Knicks’ Donte DiVincenzo ineligible for Most Improved Player under new criteria after missing only one game

Donte DiVincenzo of the New York Knicks improved enormously this season. After averaging 9.4 points per game (or 12.9 per 36 minutes) last season with the Golden State Warriors, he averaged 15.5 points per game (or 19.2 per 36) for the Knicks. DiVincenzo reinvented himself as one of the NBA’s most prolific 3-point shooters, attempting 10.8 3s per 36 minutes — many of them deep or off movement — and making a career-high 40.1% of them.

DiVincenzo is not, however, eligible for the Most Improved Player award, under the rules of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. He will not receive a single vote.

The games-played requirement for end-of-season awards, new this season, has been widely discussed, but what constitutes a “game” in this context has not necessarily been widely understood. Here’s the wording that appears on the official ballot:

Please note that a player is eligible for this award only if he meets the criteria set forth in the NBA/NBPA Collective Bargaining Agreement (‘CBA’). Specifically, a player must have played in at least (a) 65 Regular Season games, or (b) 62 Regular Season games, suffered a season-ending injury as determined in accordance with the CBA, and prior to suffering such injury had played in at least 85% of his team’s Regular Season games. A player is considered to have played in a Regular Season game for these purposes if he played at least 20 minutes of such game, provided that in respect of no more than two games per Regular Season, a player is considered to have played the game if he played at least 15 and fewer than 20 minutes. A player who failed to meet the games-played requirement may nonetheless be eligible for this award if he prevailed in a challenge to establish his eligibility pursuant to procedures set forth in the CBA.

In DiVincenzo’s case, he is considered to have played 64 games under these criteria: 62 games of at least 20 minutes, plus the maximum of two games of 15 to 20 minutes, the NBA confirmed.

DiVincenzo missed only one game this season, a Feb. 14 loss in Orlando in which he was out with hamstring soreness. For the purposes of award eligibility, 17 of the 81 games he played do not count.

Last week, The Ringer published Michael Pina’s picks for the end-of-season awards, in which DiVincenzo appears in the No. 3 spot for Most Improved Player. On Tuesday, when Pina submitted his official votes, he had to choose someone else. He went with Jalen Brunson, DiVincenzo’s teammate. ESPN’s JJ Redick said on his podcast on Monday that he planned to put DiVincenzo third on his ballot, too; after this story published on Tuesday, he called DiVincenzo’s ineligibility “preposterous.”

Since DiVincenzo missed the cut by only one game, simply logging nine more seconds against the Magic on Dec. 29 (or 11 more seconds against the Spurs on Nov. 8, 20 more seconds against the Pelicans on Oct. 28 or 23 more seconds against the Heat on Jan. 27) would have been enough. The NBA confirmed that it does not round up players’ minutes totals when determining whether games are classified as 15-to-20 or 20-plus, so, although DiVincenzo is listed as having logged 20 minutes in all four of those games on his CBS Sports and ESPN game logs, they all fell into the 15-to-20 category.

There is irony in the fact that DiVincenzo’s exclusion from the ballot is a result of minutes played, as he logged 52 minutes and 30 seconds on Sunday in New York’s regular-season finale, a 120-119 overtime win against the Chicago Bulls. From Jan. 29 onward, DiVincenzo averaged 38.2 minutes, the third highest mark in the NBA. He finished the season ranked 48th in total minutes (and third on the Knicks, behind Brunson and Josh Hart).

DiVincenzo began his first season in New York as a reserve and went scoreless in his debut. He became a starter on Dec. 8 and then became one of the best development stories in the league, setting franchise records for 3-pointers made in a game (11 vs. Detroit on March 25) and in a season (283, which ranks third in the league this season and 14th all-time). Similarly, Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein began the year as Mitchell Robinson’s backup and broke out in a starting role after Robinson hurt his ankle in December. Hartenstein, who finished the season second in defensive estimated plus-minus, per dunksandthrees.com, averaged 25.3 minutes and appeared in 75 games, but only 52 of those games counted for awards purposes. Voters may have considered him for an All-Defensive Team and Most Improved Player, but he was not eligible.

Other players who were deemed ineligible according to the NBA’s criteria include the Pelicans’ Jonas Valanciunas, who started all 82 games; the Clippers’ Terance Mann, who played in 75 games and started 71 of them and the Mavericks’ Derrick Jones Jr., who played in 76 games and started 66 of them.


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