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Growth spurt (cont.)

Posted: Friday March 16, 2007 5:51PM; Updated: Friday March 16, 2007 6:38PM
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More Rankings: 6-10

NBA's Most Improved Players
Rank   Player
6 Though Lee is playing exactly 14 minutes per game more in his second season than he did in 2005-06, his all-around potential has shot up to the ranks of the borderline All-Star-worthy. (By the way, how bad was Larry Brown last year? Lee isn't playing enough minutes this year, and he's still nearly doubled his court time.) Don't laugh, because 23-year-olds who average 11.2 points and 10.7 boards in only 30.9 minutes usually get a heck of a lot better before everything is said and rebounded. Lee pulls in 20.5 percent of all available rebounds when he's on the court, a percentage that ranks second in the league, just behind Dwight Howard's 20.6 percent. An expert at moving without the ball and one of the league's best finishers, Lee will only get better as he continues to improve on creating his own shot.
7 Give this one to Don Nelson: He came into his first Warriors training camp with an open mind. Though some of us loved what we saw in limited minutes from Biedrins in his first two seasons, his per-game averages of 3.7 points and 4.1 rebounds weren't going to bowl over anyone. We don't know if Nellie looked at Biedrins' darn good (for an 18-/19-year-old) per-40 career averages of 10.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, or if he just noticed this long-armed pivot running circles around the Golden State big men in training camp. In any case, the Latvian youngster was starting by the end of his first month, and he's averaged 13.6 points, 13 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes in his third season.
8 After missing 80 games in his first two seasons with Utah, Boozer had a lot of making up to do in the eyes of NBA observers, including his own teammates, coaching staff and that Jazz owner who cries a lot. But Boozer went a long way toward trashing that whole "doesn't play through pain" label this season when he missed only eight games after fracturing his left tibia. A year after averaging 21 points and 11 boards per 40 minutes over 33 mostly meaningless games, Boozer is giving the Northwest Division-leading Jazz more than 24 points and 13 rebounds per 40 this season. Boozer pulls in 20 percent of available rebounds when he's on the floor, and despite his increased role, he's turning the ball over less per possession.
9 Ellis has improved a fair amount in his second year, and while his ability to play 34 minutes a night just two years removed from high school is quite impressive, his actual production isn't enough to warrant serious consideration for the Most Improved Player trophy. He averaged 15 points per 40 minutes last season; that number has shot up to 19.7 in 2006-07. But to some eyes, a 4.7-point increase per 40 minutes doesn't read as well as a 10-point-per-game improvement. Again: He's improved, but the numbers jump has more to do with increased minutes than anything else. Ellis is also turning the ball over more per possession and shooting worse from beyond the arc (26 percent, down from an encouraging 34 percent in his rookie year). Don't let my buzzkill fool you: Ellis is still one of this game's most exciting players.
10 Deng enjoyed a solid second season last year, which was remarkable considering he was confined to cardio work, essentially, in his first NBA offseason. The wiry Duke product broke his right (shooting) wrist late in his rookie season, which lowered expectations just enough to nearly delude hoop fans into forgetting about the promise he showed as the second-brightest star (next to LeBron James) in the 2003 high school recruiting class. Showcasing an astonishingly good touch from 19 feet, Deng is shooting 52.5 percent from the floor (up from 45 percent over his first two seasons), even though 60 percent of his attempts are jumpers. Deng is averaging 20 points per 40 minutes, up from 17.1 in both of his first two seasons. His per-minute rebounding, however, has gotten a little worse.
On the cusp: T.J. Ford, Mikki Moore, Jose Calderon
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