The second half of the 2017-18 NBA season is well underway, which means it is a good idea to take a look at the five small forwards who have improved their game the most from last season to this season.
Over the next three or four weeks, I will take a look at each position from point guard to center. This will help round out the candidates for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. Last season, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks took home the hardware. The “Greek Freak” played almost the same amount of minutes from 2015-16 (35.3 to 35.6). But he scored almost six more points per game (22.9 to 28.5).
Fast forward to this season and Antetokounmpo is an MVP candidate on a Bucks team that ranks seventh in the Eastern Conference; a half game behind the sixth-place Indiana Pacers.
This article will look at the point, assist, steal and block production +/- averages for players listed as point guards, according to hoopsstats.com. In addition, we will look at their eff rating, which Hoops Stats uses to measure a player’s overall efficiency at both ends. Other stats including effective field goal percentage (eFG%), which weighs three and two-point baskets differently and true shooting percentage (TS%), which combines a players’ field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage to more effectively measure shooting prowess, will be utilized.
But, eff rating measures players overall contributions. Therefore, that stat will determine their ranking.
Antetokounmpo topped last seasons improvement list. Find out who is at the top of the list so far this season!
Stock Watch: 5 Most Improved Small Forwards
No. 5: Kelly Oubre Jr. – Washington Wizards (+5.7 eff rating)
Except for an occasional start here and there, Oubre has been an invaluable part of the Wizards’ productive bench.
The 22-year-old, who is already in his third NBA season, has averaged seven more minutes per game this season and his production has spiked with more playing time.
Oubre is on pace to be a double-digit scorer for the first time in his career (6.3 to 12.1 points per game this season) and his true shooting percentage (TS%), from 52 to 58 percent, and Player Efficiency Rating (PER), from 9.1 to 13.6, have both risen.
Oubre punctuated his career year to this point with 26 points in 31 minutes against the Detroit Pistons on ESPN last Friday.
The sky is the limit for him.
No. 4: Taurean Prince – Atlanta Hawks (+6.2 eff rating)
Not very many people outside of Atlanta probably have seen Taurean Prince’s game.
But if the Hawks are going to win again in the near future, the 23-year-old Prince should play a big role. He is signed through the 2019-2020 season has taken his game to a new level in his second NBA season.
Prince has more than doubled his per game point (5.7 to 12.4), rebound (2.7 to 5.2) and assist production (0.9 to 2.4) from his rookie campaign.
His TS% (51.3 to 54.1) and PER (9.8 to 11.7) also reflect his across the board improvement. Prince also has made an impact on the defensive end, averaging a block and 1.5 steals per game.
Dennis Schroder is considered the face of the future in Atlanta, but Prince deserves recognition too.
No. 3: Jaylen Brown – Boston Celtics (+7.1 eff rating)
Jaylen Brown has made one of the biggest leaps as a scorer of any player — at any position — in the league this season.
His production becomes more important because he has helped the Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference, despite a recent skid.
Brown has doubled his per game point (6.6 to 14.0) and total rebound production (2.8 to 5.6) and has almost averaged twice as many assists per game (0.8 to 1.5) compared to his rookie season).
Brown has also been one of, if not the best defensive player in the league this season. His 0.061 defensive win shares rank first, just ahead of teammate Jayson Tatum.
No. 2: Kyle Anderson – San Antonio Spurs (+7.3 eff rating)
The Spurs may hold the third best record in the West, but it has been far from easy for head coach Greg Popovich and company.
The feud between LaMarcus Aldridge and Popovich, Kawhi Leonard‘s injury issues and the report about him wanting out of San Antonio have not made it a smooth ride for a team that is used to coasting into the playoffs with no drama to speak of.
One bright spot that might save the Spurs season has been the improved play of Kyle Anderson. Already in his fourth NBA season at the tender age of 24, Anderson has done it all on both ends for the Spurs. He is averaging a career high in points (8.0), total rebounds (6.0) and assists (2.7) while playing 13 more minutes per game compared to last season.
The Spurs have a great core of role players that have helped San Antonio survive Leonard’s absence, but if Anderson can continue his current production, the Spurs can at least make some noise without Leonard.
No. 1: Denzel Valentine – Chicago Bulls (+7.6 eff rating)
A Bulls’ player has been in every series we have done so far.
Kris Dunn topped our most improved point guards list, Justin Holiday appeared on the most improved shooting guards’ list, and now former Michigan State star Denzel Valentine is the most improved small forward.
Valentine has played an average of 12 minutes per game more than last season, and his production has increased with it. His point (+5.0), assist (+2.0) and rebound (+3.0) production has all increased by significant margins from his rookie season.
The advanced metrics also support his improvement. The 24-year-old’s PER (7.3 to 11.8) and his TS% (49 to 54) have all risen steadily.
Valentine is one of many reasons why the Bulls are a team on the rise.
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