Selecting the NBA's Most Improved Player is an annual exercise in the abstract.
Infrequently is there an obvious pick.
There is no set standard on how to judge each candidate.
How much a player improved this season directly correlates to how bad he was the previous season.
Several players on this year's watch list share a common thread, however. They're playing for somebody else.
*Guard James Harden was traded from Oklahoma City to Houston.
*Center Omer Asik has more than tripled his scoring (from 3.1 ppg to 10.2) after leaving Chicago to sign with Houston.
*Forward Andray Blatche signed as a free agent with the Brooklyn Nets after seven perpetually pouting seasons in Washington.
*J.J. Hickson signed with Portland last March after being waived by Sacramento, then made the simultaneous move from forward to center.
*Forward Matt Barnes moved about 100 feet down the hallway at Staples Center, leaving the Lakers and signing with the Clippers.
*Forward Nikola Vucevic was part of a four-team trade that sent him from Philadelphia to Orlando.
Did a simple change of address help each of the above? Perhaps. Suffice to say, it certainly didn't hurt their chances at this award.
Here is a look at our current top 10 for Most Improved Player:
1. James Harden (Houston): This answer comes with a question: Has Harden improved immensely since last season, or was he this good all along and simply needed to become “the man” with another team? Either way, it's impossible to argue with the numbers, which will make Harden a hometown All-Star next month in Houston.
2012-13: 38.3 minutes; 26.4 points; 5.3 assists; 1.6 steals. 2011-12: 31.4 mpg; 16.8 ppg; 4.1 rpg; 3.7 apg; 1.0 spg.
2. Serge Ibaka (Thunder): Ibaka continues his steady climb toward getting better and better each season, but this year there has been considerable advancement in his offensive repertoire. He has added distance and confidence to his jump shot and complemented it with an ambidextrous hook shot driving in the lane.
2012-13: 32.2 mpg; 14.3 ppg; 8.4 rpg; 2.8 blocks; .567 FG. 2011-12: 27.2 mpg; 9.1 ppg; 7.5 rpg; 3.7 bpg; .535 FG.
3. J.R. Smith (New York): It took eight seasons, but it appears the incredibly gifted Smith finally has arrived. Also a solid candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, Smith has embraced his role as a reserve and in the process has helped bring the Knicks back to prominence. Smith is posting career-highs across the board.
2012-13: 33.6 mpg; 17.0 ppg; 5.1 rpg; 2.9 apg; .806 FT. 2011-12: 27.6 mpg; 12.5 ppg; 3.9 rpg; 2.4 apg; .709 FT.
4. J.J. Hickson (Portland): No longer is Hickson wallowing in Sacramento. He has become a 6-foot-9 starting center for the upstart Trail Blazers. Offensively, he is scoring nearly triple what he did last season with the Kings, where he shot 37.0 percent from the field. This year, Hickson is shooting 53.9 percent.
2012-13: 12.2 ppg; 11.0 rpg; 1.0 apg; .539 FG. 2011-12: 4.7 ppg; 5.1 rpg; 0.6 apg; .370 FG.
5. Jrue Holiday (Philadelphia): Holiday essentially has doubled his assist average from last season, and has done so without the services of former Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who has yet to play due to a knee injury. Holiday has become a sparkplug on offense, and his stats are up significantly across the board.
2012-13: 37.9 mpg; 18.3 ppg; 8.8 apg; 4.2 rpg; .452 FG. 2011-12: 33.8 mpg; 13.5 ppg; 4.5 apg; 3.3 rpg; .432 FG.
Next five: Andray Blatche (Brooklyn); Omer Asik (Houston); Matt Barnes (Los Angeles Clippers); Nikola Vucevic (Orlando); Greivis Vasquez (New Orleans).