In a season where many NBA players have encountered a great individual season, the Most Improved Player award is really starting to heat up. In a field of legitimate candidates, who is the most improved player this year, and who merits such an accolade?
4th – Gordon Hayward
The Utah Jazz are having a mightily impressive season, currently occupying the 4th seed in the Western Conference at 43-25. Utah is definitely one of the biggest success stories to come out of this season, and this is partly down to the brilliance of Gordon Hayward.
As well as leading the franchise in points per game with 22 (improving on his 19.1 return last year), Hayward received his maiden All-Star honors earlier in the year — a fitting tribute to his stellar performances thus far. On top of this, Hayward has become only the third player to consistently improve on his scoring statistics over five consecutive years, and he’s joined by good company, too.
List of players with improved scoring average in five consecutive seasons:
1. Kawhi Leonard
2. Jimmy Butler
3. Gordon Hayward
— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) March 10, 2017
All this has culminated in Hayward being universally recognized as one of the league’s most underrated players, however the aforementioned statistics aren’t enough to crown him as the most improved player.
3rd – Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic has been in the form of his life this season. After the Denver Nuggets traded Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers, they made a statement that they were opting in their perennial star Jokic for the long-run.
The Serbian center has been pivotal in Denver’s success, who find themselves holding the final playoff spot in the West, averaging 16.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per contest while shooting the ball with robust efficiency, 58.7-percent. All these statistics are career-highs for Jokic, and are vast improvements on the 10 points, 7 rebounds and 2.4 assists he averaged last year.
As well as an abundance of top-tier performances thus far this season, he’s never shied away from showcasing some flashy moves, too, as he’s emerged as one of the most exciting players to watch.
— NBA (@NBA) March 5, 2017
2nd – Isaiah Thomas
As well as being one of the frontrunners for the Most Improved Player award, Isaiah Thomas has also emerged as a possible contender for MVP thanks to his dominating offensive performances, leading the Boston Celtics to a 43-25 record.
‘Mr 4th quarter‘ has been instrumental in the Celtics’ success this year and has enjoyed being the main focal point of his side’s offense, putting up a career-high 29.2 points per game on 46.2-percent shooting. The 5-foot-9 point guard is currently sitting at second in the league for points per game as well as 5th for most three-pointers made with 207.
Although Thomas does not contribute too much on the defensive spectrum due to his size, he more than makes up for it on the offensive end. Over the course of the season (64 games) he has only failed to score over 20 points on just three occasions, this includes a 43-game run where he scored over 20 points a game. As well as this, during the month of January he notched an average of 32.9 points per game, marking the third-highest monthly average in franchise history. If it weren’t for the sheer brilliance of the below player, Thomas would have undoubtedly been closer to claiming this accolade.
Nobody’s stopping IT. pic.twitter.com/2vpScMQmBz
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 2, 2017
1st – Giannis Antetokounmpo
Not many people would argue against the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo is the most deserving candidate for this award.
The Greek Freak has almost single-handedly carried the Milwaukee Bucks to a potential playoff berth behind his drastically improved 23 points, 8.5 assists, 5.5 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.7 steals per contest, all while shooting at a 52.6-percent clip — career-highs in every aspect of his game. These statistics are a vast improvement from last year’s numbers, a +6.1 point, +0.8 rebound, +1.2 assist, +0.5 block and +0.5 steal differentials, in fact. As a result of his impressive performances, his Bucks are currently 33-34, putting them in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
On top of easily clinching this award, Antetokounmpo is well on his way to becoming an NBA superstar.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 13, 2017