gets cut, and then he heads to the D-League."
Coach Musselman continued, "After playing in a handful of [D-League] games, Gerald goes to the Nets and gets a chance because Avery Johnson believed in him. Then when he goes to Indiana, he gets zero opportunity because they already have guys like Danny Granger and Paul George. Now he's in Phoenix, and he's gotten an opportunity because of how their roster is. The key is staying ready physically and mentally when that chance comes. I have great admiration for Gerald, because he does a great job handling whatever is thrown at him. He's been able to stay ready."
Green isn't your everyday player who has had the relatively easy and convenient route to the NBA of most others. Because of that, however, perhaps he is the "Most Improved," for obviously more reasons than just one or two. His recent rise has much to do with an array of intangibles things, as well as his increased production and efficiency as well.
In essence, Green represents much of what makes the D-League so great. Though his immaturity may have been what had gotten him there in the first place, Green made the best of his second chance. He's matured.
For all that he's done, had to endure, and prove, Green may be the minor league's most deserving alumni of a major NBA award to date. Earning himself an "M.I.P" award would certainly say it all for a player like himself.