Improvement can be a very subjective term. For instance, most of the time when we talk about a player's improvement, we tend to think in terms of this season versus last season. Almost unconsciously, we tend to view players' progress in discrete season-long blocks -- "He'll be better next season," we say, or "He couldn't make that jumper last season."
The league even gives out an award, the Most Improved Player trophy, to reward the player who has made the greatest year-to-year progress.
But here's the thing: players don't always develop in neat little 12-month jumps like our brains would prefer. And if we insist on seeing things that way, we do ourselves a huge disservice. Often, progress comes not in magical offseason surges, but in fits and starts during the course of the season, so that an individual is far more potent by Game 82 than he was in Game 1.
That's particularly true of the game's younger players, who need game experience to learn where to best apply their physical skills. And with the league as young as it will ever be -- remember, we're still working in the last batch of high schoolers -- we've seen an unusual number of players make exactly those strides.
From roughly the midpoint of the season, no fewer than 15 young players have made noteworthy progress, putting up numbers in the second half that far exceed what they did to start the season. (See chart; I've compared their PER before and after Jan. 22, which was roughly the halfway point of the season).
Today, I want to take a moment to honor that group -- which I'll call the "In-Season All-Improved" team. What they've done could have huge implications a year from now, presuming they're able to carry those gains into next season.
In addition, I'm going to cheat a little and add one veteran to the team at the end -- one who quietly has put up such shockingly good second-half numbers that we really need to address it.
But first, let's talk about all these young guys. The envelopes please: