This season has brought fans a lot of surprises, but when it comes to awards, only one is based off of such. The NBA’s Most Improved Player award, previously won by Portland’s CJ McCollum, is given to the most improved player of the regular season. Here are likely candidates to receive this year’s award:
The former 4th overall pick, Dion Waiters, has made impressive strides with the Miami Heat this season. Although, it’s unlikely he’ll take the award home, I would favor him in high contention for runner up. Along stat lines, here’s where Waiters has improved since his trade from the Thunder:
|Points Per Game||9.8||15.8|
|Assists Per Game||2.0||4.3|
|Field Goal %||.399||.424|
Along the lines of team success itself, Waiters was a key part of the Miami Heat’s 13-game win streak before the All-Star break. This season he has recorded two double-doubles, which matches the total of his career prior. Scoring wise, Dion has already dropped 616 points, whereas last season he scored 762 in total. It’s clear that there is improvement in his game play, and maybe even his maturity as a player. The question is whether said improvement trumps that of his fellow league players.
A former NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors, Barnes was Dallas’ biggest pickup this off season. After signing a 4-year/$94 million dollar contract, the Mavericks quickly realized he was worth every penny. Compared to his last season as a Warrior, here’s how Barnes improved:
|Points Per Game:||11.7||19.2|
|Field Goal %:||.466||.468|
|Free Throw %:||.761||.861|
Compared to his fellow competitors for the awards, Barnes success isn’t as flashy on paper. However, without the lime light of Curry, Thompson or even Draymond Green shining in his face, Barnes has emerged as a star of his own. Now equipped with the young talent of Seth Curry, Yogi Ferrell, and latest acquisition Nerlens Noel, expect to see both Dallas and Harrison improve even more next season.
Only in his sophomore season, Nikola Jokic has made a lot of noise in Denver. After finishing 11th in the Western Conference last season, the Nuggets now sit at the 8th seed with a likely road to the playoffs. No offense to the rest of the roster, but I credit all the success to the man you see above. Following a better than normal rookie season, Jokic has only improved:
|Points Per Game:||10.0||16.7|
|Assists Per Game:||2.4||4.9|
|Rebounds Per Game:||7.0||9.8|
A tentative shoe-in for the award, Jokic has been a monster. On top of the stat incline, Jokic has recorded 27 double-doubles already (only had 16 last season), and 4 triple-doubles (two back-to-back).
Surprise, surprise. Moving the Greek Freak to point guard has only made him more dangerous. Taking the league by storm, Giannis has improved in every stat line on the board, and earned his first All-Star appearance:
|Points Per Game:||16.9||22.9|
|Assists Per Game:||4.3||5.4|
|Rebounds Per Game:||7.7||8.8|
|Field Goal %:||.506||.521|
|Blocks Per Game:||1.4||1.9|
|Steals Per Game:||1.2||1.6|
|Free Throw %:||.724||.770|
If I get to vote, I’ll throw mine in the Greek Freak’s basket. Per each stat line, his growth isn’t necessarily substantial, but take into account that it’s every stat line. The former 15th overall pick, has improved every aspect of his game. My personal favorite out of the group, don’t be surprised should he collect this award at the end of the season.
All stats and information provided by ESPN and NBA.com.